Contemporary American Reform Responsa

100. Burial of an Apostate

QUESTION: The following tragic situation has presented itself to me. A woman was murdered by her husband who then in turn shot himself. There is also a possibility of a suicide pact on which they had agreed. This was a second marriage; both parties were Jewish, however the wife converted to Christianity two years ago. The children by a former marriage have also converted. The husband will be buried in another city; the children (who are Christian) would like a minister to officiate at the funeral but would like the burial to take place in a Jewish cemetery with a rabbi officiating. Is this permissible? (Rabbi S. Akselrad, Columbus, OH)

ANSWER: This tragic situation raises a number of questions, however the main issue is whether we consider this woman to be Jewish or not. When an apostate has died, she has always been given the benefit of doubt as it was felt that on her deathbed she may have repented and reverted to Judaism. Although such individuals were considered sinners while alive, they nevertheless were be considered to be Jews (San. 44a). We bury sinners (Semahot II; San. 47a; Yad Hil. Avel 1.10; Tur Yoreh Deah 334; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 333.3 ff), but do not accord the honors of the dead to them. There has been some disagreement about the nature of such honors. We would not provide shrouds, stand in line at the cemetery to console the mourners, or have a mourning period.

In this instance as the surviving family members are Christian the ritual at the cemetery should be very simple. The woman may, however, be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

January 1987

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.