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Rabbi David Sperling

Tammuz 18, 5774
A close friend, Sam (in his 50’s), lost his wife, Rachel, to cancer some years ago. Years earlier he had purchased 2 burial plots (side by side) in a local Jewish cemetery. The two vacant plots were bound on either side by graves. Before she died, Rachel urged Sam to remarry and live life to the fullest. Some years after Rachel’s death, Sam did indeed meet someone (Rebecca) and remarried. Rebecca has recently discovered her Jewish roots and has embraced her new identity. But she is profoundly hurt by Sam’s commitment to be buried next to his first wife. Reserving a plot for Rebecca next to Sam is not an option, as the plot is already occupied. Given, Rachel’s dying wish for Sam’s happiness and in the interest of "Shalom Bayit", I suggested reinterring Rachel in the first of three consecutive plots, despite the halachic prohibitions on reinterment (within the same cemetery). My question to you is does Halacha trump conjugal happiness, or does a "Bayit Ne’eman BeYisrael" trump a Halachic prohibition. Please consider that this is a new couple within a blossoming relationship and that Rebecca is still adjusting to her new Jewish identity. Rebecca’s incipient affirmation of her Judaism and the couple’s affinity to our traditions hang in the balance.
Shalom, Thank you for your question. First of all may we wish all those concerned a long a healthy life – and may the question of where to be buried remain a theoretical one for many more years. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 363) rules that we do not remove a body from a grave under normal circumstances. There are certain exceptions (such as bringing a body to the land of Israel, or moving it so as to prevent it from being desecrated) but the case you outline does not appear to be one that warrants moving the first wife's grave. However, I do not believe that we need to put the halacha that forbids moving a grave up against marital harmony, as you have done in your question. It seems to me that the solution to the problem you present lies more in diplomatic work, than rabbinic rulings. There are several diplomatic solutions at hand – firstly, it may be possible to explain gently to the second wife the fact that the soul in the world to come is not limited by the location of the grave, and that by her husband being buried besides his first wife does not mean that his soul will somehow be separated from his second wife (or any other souls) in the world to come. Alternatively, he could consider selling the plot he has purchased for himself next to his first wife, and being buried somewhere else. If his first wife really desired he get remarried she must have also at least thought about the possibility that he would perhaps want to be buried beside his second wife, and this possibility was included in her wish that he "remarry and live life to the fullest". (If he does not want to do this, then it may be possible to explain to him gently the fact that the soul in the world to come is not limited by the location of the grave, and that being buried besides his second wife does not mean that his soul will somehow be separated from his first wife (or any other souls) in the world to come). Thirdly, both he and his new wife could decide to have faith that they will live to see the Messiah speedily in our days, and not need to be buried at all. After having decided that, they should put the whole question out of their minds, and focus on living their live to the fullest without any tension between them. In short, with the right attitude, and a caring heart, they should be able to find a solution that both takes into account the halacha, and allows a for a loving and caring relationship between them. May they both be blessed with a long and healthy life, filled with love and understanding for each other.
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