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