Dear Rabbi,

I previously believed that all the tombstones in Jewish cemeteries should face the same direction. I recently attended an unveiling, a tombstone dedication ceremony, and saw that many of the tombstones in one section in the cemetery faced a different direction than the rest.

Why would the graves in one section all face the same way? Is there a specific direction that graves should face? If so, which way?


I too have found that in many cemeteries graves face different directions, though the graves in a given section mostly face the same direction. After some research, I have found that there is no absolute rule regarding how the graves in a cemetery should be aligned.1

However, there could be several reasons that graves face the same direction in each section of the cemetery. Practically, it saves space. Another reason might be the general rule that tombstones should not be designed to be larger than the other tombstones in the same section. Therefore it is suggested that the graves be placed in an orderly way so as not to bring any attention to any one grave over another.2

While researching this topic, I found an interesting responsum in Jewish law from Rabbi Moshe Sofer, known as the Chatam Sofer (from the name of his volumes on Jewish law).

He says that, while Jewish law does not require all graves to face any particular direction, in anticipation of the ultimate redemption and the messianic era, when all will be resurrected, there was a custom that evolved in many communities:

  1. In many cemeteries, the bodies are buried with their feet facing the entrance to the cemetery, to symbolize that they will leave the cemetery at the time of the resurrection of the dead.
  2. At the time of the resurrection, everyone will head to the Land of Israel, and therefore some cemeteries are set up so that the feet of the dead face the direction that one would take to travel to Israel. For instance, in cemeteries in Europe, the dead were buried with their feet to the east, and in others, with their feet to the south. Because Israel is southeast of Eastern Europe, one would travel either east to Turkey and then south, or first south to the Mediterranean and then east.
    Based on the above, some cemeteries in Europe had entrances on both the south and east sides and buried their dead in either direction.3

Please let me know if this helps.