Ask the Rabbi

Non-religious burial


Rabbi David Sperling

Adar 9, 5783
My question is about the connection between a non religious life and halacha. It is known that before 1990 the religious Jewish life was either forgotten or highly suppressed in most of East Europe, just smaller communities remained active. My question, if somebody was not observant during her life, because it was not a question in her environment or was not even aware that she was Jewish, in which manner obliged the descendats follow the mourning and burial practicies? If the deceased didnt want a traditional funeral or bought a burial place in a non-Jewish cemetery, does one fulfills his duty if he arranges the physical part of the funeral (burial in coffin)?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. It isn’t clear to me if you are referring to an actual case that needs a decision now, or are asking a theoretical question. If it is the former – allow me to send condolences – may you be comforted amongst the mourners of Zion. According to Jewish believe, a Jew needs to be buried according to rules of Jewish law, no matter what the deceased requested before they died. It makes no difference as to why they asked to depart from Jewish law, and even if this was because of ignorance. However, sometimes the children (or others) responsible for the burial, are not at liberty to give the deceased a Jewish funeral. Sometimes because of arguments with other children, and sometimes because of force of the decisions the deceased took before they died. When that happens, then one should try to do the best they can – and they are exempt from doing that which is beyond their control. When it comes to the mourning practices – in general one is obligated to mourn for family members who pass away, no matter what level of Jewish life the deceased lived. (There are exemptions to this rule, but they apply when the deceased actively chose to leave the Jewish people). These practices of mourning apply independently, no matter how the burial was carried out. Again, let me send you blessing for only good and comfort.
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