QUESTION: A non-Jewish wife of a prominent member of the
community has died. Although she was sporadically active in her church, she has maintained only vague ties with her Presbyterian affiliation. She will be buried in the Jewish cemetery with her Jewish husband's family. She has requested that a rabbi conduct the funeral. Can such a service be conducted for a non Jew? (D. S., Philadelphia, PA)
ANSWER: It is clear
from the rabbinic sources (Gitin 61a; Yeb. 15a; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 367.1; S. B. Freehof, Current Reform Responsa, pp. 175 ff), that we bury Gentile dead mipnei darkhei shalom. In the Talmudic statements and in the subsequent elaboration of the medieval codes, nothing is said about any ritual which might accompany such burials. For that matter, little was stipulated about the ritual of a Jewish funeral. It has become traditional to recite a few psalms, el male rahamim and the qadish. As we may have some qualms about reciting the el male rahamim for a non Jew, it may therefore be omitted. Nothing would preclude the recital of the psalms or qadish for non-Jewish dead. A convert has, traditionally, been specifically permitted to recite qadish for his deceased non Jewish parents (E. Oshry, Mema'amaqim, pp. 69-72; Walkin, Zeqan Aharon, Yoreh Deah 877). We also often include non Jews who have provided significant leadership in the general community on our qadish list and our memorial service as was done in past centuries when special services were held for deceased rulers (A. Hertzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews,pp. 203 ff).
It would, therefore, be perfectly
appropriate to conduct a slightly modified Jewish service for the non Jewish spouse of this member. This procedure should only be followed if it meets the wishes of the deceased and of her surviving husband and children, as it does in this instance.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.