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Burial Plots

Burial Plots

Parshat Vayechi

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It is customary to purchase one's burial plot while still alive.1 I've heard that this is a segulah (spiritually propitious act) for longevity, because by doing so one contemplates his own mortality and uses his time allotted on this earth more wisely.

Interment in Israel

Before Jacob passed away, he requested of his son Joseph2 to bring his body to Israel3 for burial in the Cave of Machpelah, because:

  1. Those buried in Israel will rise first at the time of the resurrection, whereas those buried elsewhere will have to travel through subterranean tunnels in order to reach Israel before they will be resurrected.4
  2. Interment in Israel atones for one's sins.5
  3. Jacob asked to be buried near his parents and grandparents as it is proper to be buried with one's family.6

Joseph also asked his brothers to assure him that when their descendants would leave Egypt, they would take his bones and bury them in the Holy Land.7 The Talmud explains8 that this also was to ensure his expedited resurrection, as explained above.

We learn from this that interment in the Holy Land is considered a great privilege9

If one was buried outside of Israel, the family may later re-inter the body in the Holy Land.10

Being Buried With One's Family

It is important to be buried amongst one's family members.11

If one's parents are not buried together, it is preferable to be buried near the father.12 A married woman or a widow is buried near her husband and his family. A divorcee is buried with her family. (See below regarding a widow who remarried.)

If a person was buried elsewhere, the body may be re-interred in the family plot at a later time.13 This process may only be done in consultation with an expert rabbi.14

Being Buried Amongst Righteous People

It is not proper to bury a righteous man near a wicked man.15 In fact when a wicked man was mistakenly buried near Elisha the Prophet, the newcomer was miraculously brought back to life (temporarily) so that he should not remain buried there.16

We find in the prophets17 that being buried near a righteous person brought about salvation for an individual: A false prophet asked his children to bury him near a true prophet,18 and in this merit, when King Josiah burned the bones of all of the false prophets, he didn't burn the bones of this one who was buried near the true prophet.19

Similarly, an average individual should not be buried next to an extraordinarily righteous person20—though it is certainly permissible to bury a penitent near a righteous person.21

A Jew should always be in a Jewish cemetery.22

Owning One's Burial Plot

According to the Talmud,23 it's considered disgraceful for a person to be buried in a plot that doesn't actually belong to him.24 For this reason, if one has not purchased his grave while alive, the family members should buy it before burial. It's the Jewish custom that even a pauper is provided his own burial spot, using communal funds.25

Burying Men & Women Together

In some communities, spouses are buried side by side26—the way our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried.27

In the event of a second marriage following the death of a spouse, the custom is to be buried next to the spouse with whom one had children. If one had children with both spouses or with neither, one may choose which they wish to be buried next to. If this choice wasn't made before the passing, the person is buried with the first spouse.28

In other communities, it is customary for the men and women to be buried separately.29 Some say that today we can not be certain that our spouses are the ones that were preordained from before our birth, especially in a case where there were multiple marriages. Since the souls may not be two halves of one whole, and are not necessarily together in the next world, they should not be buried together.30

Moving a Body to another City

If one passes away in city that has a Jewish cemetery, he should be buried there, not moved to another city—for to move the body might be construed as disrespectful to the people buried in the city of passing.

One may, however, move the deceased in order for him to be buried in Israel or together with his family members, or if the person specifically asked to be buried elsewhere.31

Footnotes
1.

Midrash Rabbah Leviticus 5:5; Shiltei Giborim end of sixth chapter of Sanhedrin.

3.

See also Rashi, ibid., for several reasons why Jacob didn't want to be buried in Egypt.

4.

Rashi, ibid., from Talmud, Ketubot 111a.

5.

Talmud, ibid.; Maimonides, Laws of Kings 5:11.

6.

Talmud, Bava Batra 110b; Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah 366:3.

8.

Ketubot, ibid.

9.

