Contemporary American Reform Responsa
88. Widower’s Rights
QUESTION: A young
woman has died and been buried. Now her parents wish to move her grave to another location.
The widower, who was left with young children and is now remarried, has objected to this request
and denied it. According to Jewish law, who has the ultimate authority and obligation in
connection with the deceased wife? (Rabbi M. Staitman, Pittsburgh, PA)
The ketubah stipulates that the husband must support his wife in every way. This includes
normal obligations of food, shelter and clothing (Ket. 47b; 65a ff; Yeb. 66a). Furthermore, if his
standard of living rises, he is obligated to provide for his wife an increased level. If it diminishes,
he can not, however, decrease her maintenance (Ket. 48a, 61a). He is obligated to take care of
her medical expenses (Ket. 51a ff; Yad Hil. Ishut 14.17; Shulhan Arukh Even
Haezer 79), to ransom her (Ket. 52a ff) and to bury her (Gen. 23.19, 48.7, 49.31; Ket. 46b ff;
Yad Hil. Ishut 12.2; Shulhan Arukh Even Haezer 111). If he is poor, he must
provide a decent funeral (Ket. 46b), and otherwise make provisions in accordance with local
custom (Ket. 28a).
These obligations grant him complete authority to make final
determination in each of these matters. The remarriage of the widower has no bearing on this.
Such remarriage is encouraged as soon as an adequate mourning period has passed. That is
normally considered to be the passage of three pilgrimage festivals, but if there are young
children, remarriage may take place sooner (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah
According to rabbinic tradition, and according to the practice of Reform
Judaism, the widower has absolute and complete rights in this matter.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.