Mourning for a Non-Jewish Loved One

One of the things that sometimes catches Jews by Choice by surprise is mourning. A loved one dies, and suddenly we are thrust back into our old religious environment, or into mourning behaviors that are alien to Jewish practice.

When my Catholic father died, I was abruptly thrust into a difficult set of situations and decisions. Viewing the body? Mass? A meal afterwards that was mostly pork and shellfish? Should I, could I, mourn as a Jew in space that was Catholic space? What about Kaddish? What about shiva, sheloshim, and other Jewish mourning rituals? Did I have a right to mourn as a Jew for a parent or loved one who was not Jewish? Was it  inappropriate for me to mourn using Jewish practices?

Since that time, I’ve supported many of my students through similar experiences when they were mourning for a relative who was having a non-Jewish funeral and mourning ritual. Over the years I have learned a lot from their experiences and from my own study of Jewish texts.

On February 4 and 11, I’m teaching a class through Lehrhaus Judaica in which I’m going to offer the results of my experience and study on the subject: Death & Mourning for the Jew by Choice.  This class will be an exploration of mourning and self care for converts to Judaism. I am going to provide you with some options and choices, so that you don’t have to invent the wheel as you grieve.

It’s the class I wish I’d had back in 2007: not a list of “thou shalts” but some gentle resources and options for the future. My perspective is that of a Reform rabbi, but with some consultation from your own rabbi, the class is designed to be useful to a Jew in any stream of Judaism.

I will not be offering this class online at this time, but if there is interest may do so in future. For more information, and to sign up for the class if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, see the description in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog. Tuition is $15 for the two sessions. This class is co-sponsored by Temple Sinai, Lehrhaus Judaica, and Building Jewish Bridges.


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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

8 thoughts on “Mourning for a Non-Jewish Loved One”

  1. If I were only closer…this has been a concern of mine now that we’ve converted. An online version would be wonderful – but also understand the need for numbers etc.

    I spoke briefly to my Rabbi about this… and the comment that seems to have stuck was, funerals etc are for the mourners, not the one who has past… so to me, with those words, it grants me the opportunity to practice as a Jew, even though I know the services will likely be Catholic.

    Thank you so much for everything… I love following your blog!

    1. Your rabbi is absolutely right. We care for the dead, but as soon as they are taken care of, our attention turns to the mourners.

      I am looking at options for an online class. When we work it out, I will be sure to post a schedule on the blog.

  2. Alas, I’m working both those evenings. Really wish I could be there, as I’m a little more than halfway through my own year of mourning my non-Jewish mom, and would be interested to hear your thoughts and what decisions others have made and how they arrived at them.

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