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Why Do Jews Fly Their Dead to Israel for Burial?

Why Do Jews Fly Their Dead to Israel for Burial?

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Question:

I was recently at a “funeral” at the airport of someone who was to be flown to Israel for burial. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of this happening. Why go to such great lengths to be buried in Israel?

Reply:

The custom of burying our loved ones specifically in Israel is an ancient one—as old as the Jewish nation itself. The Torah describes how, before their deaths, both Jacob and his son Joseph requested that they be buried in the Promised Land.1 As you rightfully observe, throughout history many have gone to great lengths to be buried in Israel. Here’s why.

Atonement

According to the Talmud, being buried in the Land of Israel brings a certain measure of atonement for sins:

Rav Anan said, “Anyone buried in the Land of Israel is considered as if he was buried beneath the altar; it is written here,2 ‘An altar of earth (adamah) you shall make for me,’ and it is written there,3 ‘His land (admato) will atone for His people.’”4

But does this apply to everyone buried in the Holy Land, or only to those who lived there as well? The Jerusalem Talmud discusses this very issue:

Rabbi bar Kiri and Rabbi Elazar were strolling in Istrina, and they saw coffins arriving in the Land of Israel from the Diaspora.

Rabbi bar Kiri said to Rabbi Elazar, “What are they achieving? I apply to them the verse,5 ‘You make My inheritance desolate [in your lives], and you came and defiled My land [in your deaths].’”

Replied Rabbi Elazar,“When they arrive in the Land of Israel, a clod of earth is placed in the coffin, as it is written, ‘His land will atone for His people.’”6

The halachah follows Rabbi Elazar, and burial in Israel is effective even for those who never lived there.7 (Incidentally, this conversation is the source for the custom of many burial societies of Diaspora communities to place some earth from the Land of Israel inside the coffins.)

An Easy Resurrection

One of the fundamental tenets of the Jewish faith is that the dead will come to life once again in the era of Moshiach.8 The Talmud explains that all the dead will be resurrected in the Land of Israel. The bodies of those who are buried outside of Israel will burrow through the earth until they reach Israel, and there their souls will be reinstated in their bodies. For the especially righteous, special tunnels will form beneath the ground, to make the journey easier and more dignified.9

In order to avoid this whole process, many choose to be buried in the soil of the Holy Land.

Staying with Their Flock

Notwithstanding the great merit of being buried in the land of Israel, some great Jewish leaders have opted to to be buried in the Diaspora to be close to their flock, just as Moses was buried in the Diaspora by Divine decree. Here is how the Midrash recounts the incident:

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: “With what right do you request to enter the Land?”

This may be illustrated by a parable of a shepherd who went out to pasture the king’s flock. Alas, the entire flock was captured by bandits. When the shepherd sought to enter the royal palace, the king said to him: “If you come in now, what will people say? That it was you who have caused the flock to be taken!”

Likewise, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: “Your glory is that you have taken 600,000 people out of bondage. But now you will have buried them in the wilderness, and bring a different generation into the land!? This being so, people will say that the generation of the wilderness have no share in the world to come! No, better be beside them, and you shall enter with them in the time to come [with Moshiach] . . .”10

May it be speedily in our days!

Footnotes
1.
See Genesis 47:29–31.
4.
Talmud, Ketubot 111a.
6.
Jerusalem Talmud, Kilayim 9:3 and Ketubot 12:3.
7.
Although one cannot compare one who was just buried there to one who lived and died there. See Talmud, Ketubot 111a; Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 5:11.
8.
Maimonides’ preface to his commentary on Perek Chelek.
9.
Talmud, Ketubot 111a.
10.
Bamidbar Rabbah 19:13. See also Devarim Rabbah 2:9:
G‑d said to Moses: “If you are buried here, near those who died in the wilderness, then they will enter the Land for your sake at the time of resurrection.” Rabbi Levi said: This may be compared to a man who dropped some coins over the floor in a dark place. He thought to himself, “If I call out, ‘Bring me a light so that I may pick up my coins,’ no one will take notice of me.” What did he do? He took a gold piece and threw it amongst his coins and began calling out, “Bring me a light, I had a gold piece and I dropped it here,” and they brought him a light. What did he do? As soon as he picked up the gold piece, he said to the people, “I adjure you, wait for me until I have picked up my coins,” and he collected them. Because of the one golden piece, all his smaller coins were collected. Similarly, G‑d said to Moses: “Should you be buried near those who died in the wilderness, then they will enter the land for your sake . . .”
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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M L K Brockton Ma July 3, 2016

