Contemporary American Reform Responsa

96. Burial of a Teenager of Doubtful Descent

QUESTION: A couple has recently joined a congregation. The man is Jewish; the wife is Christian. They had two children, one sixteen and one eleven. Both have been raised in "a vaguely religious small town atmosphere" with attendance at various Protestant Sunday schools. Neither child has been baptized or formally entered into a Christian church. Now, as the parents live in a large city with a Jewish community, they wished to raise their children as Jews. Unfortunately, the older daughter was killed in an automobile accident. May she be buried in the congregation's cemetery? (D. M., Los Angeles, CA)

ANSWER: Most of our congregations have been lenient about the burial of an unconverted spouse of a Jew. They have done so by considering each individual plot in the cemetery as a separate family section, akin to the caves or small plots of land which were originally used for burial in the land of Israel (B. B. 102a). This meant that although the entire cemetery is considered as holy, sanctity actually lies with each section of graves. A non-Jewish burial in one section would, therefore, not impinge on the sanctity of any other grave. It is also clear that occasionally non-Jews have been buried in Jewish cemeteries throughout our history beginning with the Mishnaic period (M. Git. 5.8, 61a). For both of these reasons, most Reform Congregations have granted permission for the burial of a non-Jewish spouse or any other non- Jewish family member.

On these grounds alone, we may readily grant permission for burial in the sad case of this young woman. The specific rules of the local cemetery should, of course, be consulted.

March 1984

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.