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Happily Ever Afterlife for Intermarrieds Too?

We read a lot about dating on this site and finding our b'sheret. But what about 50 years down the road, after we've found that special someone and they suddenly croak? How do we commemorate their life in a way … Read More

By / January 3, 2007

We read a lot about dating on this site and finding our b'sheret. But what about 50 years down the road, after we've found that special someone and they suddenly croak? How do we commemorate their life in a way that befits them and honors our time spent with them on Earth?

This was the question faced by Rob Berman of Newton, MA when his Catholic wife died and he didn't know where to bury her. He couldn't bury her in the cemetary where he had reserved his plot because it didn't accept non-jews. And he didn't want to throw in her a City cemetary, so he found an alternative: Beit Olam, near Boston, a cemetary developed by 16 synagogues, appropriately "divided into sections separated by the space required by Jewish law to delineate consecrated from non-consecrated ground," where "only rabbis may officiate, only Jewish symbols are permitted on the headstones, and the cemetery is closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays."

Beit Olam's religious implications have created more tension and a greater rift between the Conservative and Orthodox communities:

"The halachah is very clear," said Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, head of the chevra kadisha, or Jewish burial society, of Queens, NY "Only members of the Jewish faith can be buried together."

While Orthodox-controlled cemeteries strictly follow Jewish law, Reform cemeteries will bury non-Jews next to their immediate Jewish relatives. A non-Jewish service cannot be used, and non-Jewish religious symbols on the tombstone are not allowed.

Conservative rabbis are guided by a 1991 teshuvah, or responsum, of the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards that states Jews may not be buried next to non-Jews, but if it happens, that does not invalidate the cemetery's Jewish status.

This is relevant to the growing number of cemeteries shared by Conservative and Reform congregations, since the Reform will bury non-Jews and patrilineal Jews, who are not considered Jewish by the Conservative movement. Conservative Jews may use such cemeteries, the teshuvah concludes.

The ruling leaves much discretion to individual rabbis. Many are asking the committee for clearer guidance, said committee Chairman Rabbi Kassel Abelson. He is working on a new Conservative teshuvah "that will be more permissive."

With the 50% rate of intermarriage, "the pressure on Jewish cemeteries to provide burial space for intermarried couples has increased dramatically, with many new initiatives in the past decade."

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