Is this really an Orthodox tradition?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

Is this really an Orthodox tradition? My orthodox Jewish grandmother just died. One of my orthodox aunts has asked that another one of my cousins who is Catholic (her mother is Catholic, her father is the non-observant Jewish son of this grandmother) stand away from the grave site. Supposedly, there is some traditional - perhaps Old Country - reason for this, but it just sounds so hurtful. Is this a real thing? And I'm guessing what I should do is stand back with her also as a show of solidarity or is there more I could do?

Expert Answers

Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min., serves as the consultant/specialist for Union for Reform Judaism in North America in congregational programs concerning aging and spirituality and their impact on families. In that capacity he created the award-winning program Sacred Aging for congregations. He has written for numerous publications, some of which are available through He founded and edits and writes for other websites such as

First of all, let me extend to you my condolences on the loss of your grandmother. The issue you raise is becoming more common as the number of inter-faith families rise. The idea of having your non-Jewish cousin "step-back" from graveside is not based on Jewish law. When I have officiated at funerals where there are family members who are not Jewish, I encourage the family to be united as much as possible. At momnrts of grief, the support of family and community can be transformative. I also must be honest and remind you that at such moments, many family members will call up customs or practices that they "remember" but, in truth, have no basis in Jewish law. As you can probably validate, death and funerals often bring out different behaviors within families. There are many good resources that can take you through the various customes and practices. Let me suggest "Mouring and Mitzvah" by Rabbi Anne Brener as a good popular, easy to access resource. Rabbi Richard F Address, D.Min