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What Is Appropriate Behavior at a Jewish Cemetery?

What Is Appropriate Behavior at a Jewish Cemetery?

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Question:

Hi, I am writing an article on cemetery gatherings, sort of like a how-to piece. I was just reading an article on the site, by Maurice Lamm, that states it is inappropriate to bring a Torah into the cemetery as well as to eat/drink there. Why would doing those things be inappropriate, according to Jewish customs? I am not disagreeing, I am simply writing an article that includes the views of those who take an informal approach and those who take a more formal approach.

Response:

Throughout one's lifetime, the body partners with the soul, together performing G‑d's will in this physical world. As such, though the soul departs from the body upon death, the body deserves to be accorded appropriate respect. An object with which a mitzvah has been performed – e.g., a Torah Scroll or a mezuzah – assumes a degree of sanctity; how much more so the human body, which was instrumental in performing countless mitzvot.

(In addition, according to the Zohar1, part of the soul retains its connection with the body even after death.)

Jewish law, therefore, requires that we treat a cemetery – the final home to so many bodies – with utmost respect. Within the perimeters of a cemetery, frivolous or unfocused activity is not considered acceptable2. Furthermore, as a sign of respect, we derive no personal use or benefit from a cemetery.3 Eating or drinking in a cemetery would be considered: a) utilizing the cemetery grounds for personal benefit, and, b) not in accordance with expected decorum.4

As for bringing a Torah into a cemetery, this has to do with flaunting our mitzvahs before the dead. I'll explain:

The sages teach in the Mishnah 5, "One moment of the satisfaction of the World to Come is more beautiful than all the life of this world." There, the soul of the deceased can experience the joy and ecstasy of spiritual revelations unimaginable in our coarse material world. Nevertheless, none of that can compare to the ultimate experience, which can only be achieved in this world—as they also teach in that very same Mishnah, "One moment of return and good deeds in this world is more beautiful than all the life of the World To Come."

One way of explaining this: In that spiritual World-To-Come, full of light and wisdom, a soul sees the truth. In this dark world of ignorance, however, we may not see truth with any clarity at all—yet we are the workers who are piercing the darkness to bring that truth and light into this world and transform it. And though we, the living, may not fully feel the joy that this generates Above, it is this transformation which is G‑d's ultimate and deepest desire. After the soul has passed on from this world, it no longer can actively be a part of this. Indeed, the souls are envious of their counterparts still invested within physical bodies.

Considering the above, it would be hurtful and insensitive to taunt the dead by flaunting before them a Torah Scroll, a reminder of all the mitzvot they cannot perform while in their purely spiritual state.6

Footnotes
1.

Vol.3, 70b

2.

Talmud, Megilah 29a.

3.

Maimonides, Laws of Mourning 14:13.

4.

Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh De'ah 368:1.

5.

Avot 4:17.

6.

Talmud, Berachos 18a, Code of Jewish Law YD 367:3. According to one opinion it is only halachically prohibited to actually read from the Torah, but not to bring a closed scroll into the cemetery. However, see Responsa of Noda B'Yehudah who explains, based on the Zohar Vol.3, 71a, that this too should not be done.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Anonymous Beds June 6, 2014

Does a woman have to cover her head in the jewish cemetary? Reply

Anonymous Long Beach, CA January 1, 2010

at a Jewish cemetary I was also told that men who wear tzitizit should wear them "tucked in" when attending a levaya (Jewish buruial)....so that the newly departed does not anguish over a mitzvah he can no longer perform. Another sensitivity to learn and be cognizant of. Reply

Baruch S. Davidson, author November 5, 2009

Re: Alexandra Neither of these are associated with the impurity of a dead body. The laws of the impurity of a dead body do apply even in non-temple times to some degree, such as with regard to a Kohen entering a cemetery. Reply

Alexandra New York, NY November 5, 2009

Thank you for the beautiful commentaries! I thought that both prohibitions were due to the uncleanness associated with a dead body as stated in the Torah. Or did this uncleanness only matter at the time when the Temple stood or only in the Holy Land? Reply

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