Which husband should I be buried next to?

December 1, 2011

Question: My first husband died after a very happy marriage together, which produced two children. After some time, I remarried and have been blessed with an equally happy marriage. When the time comes, which husband should I be buried next to?

Rabbi Naftali Brawer

Naftali Brawer is the CEO of the Spiritual Capital Foundation.

This is an extremely difficult and sensitive question to answer. Ideally, one hopes to spend a lifetime with a beloved spouse. Sadly, this is not always so. When a bereaved widow or widower finds love a second time, it does not, and should not, replace or erode one's first love; a love that one will take to the grave. And yet this by no means minimises one's second love, which can be as intense and meaningful but in a different way.

The rabbinic sources are divided on the solution to your problem. On the one hand, there is the mystical tradition cited in the Zohar and referenced by many later rabbinic sources that indicates a woman should be buried next to her first husband.

On the other hand, the view of Rabbi Moses Sofer (1762-1839) is that one should be buried next to her second husband. A close reading, however, of Rabbi Sofer's responsa indicates that only if the wife predeceases her second husband is she buried in a plot next to his eventual resting place.

If the woman, however, outlives both husbands, it appears that Rabbi Sofer would agree that she be buried next to her first husband.

There is another bias in the literature towards burial with the husband with whom one had children. This in your case appears to be your first husband. In the case where a woman has had children with both husbands, the distinction is no longer relevant.

These are all basic guidelines but the most important factor is what the woman herself wants. If you have a strong personal preference, then that is certainly something to take account of.

I would also consider your children's feelings. There is something very comforting about seeing one's parents resting side by side for all eternity and it would be wrong to deprive them of this unless there was a very good reason to.

If your decision is to be buried next to your first husband, make sure you explain your thinking carefully and sensitively to your second husband. It might take some time for him to fully accept your choice, especially if it comes as a surprise to him.

If this is so, be especially patient and understanding. Do not allow a decision for what happens after 120 years affect your relationship here and now.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.

This is a wonderful problem to have. There are many who find marriage difficult, or even deeply traumatic, and also those who wish to marry but are unable to, so to have found happiness twice is very fortunate indeed.

The issue itself is complicated by competing considerations. One is that your first husband might have expected you to be buried with him in due course. However, to be blunt, the dead do not own the living, and people have to adapt to changing circumstances. Relationships end and new ones must be allowed to flourish.

Moreover, a truly loving spouse would hope the surviving partner finds contentment again and understand that the subsequent marriage has to take precedence over previous loyalties.

A second concern is the children of your first marriage, who may want their parents to be buried together, be it for reasons of emotional completeness or sheer convenience for visiting purposes. Still, they may have become attached to your second husband and understand your dilemma, or, at least, respect him for the happiness he has brought you (which also makes their own lives much easier). You need to find out their opinions, but share your own feelings - be they definite or still unresolved, so that, even if they do not agree with whatever decision you make, they will understand why you made it.

Some Jewish sources give weight to "the love of one's youth", but this is romance rather than halachah; another factor could be whether you are married to your second husband for much longer than your first.

But the most important determinant is you: while it is appropriate to think of others, which includes the close relatives of both husbands and any expectations they may have, you have the right to your own wishes. Remember that there are additional possibilities. If you feel it is an impossible choice to make, or that others will see it as preferring one husband to another, you could be buried separately from both, or you could opt for cremation.

But others should judge you only by the way you fulfilled your duties to both men, and both sets of in-laws, while married to them. There is no right choice between two loves at different stages of your life. You are entitled to say "here I will lie" and for everyone else to accept your verdict.

Last updated: 4:46pm, December 1 2011