Contemporary American Reform Responsa
100. Burial of an Apostate
following tragic situation has presented itself to me. A woman was murdered by her husband who
then in turn shot himself. There is also a possibility of a suicide pact on which they had agreed.
This was a second marriage; both parties were Jewish, however the wife converted to
Christianity two years ago. The children by a former marriage have also converted. The husband
will be buried in another city; the children (who are Christian) would like a minister to officiate at
the funeral but would like the burial to take place in a Jewish cemetery with a rabbi officiating. Is
this permissible? (Rabbi S. Akselrad, Columbus, OH)
ANSWER: This tragic
situation raises a number of questions, however the main issue is whether we consider this
woman to be Jewish or not. When an apostate has died, she has always been given the benefit
of doubt as it was felt that on her deathbed she may have repented and reverted to Judaism.
Although such individuals were considered sinners while alive, they nevertheless were be
considered to be Jews (San. 44a). We bury sinners (Semahot II; San. 47a; Yad Hil. Avel
1.10; Tur Yoreh Deah 334; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 333.3 ff), but do not
accord the honors of the dead to them. There has been some disagreement about the nature of
such honors. We would not provide shrouds, stand in line at the cemetery to console the
mourners, or have a mourning period.
In this instance as the surviving family
members are Christian the ritual at the cemetery should be very simple. The woman may,
however, be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.