Burial It is most certainly a great honor to be buried in Israel. When one does not have funds to do so is a sin ? Where I live we have a small Jewish community . With a small Jewish cemetery part Orthodox other reformed . My husband is buried in the Orthodox part and when my time and my daughters comes we have one flat grave stone their so we will be buried together . Reply

Susan Levitsky June 30, 2016

Why tunnels? Wouldn't it be more dignifies to fly there? It makes as much sense as burrowing through the earth or having tunnels form. How did the sages ever come up with such an outlandish story. Of course, this was before they knew how far away the Americas and Australia are as if that makes a difference. Reply

Anonymous June 30, 2016

It is because the land of Israel has the highest resurrection rate in the entire world ! Reply

mavin June 30, 2016

To Bas Kohen: What about the centuries of Jews who could not, under any circumstances, have gone up to EY to live or to be buried because, the journey would be too much and those who were so poor? No, to be buried in EY for Jews who really yearn for that, it is a mitzvah. The typical Jew today has no desire for such a thing, but those who do have that desire and have requested to be buried there, will have the same blessing of rising with those buried in Israel because they were lucky enough to live there. Trouble is that there are so many interpretations, depending on customs, locations where we were thrown to in this long and intolerable exile. How many Jews live today in the galut because for many reasons cannot make the journey up to EY?
As far as room in Israel, the Land is hardly occupied by our people and there are those who should not be there, hamavin mayvin. Reply

Anonymous Illinois June 30, 2016

Add the exorbitant costs, it seems like much wasted money that could go to other good causes like Jewish education. Besides it is burdensome for the family to visit their loved one's grave often if at all. Once the grave is thousands of miles away, the grave will not be visited often enough. Reply

Hypatia UK June 29, 2016

not necessarily The bodies of those who are buried outside of Israel will burrow through the earth until they reach Israel, and there their souls will be reinstated in their bodies. For the especially righteous, special tunnels will form beneath the ground, to make the journey easier and more dignified.

Why?

IF you accept the concept of 'supernatural' which the above idea incorporates
then it could just as easily be the case that the area of the land comprising Israel expands to encompass the entire globe, in which case the skeletal remains would not need to relocate Reply

Jorge Qro. Mexico June 29, 2016

And His land (admato) wll atone for His people. "‘And His land (admato) will atone for His people. footnotes ’3 ”4." This is very interesting to me because I have for certain, that the land where one has lived has its magic, what I didn't know was that the Land of Israel would atone for those buried inside her at Moshiach era.
Thank you Rabbi Shurpin for sharing this. Reply

Gary Perl Staten Island June 29, 2016

Flying the dead to Israel You believe in an afterlife. I am an atheist and do not. You actually believe that those buried outside of Israel have to roll their way to the middle east so they can be among the first to be resurrected. I am well aware of the importance of Israel and respect it, but I do no respect extremist and fundamentalist religion. Reply

Bas Kohen Chutz l'aretz June 27, 2016

And yet . . . My understanding is that one who is buried in Eretz Yisroel but did not live in The Land (for three consecutive Shalosh Regalim) will still have to endure techiyas hameisim - that is, the body will still be drawn through the earth. I have no source for this, but I believe this opinion is attributed to The Ramban. If this is so, then burial in The Land for those who lived in chutz l'aretz is chaval, taking up burial plots more justly reserved for natives and Olim, and wasting precious monetary resources that could be put to better use by the survivors and our communities. (I believe it would be appropriate to address the exorbitant costs incurred in delivering a body to The Land for burial.) Reply

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