There are few families or institutions in the Jewish community whose lives have not been impacted upon by intermarriage. That is why nearly every conference or gathering these days includes something about the elephant in the room. (At JOI’s last conference we placed inflatable elephants throughout the conference hotel—just to make the point.) So it is no surprise that at a recent Hevra Kadisha (Jewish burial group) conference held in Portland, Oregon, the issue emerged once again, confirming our philosophy that intermarriage is a lifelong issue. As reported in the Jewish Review, conference members grappled with decisions that are made regarding where the non-Jewish partner in an intermarriage can be buried.
In Jewish law, I have always felt that where there is a will, there is usually a way. In this case, if we want to find a way to bury those who have cast their lot with the Jewish people (and in many cases raised Jewish children), then we should be able to find it—even within the boundaries of Jewish law. That is why it was heartening to read Rabbi Stuart Kelman’s comments suggesting the possibility, within Jewish legal boundaries, of grave sites for non-Jews in Jewish cemeteries. He also understands the important influence that societal pressure has on Jewish law, as when an outraged Israeli public forced rabbis to bury a fallen Russian Israeli soldier whose mother was not Jewish within the walls of the Jewish cemetery.