At first glance, there can be no greater severance of marital bonds than the death of a spouse. But on a spiritual level, death is only temporary. The soul lives on forever. Is marriage completely ended by death or is that merely permission to remarry? This question has both theological and practical implications. R. Sa’adia Gaon (Emunos Ve-Dei’os 7:6) asks whether, on the general messianic resurrection, formerly married couples will remain married. If not, presumably couples who wish to remain together must remarry. You can imagine that when mashi’ach comes, smart money will move from weapons manufacturers to wedding providers. R. Sa’adia Gaon leaves the question open, saying that Moshe will be alive to answer it for us.

Til Death Do Us Part

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I. Messianic Marriage

At first glance, there can be no greater severance of marital bonds than the death of a spouse. But on a spiritual level, death is only temporary. The soul lives on forever. Is marriage completely ended by death or is that merely permission to remarry? This question has both theological and practical implications.

R. Sa’adia Gaon (Emunos Ve-Dei’os 7:6) asks whether, on the general messianic resurrection, formerly married couples will remain married. If not, presumably couples who wish to remain together must remarry. You can imagine that when mashi’ach comes, smart money will move from weapons manufacturers to wedding providers. R. Sa’adia Gaon leaves the question open, saying that Moshe will be alive to answer it for us.

However, Sefer Nitzachon (quoted in Hagahos Yad Sha’ul, Yoreh De’ah 366:3) contends that a widow who remarries will remain married to her second husband on resurrection. In other words, her death does not dissolve her second marriage.

II. Personal Resurrection

The above discussion revolves around the general resurrection in the messianic future. What if a woman is resurrected by miracle, as happened in the Bible (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4)? Is she still married to her husband or is she free to marry any man she chooses? For example, if we take literally the story in Megillah (7b) that Rabbah killed R. Zeira on Purim and then brought him back to life, was R. Zeira still married to his wife (R. Avraham ben Ha-Rambam says that he merely injured and healed him)?

Ba’er Heitev (Even Ha-Ezer 17:1) quotes the Kenesses Ha-Gedolah who says that the original marriage is still binding. As support, he cites the story of R. Chaninah bar Chachinai’s wife. On seeing her husband after years of separation, she died and he brought her back to life through prayer. If they were then no longer married, the story would have quite an anticlimactic ending.

Similarly, Pischei Teshuvah (ad loc., 1) quotes the following proof from the Birkei Yosef. He quotes a passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi as proof. The Yerushalmi (Gittin 7:3) quotes R. Yossi’s view that if a man divorces his wife on condition that he does not return by a specific time and he dies, she may not remarry immediately because he might be miraculously resurrected. While we do not follow this view because we are not halakhically concerned with miracles, there is no evidence that we reject the view that the marriage remains if a miracle occurs.

This all relates to death within a marriage without subsequent remarriage. If a spouse remarries, that might further sever the original bond.

III. Mourning

R. Moshe Sofer (Responsa Chasam Sofer 2:355) addresses a remarried woman whose first husband’s bones are collected and buried. Normally, the collection and burial require mourning on that day even if mourning had already been observed on death (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 403:1). While the Shulchan Arukh (ibid.) only mentions the deceased’s children mourning, the Shakh (Yoreh De’ah 375:8) says that all close relatives should mourn. Does a remarried woman mourn for her first husband?

The Chasam Sofer rules that she does not. His first argument is logical. The Sifra (on Lev. 21:3) infers that a cohen becomes impure for the death of an “engaged” (arusah) sister (kerovah eilav, close to him) but not a married sister. Her marriage halakhically terminates their closeness. If marriage ends a closeness that derives from birth, certainly it terminates a closeness that emanates from a previous marriage.

He brings another proof from R. Eliezer’s position in Gittin (83a) on a conditional divorce. R. Eliezer held a minority view that permits certain kinds of conditional divorces. The Gemara states that, according to him, a condition is nullified on remarriage. For example, if a man divorces his wife by saying that she is allowed to marry any man except Shimon (for example), and she remarries and then divorces or becomes widowed, she may then marry Shimon. Rashi (ad loc., sv i be-chutz) states that on remarriage, the original marriage is totally disconnected. Similarly, the Chasam Sofer suggests by comparison, on remarriage the connection that triggers the obligation to mourn the first husband is severed.

