CCAR RESPONSA

American Reform Responsa

94. Rabbi Officiating at Christian Scientist's Funeral

(Vol. XXVIII, 1918, pp. 117-119)

QUESTION: The following letter was received:

Allow me to ask your opinion in the following case, in order to know whether I have acted right or not. A member of our Temple recently died. Upon her death, I learned that she had been a devout Christian Scientist. Her husband, who is still living, is a Christian Scientist, too. In asking me to officiate, the members of the family told me that they also expect to have at the funeral service in the home a Christian Scientist, to act in conjunction with me. Thereupon I told them that I cannot officiate at such a funeral. In addition, I was told that the woman is to be buried in a Christian cemetery. I refused to officiate for three main reasons: (1) Because the deceased was a Christian Scientist and thereby has ruled herself out of the synagogue; (2) because of the inroads Christian Science is making in Judaism; and (3) because of their intention to have a Christian Scientist participate.

Now, for my own future guidance, I shall be very grateful to you, Doctor, if I could learn whether, in your opinion, I have acted rightly, and, incidentally, whether a rabbi can properly officiate at the funeral of a Jew who is to be buried in a Christian cemetery?

ANSWER: In replying to your letter just received, let me state my full approval of the attitude you took in refusing to officiate at the funeral of a Christian Scientist who was the wife of a Christian Scientist; particularly so in view of the fact that a Christian Scientist was to officiate with you at the funeral service.

Your three reasons are well taken. Moreover, the husband who, being also a Christian Scientist, has his wife buried in a Christian cemetery, shows by this very fact that he wants both himself and his deceased wife classed among Christians. No rabbi ought to officiate in such a case. That almost amounts to a desecration of the Jewish faith, a Chilul Hashem; and the rabbi is expected to uphold the honor of the synagogue.

K. Kohler

(Vol. XXVIII, 1918, pp. 118-119)

In answer to the following question submitted to Dr. Kohler for opinion: Shall a rabbi officiate at a funeral of a Jewish woman who was a believer in Christian Science, when the husband, also a devotee of that cult, desires that the woman be buried in a Christian cemetery and that a Christian Scientist should officiate with the rabbi?

Dr. Kohler insists emphatically that for a rabbi to officiate would be a Chilul Hashem, and therefore he would not permit it. Now the scholarly Doctor has certainly the plain letter of the Jewish Law on his side. The oldest source in Evel Rabbati 2.10, says: "Those that separate themselves from the community (and Yad, Hil. Evel 1, and Yoreh De-a 34.5 add: and the mumarim and mutarim, apostates and traducers)--one should not attend to them at all at their funeral; the very brothers and nearest relatives should dress in white and eat and drink and rejoice, as it is written (Psalm 139:21): 'I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee."'

Now I am sure that Dr. Kohler would be the last one to abide by the letter of the law when the spirit and intent thereof is contrary to our conception. It is a fact that the Talmudic teachers were lenient with the mumar. They considered him a sinner, who, "though he sinned is still a Jew" (Sanh. 44a). Thus, a mumar is required to give a Get to his wife, and Chalitsa to the deceased brother's wife; as a first-born, he receives twofold share, etc. (Even Ha-ezer 129.16; ibid., 159). Even meat slaughtered by a mumar is permissible for the use of a Jew (Yoreh De-a 2.2): "Avedat achicha, lerabot et hamumar."

But during the Middle Ages, when apostates such as Nicholas Donin, Pablo Christiani, Henrique Numes, Joseph Pfefferkorn, and others, made the lives of their former brothers miserable by their vile slanders and malicious calumnies, these severe laws against the mumarim were instituted. Thus, we find everywhere alongside the mumarim also the mutarim as a companion (see Tosefta, San. 13.5; Bavli, R.H. 17a; Gittin, 45b; Yoreh De-a 158). Like unto the malshinim of old, they were to receive less consideration than one born a Gentile, over whom funeral services may be held (Yer. Gittin 5, 47; Bavli, Gittin 6; Yoreh De-a 367.1): "Mipenei darchei shalom lehaspidan."

It is evident that a Christian Scientist of today cannot be classed with the mumar of medieval ages. They are not mumarim lehach-is but mumarim lete-avon, purely from personal reasons, and they are considered like Jews. Thus, Rabbenu Gershom, we find, did mourn over his son, who became an apostate (see Hagahot Asheri, to Mo-ed Katan 25, ch. 59). Certainly none of us will subscribe to the injunction in Evel Rabbati and Yoreh De-a to rejoice at the death of a mumar. Nor would we follow the advice stated in Avoda Zara 27b, i.e., "Moridin velo ma-alin," or the rule found in Yoreh De-a 158 ("Mitzvah lehorgam"). Let us be careful not to antagonize the modern mumarim--Christian Scientists--too much. Let us not push them away from us with both hands. Let us not make the same mistake that was made once before with the Samaritans. If we must push them away with the left hand, let us be sure to pull them back immediately with the right hand.

J. Rappaport

(Vol. XXIX, 1919, p. 75)

Regarding the opinion I expressed that a Christian Scientist who has expressly declared and demonstratively showed that he with his wife wanted to be classed among the adherents of Christianity should not be dignified by a Jewish funeral, I would appeal to the members of the Conference to decide whether they side with me or with the adverse view of Rabbi Julius Rappaport. I also believe in the Talmudic maxim, "We should push away with the left hand and pull back with the right hand" (Sanh. 207b, and elsewhere). I would apply it to the Christian Scientist, in general, who has not left the Jewish fold altogether; but as the one in the case before us wanted to have "no share in the God of Jacob," there is no reason for us to grant him the honor of a Jewish burial.

K. Kohler

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.