QUESTION: The non-Jewish spouse of a member has died and her husband has requested that the funeral be conducted in the synagogue. The woman has not converted, however, all the children have been raised as Jews and she had involved herself somewhat in congregational activities open to her as a non-Jew. Should this funeral be permitted in the synagogue? (Rabbi Joseph P. Weinberg, Washington DC)
ANSWER: Funerals in the synagogue were restricted to leaders in the community. This was the pattern in a former generation. That also was the view expressed by Solomon B. Freehof (Reform Responsa for Our Time pp 95 ff). In recent years we have, however, proceeded along a somewhat different line and relaxed the restrictions on the use of the synagogue for funerals so that virtually any member who is a good Jew may request the use of the synagogue for a funeral though it remains an honor (W. Jacob Contemporary American Reform Responsa #89) .
The non-Jewish spouse cannot become a member of a synagogue so he/she should not have a funeral in the synagogue (W. Jacob (ed) American Reform Responsa #161).
We have been generous in permitting burial to non-Jews in our cemeteries. This is based on the rabbinic injunction that we bury the gentile dead (Git 61a; Yeb 15a; Yad Hil Evel 14.12) Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 367.1; S. B. Freehof Current Reform Responsa pp 175 ff).
We have no problem with the internment of gentile dead or for the matter in officiating at funerals for non-Jews (W. Jacob Contemporary American Reform Responsa #99), but such a funeral should not be conducted in the synagogue.