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?


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.


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!