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.