CCAR RESPONSA

Contemporary American Reform Responsa

95. Burial with First or Second Husband

QUESTION: A Jewish woman in her seventies recently married a non-Jew. She advised me that she asked to be buried next to her first husband, a Jew, in a Jewish cemetery. The rabbi said she could not do so out of respect for her present husband. Is there any basis for this? (Rabbi H. Gelfman, Jacksonville, FL)

ANSWER: The classical discussion of whether a wife should be buried with her first or second husband is based upon the statement in the Talmud which understood husband and wife to "kin" even after the wife's death, (Lev. 21.2; Yeb. 55b). The general conclusion of rabbinic authorities is that the wife should be buried with her first husband unless she had children by her second husband (Wolf Leiter, Bet David, #134; J. Greenwald, Kol Bo Al Avelut, p. 188 f). However, the Hungarian authority Moses Sofer came to a completely different conclusion. He felt that the death of a woman's first husband, and her subsequent remarriage, broke those initial bonds entirely. He based his conclusion upon the a fortiori argument that if marriage can break the bond of brother-sister relationship (Lev. 21.3), in the case a priest who may mourn an unmarried but not a married sister, then surely remarriage would break the lesser relationships of husband and wife (Hatam SoferYoreh Deah 355).

In both of these instances, we are dealing with cases in which both husbands are deceased and the wife has survived them. In this case, the second husband is alive and she may predecease him.

A somewhat similar question was asked of Dr. Freehof some years ago. In that instance, the second wife wished to be buried alongside her deceased husband who was buried alongside his first wife. In that responsum he gave permission for such a burial provided that there was sufficient space for the interment (Responsa for Our Time, pp. 172 ff). This question is, of course, somewhat different, as the second husband is alive and as he is a non-Jew and may wish to be buried alongside his second wife.

If it is agreeable with the second husband that the wife be buried alongside her first husband, then there is no problem. Nor does the fact that he is a Christian present a problem if he wishes to be buried in the same cemetery as this woman as in most Reform Jewish cemeteries the burial of a Christian spouse is permitted (W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, #99). If the second husband wishes to be buried in the Jewish cemetery, would we permit this woman to be buried between her two husbands? We would answer positively as such a burial reflects the reality of their lives.

We may proceed along the lines suggested above if it is agreeable with her present husband, both under the circumstances in which he may wish to be buried with his first wife (in their Christian cemetery) and if he wishes to be buried alongside his present Jewish wife in the Jewish cemetery if the cemetery permits this. Local cemetery rules, must, of course, be observed.

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.