He also cites Mo’ed Katan (21b) about belated comfort to a mourner. If you miss shivah, you may still comfort a mourner privately as long as the mourning continues (thirty days or a year, depending on the relative). However, if a man remarries within thirty days of his wife’s death, for whatever reason (see Tosafos), you may not comfort him in front of his new wife out of sensitivity for the new spouse. While this does not necessarily imply that the first marriage is completely severed, it sheds light on the Chasam Sofer‘s question. A woman mourning for her first husband may cause difficulty with her new husband.

IV. Burial

R. Yosef Shaul Nathanson (Hagahos Yad Shaul, Yoreh De’ah 366:3, cited in She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-Halakhah 199:7) addresses a question of burial rights that he faced. A woman had children with a first husband and none with a second. After her death, her burial place was disputed. Should she be buried next to her first husband or her second? In some communities (is it only Hungarians?), women and men are buried in separate sections. However, it is clear in halakhic literature, indeed in multiple places in Shulchan Arukh, that husband and wife are buried next to each other. But which husband/wife? We understand that after a divorce, spouses will not be buried next to each other. But remarriage after death, sometimes after decades together, may be different.

R. Nathanson quotes the Sefer Nitzachon and the Chasam Sofer as proof that the first marriage is entirely severed and the woman should be buried next to her second husband. Even if death does not fully dissolve marital bonds, remarriage ends all connection.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

8 comments

  1. So all sources cited in this article agree that a woman’s bond, post-death (assuming any bond remains) is with her last husband irregardless how long or how many children she had with her first, previously deceased, husband.

  2. I think Saadia goes on to rebuke those who ask such questions (e.g., “Will there be room for everyone when we’re resurrected? What will we wear?”). Just for completeness’ sake…

    Aren’t similar questions asked about Eliyahu HaNavi’s widow?

  3. Nachum: I have a similar recollection of someone saying that but I don’t think it was R. Saadia. Sounds more like the Rambam.

    Yes, the Baer Heitev also discusses whether Eliyahu’s wife could remarry even though he didn’t die but that is somewhat off-topic for this post.

  4. IIRC, Rav Meilech Schachter has a piece on burial with first/second spouse, I don’t think it was clear-cut in line with the soel Umeishiv. I think the piece was included in the kuntres of his chiddushim that the family put out after his death (called maybe zichron Elimelech?)

    I can’t seem to find it online, Gil do you (or anyone else) have it, maybe someone can post a pdf?

  5. Sass: Interesting. No, I don’t have it but I will try to get a copy.

  6. WRT messianic times, this is clearly an issue with very little source material to go on. Accordingly, it might be helpful to point out e.g. who wrote Sefer Nitzachon, and whether there is any reason to believe that his opinion has some basis other than ‘it seems to me’ speculation about messianic times on his part.

  7. MiMedinat HaYam

    1. didnt r zeira have problems with his first wife?

    2. hungarians do not (necessarily) bury separately. today is different …

    3. a husband is forbidden to say kaddish for his first wife. (at least for hungarians) while married to second.

    4. “saying that Moshe will be alive to answer it for us” — interesting interpretation of “teiku”.

    5. “if a man remarries within thirty days of his death” that actually is a hungarian custom, if possible. (also, some litvish rabbonim will try to marry a widower with young children, so someone can take care of the children, which it is assumed the widower cannot. no comment on practicality, but i know of successful cases, one a matrimonial attorney, who are notorious for bad relationships.)

    6. there are various halachic preferences for where to bury remarried spouses. some say with the spouse that he / she had children (presumably the children decide) (assumung children only with one, otherwise …) some say with first, even if it was a difficult marriage, some say with second. best solution — pre plan. (assuming death is in town where plot is pre purchased.)

  8. R. Bleich touches on some of these issues in his discussion of heart transplantation

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