See Talmud, ibid.
The Jerusalem Talmud (Ketubot 12:3) says that when Rebbe bar Kirya saw coffins being brought from Babylon to Israel, he commented that they are coming to "contaminate the land" (a paraphrase from Jeremiah 2:7). The commentaries there explain that this comment only applies to people who did not make an effort to live in Israel during their lifetime, not those who were unable to live in Israel for reasons beyond their control. Nevertheless, one who lives in Israel while still alive and is then buried there is granted a greater measure of atonement.
Some explain that the concept of "contaminating the land" couldn't apply to Jacob, who asked to be buried in Israel, because his body was wholly pure and could not cause any contamination (Pardes Yosef, Vayechi 7). Alternatively, he believed that the Land had not yet been sanctified (ibid 69).

10.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid., 363:1.

11.

Tosafot d.h. Ein mefanin on Moed Katan 13a. See also Chatam Sofer on Yoreh Deah 331.

12.

Nitei Gavriel, Hilchot Aveilut 93:2. See there for the sources.

13.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid., and Shach ad loc.

14.

Nitei Gavriel, ibid., 94:14.

15.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid., 362:5. This law was transmitted to Moses at Sinai (Chatam Sofer, ibid. 341).
According to Jewish law, those executed by Jewish courts would be buried in the court's cemetery (where the bodies would remain for 12 months). The courts had two cemeteries: one for those executed via stoning or burning, the more severe methods of capital punishments (which indicated that their sin was more severe), and one for those executed via decapitation or strangulation (Sanhedrin 46a). This because even a less wicked man should not be buried with one more wicked than him (ibid 47a).

16.

II Kings ch. 21, according to one opinion expressed in the Talmud (ibid.). According to another opinion there, this man was not wicked, but was brought back to life in order to fulfill the prophecy that Elisha would resurrect two people (see II Kings 2:9-10).

19.

It's interesting to note that this false prophet was the same man who was originally mistakenly buried near Elisha—according to the first opinion mentioned above (Sanhedrin ibid).

20.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid.

21.

Ibid.

22.

Chatam Sofer, ibid.

23.

Bava Batra 112a.

24.

This is deduced from Joshua 24:33, where it says that Phinehas buried his father – the high priest Elazar – in "the plot that was given to him." Various explanations are given as to how Phinehas acquired the plot.

25.

Chatam Sofer, ibid.

26.

Nitei Gavriel, ibid., 93 note 9.

27.

See Genesis 25:10; 49:31.

28.

Nitei Gavriel, ibid., 93:8.

29.

Ibid. 5.

30.

Ibid., notes 8 and 10.

31.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid., 363:2.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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Aryeh Citron Surfside, Florida July 3, 2012

Gravestones A gravestone may be standing upright or lying flat on the grave. Either one is acceptable. Practically, one should choose the style that is used in that particular cemetery. Reply

Anonymous Bronx, New York July 1, 2012

minuments Is it permissable to have a monument that lies flat on the grave or a monument which stands upright? Reply

Aryeh Citron Surfside, Fl January 4, 2010

Burial plots Whether it's preferable to be buried with family outside of Israel or in Israel without family is an interesting question and I'm not 100% sure of the answer.
It would seem that it's better to be buried in Israel. I say this because the Halacha permits re-interring a person in Israel even if that will mean he will not be buried with his family. Whereas, if one was buried in Israel he may not be re-interred outside of Israel even to be buried with family (See Nitei Gavriel on Laws of Mourning page 707). Despite this, one must take into account that depending of the family's location, being buried in Israel might make it difficult for them to visit the gravesite, which is customary for family members on the day of a Yahrtzeit. This custom is good for both the relatives and for the deceased (see ibid. pg. 570).
I hope I have shed some light on this issue although the final answer remains somewhat unclear. Reply

Stephen Brenner Surfside, Fl January 3, 2010

Burial plots Rabbi,
Is it preferable to be buried in Israel rather than with one’s family elsewhere? From this article it would seem yes but it is somewhat confusing.
Thank you Reply

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