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Burial Grounds as Battle Grounds

So burial grounds have now become the new battle grounds for American Jewish identity.

In a responsa regarding the permissibility of burying Jews and non-Jews together, Rabbi David Golikin, whom I have enormous respect for, closes his ruling that both Jewish and non-Jewish burial grounds must remain separated by saying, “Let us hope and pray that the phenomenon of intermarriage will disappear, so that in the future we will be able to build cemeteries without partitions.”

Instinctively and halakhically, I agree with Rabbi Golikin’s general position. Both the Orthodox and Conservative movements do not allow the burial of Jews and non-Jews together. As Rabbi Waxman points out, the position against mixed burial plots is based more on minhag (Jewish custom) than actual halakhic textual sources.


The problem is that Rabbi Golikin’s blessing belies the reality that intermarriage is not going away and will continue to gain prominence as a lifestyle option for Jews. Likewise, there is something to be said for someone who wants to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. While being born as a Jew may have more halakhic weight, dying as a Jew is certainly an important statement regarding one’s identity.

In some ways, what is a greater statement of one’s identity than where they decide to be buried? If one’s eternal burial choice does not tell you who they really are and what they want their memory to be, than what does?

That said, would we not bury an Israeli soldier born of a non-Jewish Russian immigrant in a Jewish grave? The sad reality is that many in Israel would, and do, not. While I am not advocating that a custom kept for thousands of years be suddenly revoked, it would not hurt us to rethink some of the particulars of what has become a very complex matter.

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Brenda Sessums

posted January 24, 2007 at 8:24 pm

Shame, Shame. If by marriage of course. We want equality and kindness let us show some.

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posted January 25, 2007 at 12:01 am

Is that responsa the best that a Torah giant can come up with? That Jews instinctively knew it was wrong to bury Jews with non-Jews, so it must be a good ruling? I am sure that there were a lot of prejudices and hatreds that ancient tribes ‘instinctively’ knew that got codified into laws. Please. Unless the argument is that upon the arrival of the messiah we would jump out of our graves and become ritually contaminated by the goyim in our midst…. How does one prove that an ancient custom is bad? Apparently using common sense and modern ethical sensibilities is wrong because Chazal must have been smarter than all of us. Lastly, how many college kids hang out at Jewish cemeteries and say “Gosh, I better not date non-Jews so I can be buried with my Jewish spouse here!!!” Claiming that keeping cemeteries seperated is one of the bulwarks against intermarriage is naive and even embarassing. These guys need to get out more. Why do certain mitzvot, such as love the stranger in your midst and the concept of shalom bayis, get trumped by outdated notions of ritual purity? If Hillel could creatively manipulate halakha, why can’t our modern Rabbis, if it is for the sake of heaven and more importantly for the welfare of the shrinking Jewish people?

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posted January 25, 2007 at 5:21 pm

As a Jewish born layperson, I find it incredible that some thoughts I’m reading seem to be based more out of an insecure purist position than reality of the 21st century. There aren’t a lot of Jewish people for the pickins’ in marriageable circles. If a Jew chooses to marry a non-Jew, and raises the children Jewish, isn’t it better than for a Jew to marry a non-Jew and be condemned from the faith, thus forsaking the raising of the children Jewish? I think we could build up the Jewish population that way a whole lot faster! I’m a (Reform) Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man with 2 kids who have become Bar/Bat Mitzvah. My husband has not converted, nor to I request that he must, and my chilren keep their Jewish identity as their anchor. This works for us because my faith is not bound to tradition, but by spirituality in what I believe is the core of G-d and love. I must be going straight to hell (that is, if I believed in it!). My modern Jewish identity is strong and whether the ancients condemn me or not, I would really like my husband to be buried next to me because he has always been supportive of my beliefs and spiritualy, and I really don’t think G-d would mind, even if the rabbi’s do!

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