New American Reform Responsa
207. Yahrzeit for a Non-Jew
QUESTION: May an individual observe Yahrzeit for a non-Jewish leader in the community? The individual was very close to that person throughout life. (Richard Adler, Montreal Quebec)ANSWER: In the long periods of our history during which relationships between non-Jews and Jews were good, we frequently honored them. So, non-Jews were welcome to worship in the Temple (I Kings, 8.41 ff) and participated in its construction as did Hiram, King of Lebanon. Furthermore, non-Jewish sacrifices were acceptable (Meg 73b), as were gifts by pagans unless made with idolatrous intent (Ar 7b). Much later the famous Bevis Marks synagogue (1702) in London contained a roof beam which was the gift of Queen Anne. There was no mention of specific memorials requested with these gifts, but they were publicly acknowledged as the gift of non-Jews. So, gifts by non-Jews to the synagogue are acceptable as long as they are used in accordance with the desires of the congregation (Yad Hil Matnat Aniyim 8.8; Tur Yoreh Deah 258; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 254.2 and Isserles, 259.4). We were, of course, also obligated to bury the dead of non-Jews (Git 60a) and to deal with them in every way as Jews through the hevrah qadishah. The usual memorial prayers may be recited for non-Jews and this was done frequently through the ages. When a non-Jewish ruler who was good to our people died, we mourned him with the appropriate services and several such services from the last century have been preserved. As we honor the dead in these ways there would be nothing wrong with commemorating their Yahrzeit in the customary fashion.June 1989
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