Interment of a Non-Jewish Same-Sex Partner
Our congregation owns and maintains a Hebrew cemetery. It has been the policy to allow the burial of non-Jewish
spouses, as long as the rituals of the interment and the grave stones do not contain non-Jewish symbols. The present case
involves a Jewish woman, a widow and herself, her daughter and the daughter's female, non-Jewish partner of 20 years.
On what basis ought we to sell or deny her a cemetery plot for the non Jewish significant other?
1. Halakhic Precedents
The Talmud provides1 that Jews are to give charity to the non-Jewish poor together with the Jewish sick,
and bury their dead together with the Jewish dead, mipenei darekhei shalom. Reacting to the possibility that
this observation lends itself to misinterpretation, Rashi hastens to point out that the non-Jewish dead may not be buried
among Jews; Jews are only to assist in their burial in the event that non-Jewish and Jewish bodies are
discovered slain side by side. R. Isaiah of Trani comments that Jews may occupy themselves with the burial of non-Jews,
but Jews and non-Jews may not be buried together.
This is codified in the Tur,2 and in Shulchan Arukh3. In judgmental
terms reflecting the age, Caro quotes Rabbenu Nissim to the effect that under no circumstances are Jews and non-Jews to
be buried together, because there is a prohibition against burying a wicked person next to a righteous person. Jews are
merely to see to it that non-Jewish dead receive burial.
This position is upheld by R. David Hoffmann4. He deals with the case of the son of a Jew by his Gentile
wife, with whom he could not contract a Jewish marriage. The son, who was neither circumcised nor immersed
leshem gerut, died. Beyond doubt, Hoffmann insists, the child was a non-Jew, and as such as he could not be
buried in a Jewish cemetery. He adds that only the Reformers and those who undermine Judaism hold that it is not sinful
to bury a Gentile among Jews. After reviewing the various references on the subject, he concludes that the truly observant
Jews in the community must withdraw from the company of these maddichim (seducers) and try to establish
their own cemetery.
2. Reform Perspectives
Our question came to the attention of the Conference repeatedly between 1914 and 1919.5 In 1916 R.
Kaufmann Kohler wrote, with R. Jacob Z. Lauterbach concurring:
I have always in my practice taken the stand that while mixed marriages should not be sanctioned by a rabbi, the
civil law which declares them as valid must be recognized by us to the extent that the non-Jewish wife or husband should
be entitled to the right of being buried alongside the Jewish husband or wife in the plot owned by one or the other in the
In 1919 Kohler added:
There is no law forbidding a non-Jew to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. While there are congregations whose
wives or husbands, to be
buried in their cemeteries,
such restrictions were
undoubtedly made with the
view of preventing mixed
marriage in the
congregation. At the same
time it cannot be denied
that in the case of a Jew,
wether a member of the
congregation or not, his
though a non-Jewess, has a
just claim to be buried
alongside of her
husband...As Rabbi of
Temple Beth El in New
York, I have frequently
given this decision, and this
view has been fully
have no consecrated ground
which would exclude non-
Jews. Each plot is
consecrated by the body
However, in the same
Yearbook8 R. Gotthard
Deutsch, responding to a
similar question, found no
support in traditional law
for the burial of non-Jews in
a Jewish cemetery, but
nonetheless provided a
roster of Gentiles who were
in fact buried in Orthodox
congregation of Berlin
(1883), of Leipzig (1884),
and of Dresden (1897)
permitting the non-Jewish
parties in a mixed marriage
to be buried in the Jewish
cemetery. Similarly, while
the rabbinate of Leghorn
ruled against the practice,
the congregation refused to
accept the decision.
We have thus ample
precedent both in Europe
and America for the burial
of non-Jewish spouses. Can
that permission be extended
to the burial of non-Jewish
friends who have had an
extended relationship with
If the daughter of the
woman who wants to
purchase a burial plot in the
cemetery had been living
with a non-Jewish male for
twenty years in a common-
law relationship, would the
congregation have hesitated
to grant permission for the
burial of the non-Jew? I
know of no congregation
that requires proof of
marriage before allowing
the interment of the partner
of a member.
R. Walter Jacob has shown
that the sources rarely deal
with lesbianism, perhaps
because they treated it as a
rather than as a permanent
condition among women.
Still, lesbianism was
considered obscene, and the
Similarly, Prof. Israel Ta-
holds that, in tradition,
lesbianism was considered a
form of sexual perversion
and was considered
included in the prohibition,
"You shall not act in the
way of the land of
Reform Judaism has
abandoned this view and
has accepted all
homosexuals as persons
who are to be accorded full
respect and who, therefore,
are accepted also as rabbis
on an equal basis with
But the same
resolution which affirmed
this view refrained from
unions the status of
In the Jewish tradition heterosexual, monogamous, procreative marriage is the ideal human
relationship for the perpetuation of species, covenantal fulfilment, and the preservation of the Jewish
people. While acknowledging that there are other human relationships which possess ethical and
spiritual value and that there are some people for whom heterosexual, monogamous, procreative
marriage is not a viable option or possibility, the majority of the committee reaffirms unequivocally the
centrality of this idea and its special status as kiddushin.
The resolution was, in this respect, a compromise: gays and lesbians were accepted as equals in every way as
individuals, but heterosexual marriages remained the Jewish ideal. Thus, Reform Judaism has not
recognized such unions as religiously analogous to heterosexual marriage, and special rituals of affirmation
conducted by some of our colleagues -- designed to give public recognition to a loving and stable relationship which does
not have the approval of conventional marriage -- do not alter the official position of the movement in this regard.
The bylaws of the congregation provide that a Gentile "spouse" of a Jew may be interred in the cemetery. Promising to
bury the "friend" would denote her acceptance as a "spouse" which is not an identity presently agreed to in civil law, in
Jewish tradition, or in its Reform development.
This committee which interprets "Reform practice" concludes that the "friend" is by the fiat of our Conference not
considered a "spouse", and the congregation would therefore be justified to refuse to sell the lot with the condition that
burial would be permitted.
There were three dissenters, one of them wrote: "While we cannot consider women 'married' even if they
participate in some ritual of acceptance, still we cannot overlook their long and close connection. The rule
allowing non-Jewish women to be buried in the congregational cemetery should be extended in this case to permit
the burial of this non-Jewish companion, certainly out of compassion as well as mipenei darekhei
BT. Gittin 61a.
Y.D. 151:12 and 367:1.
Melammed Leho'il, Y.D. #127.
Cf. C.C.A.R. Yearbooks, Vol. XXIV, pp 154-155; Vol.
XXVI, pp 122-134; Vol. XXVII, p. 88; Vol, XXVIII, pp
117-119; Vol. XXIX, pp 77-78, 80-85.
Yearbook, Vol XXVI, pp 133-134.
Yearbook, Vol. XXIX, p 78.
Contemporary American Reform Responsa #200, pp. 296-297.
Encyclopedia Hebraicia, ed. Y. Praver, vol. 21, col.
See Sifra 18,3.
C.C.A.R. Yearbook, Vol. C, 1990, pp 107 ff.
A note might also be made of an essay by our colleague
R. Moshe Zemer of Tel Aviv, who has discussed some of
these questions and has dealt with the treatment of
controversail burials midekhat'chilah and bedi'avad
(Ha'aretz, 8 Adar Sheni 5744/12 March 1984).
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.