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Hart Peikoff


by Hart Peikoff, July 25, 2011

This article is in response to an Article seen Saturday July 16, 2011 Pg J 13 in the Winnipeg Free Press.  "Jewish Cemetery designates section for dual-faith couples." [Shaarey Zedek Synagogue]

My parents, grandparents and many aunts and uncles are laid to rest at the Shaarey Zedek Cemetery. I understand the kindness which brought forth this decision allowing dual-faith couples to be buried here. Hoewever, I am not in favour of the decision. 

Arguably those most affected by the decision are those human beings, deceased, who are already laid to rest at Shaarey Zedek Cemetery. [SZC] When they selected their plot they made a contract in good faith with the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue here in Winnipeg that they were to be buried in a cemetary where only Jews were buried. That was a sacred arrangement which now has been violated.

It is possible with the proper consultation with the family and heirs of the deceased this arrangement may be changed legally; however not spiritually or halachically  nor with a deep respect for the deceased. The heirs have legal power to speak for the deceased. Considering the dead have no vote and generally in today's world their children have little or no interest for the most part in defending their rights. Well only 80 individuals approximately showed up for the meeting on this issue at the SZS. Therefore it is unlikely this decision will be overturned.

This makes a powerful statement how little interest halachic issues have in our community at this time in reality. Chabad and Herzlia are probably the only organizations that care.
Regardless of separating the two sections with a road and wall in the cemetery to accommodate duality does not make this appropriate or abiding by the laws of Judaism. And while I understand the struggle dual faith couples are presented with it was their choice to walk this road in the first place.  
The  separating  of the two sections of the cemetery with a road and wall  to accommodate duality does not in my view make this appropriate according to Judaism. And while I understand the struggle dual faith couples are presented with, it was their choice to walk this road in the first place.  

The holiness of the cemetery is compromised and more so affects the resting places of my beloved family. No wall or private road will change the truth of this decision which I see as disrespectful. If this is how Shaarey Zedek wanted to proceed, I think it should have approached a group of Rabbis from all denominations to rule on this decision, rather than have a  synagogue board make this decision on their own. And furthermore if this is what action they chose to take then regardless of the costs of other parcels of land in the city, the Synagogue would have been wise to find another plot of land and purchase it. Go farther out of the city and land will be less expensive. 

Instead of using all their intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy to find ways Jews can marry Jews, I believe the Shaarey Zedek broke down in face of the pressure put forth from their congregants. When confronted with a problem, the advice we usually get is to "follow the path of least resistance." Physics posits that an object will "take" whichever path offers the least resistance, that is it allows it to move forward faster. Well water flows downhill looking for the quickest and easiest channel. Electricity works the same - the amount of current charging through a circuit is inversely proportional to the electrical resistance the circuit presents

It is clear in Judaism that an unconverted Gentile cannot be buried in a Jewish Cemetery even if the male partner has been circumcised. Other than choosing to be converted he is considered non-Jewish and it is not be buried in a Jewish Cemetery. Children of a Jewish mother may be buried in a Jewish Cemetery, including males who have not been circumcised. Why?  Historically, a mother would decide if a person was raised Jewish (mothers raised children) and  everyone  knew who a person's mother was, while there could not be such certainty as to who a person's father was. ( Today through DNA test we are able to determine a person's father with certainty).   . As well the laws state children of a Gentile mother, who themselves have not converted, may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery, even if they were educated in a Jewish school. This includes sons with Jewish education who have had circumcision but do not intend to convert. Religious converts are buried as full Jews."  
I am not judging anyone as who am I to do so. However, just as the Shaarey Zedek board including Ian Staniloff and Rabbi Alan Green have had their voices heard, so should mine be heard. When it comes to burial an altogether different and separate cemetery plot must be created.

According to Faye Rosenberg Cohen from the Jewish Federation at least "one in four" marry out of their faith and the number is growing. Well accommodating this trend will not reverse the direction. The secret according to my way of thinking is to use all our energies and creativity to bring forth a platform which attracts all Jews, no matter their denomination to their birth religion. Families must be a part of this formula. The home is the holiest place on earth and if the home does not practice Judaism then down the road in this new age order there is a strong possibility Judaism will be watered down even more so and we are all in danger of it becoming less and less significant.   

I do not believe that Jewish institutions need to adapt and change to reflect the reality of interfaith marriages. I do not think  that the Torah can be adjusted to fit the emotional requirements of many.

I came from a non observant background but the challenge today as tough as it is, comes with rewarding elevation. I have a long way to go, but nevertheless Judaism like life itself is a journey not an arrival point and  I am proud of myself and I am learning more and more about the most amazing and magical religion this world can offer. It has changed my world.

I rest my case. 


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