Contemporary American Reform Responsa

93. Burial of a Divorced Wife

QUESTION: A man was married, had a child by his wife; he was then divorced. He remarried and the second marriage led to no further children. Subsequently he died after a considerable number of years of marriage to his second wife. Both the first wife and second wife are elderly women. The question of their burial sites has now arisen. The only child of the family wishes to have his mother, in other words the first wife, buried alongside his father. On the other hand, the second wife feels that it is her prerogative to be buried there. Which woman should be buried next to this man? (Rabbi R. Benjamin, Davenport, IA)

ANSWER: All formal relationships between this man and his first wife were broken by the divorce as you indicated. The two may even have been enemies for some time. The Shulhan Arukh states that two individuals who are enemies should not be buried alongside each other (Yoreh Deah 362.6; Ezekiel Landau, Nodah Biyehudah II Even Haezer 79). This general statement has been applied to a husband and wife who continually quarrel with each other and never bothered to get a divorce. They, too, should not be buried next to each other (Aaron Meir Gordon, Shaarei Daat, p. 95, #5).

Some confusion may have arisen in the mind of the child who may remember some discussion about a similar question when dealing with a widow. In that case, in contrast to divorce, there is some discussion as to whether a second marriage completely annuls any relationship which existed previously. Moses Sofer certainly thought so (Hatam Sofer Yoreh Deah #355). However, there are other authorities who disagree (J. Greenwald, Okh Letzarah, p. 145 ff). As this question deals with divorce, it is completely different.

According to the spirit of tradition, the second wife should be buried with her husband, and the first wife should be buried somewhere else. However, there is nothing which would prevent burial in the same cemetery so that the child of these two individuals may readily visit their graves.

August 1982

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