My father was buried in a Jewish cemetery under the observance of a rabbi in a single grave of dual plots. My mother, who is even less observant, has chosen to be cremated with no religious observance.

This is my question: Her demise is imminent. Would it be proper, under Jewish law, to bury her in an urn on top of her husband's casket? Or does it need to be buried in the adjacent grave?

If on top of her husband is allowed, the family could then donate the second grave site to someone else.


I am disconcerted to hear of your mother's condition. Miracles do happen, perhaps she has many more years to go. Nevertheless, it is wise to deal with these matters now and not to wait.

Cremation is not a Jewish practice. The body is holy; it is the temple of the soul. We don't burn temples, just as we don't burn Torah Scrolls or Tefillin. Neither do we burn Jews. For, although your mother may not have considered herself religious, I'm sure she accomplished many mitzvahs every day of her life. So her body is also a precious treasure, a holy object.

I understand that this is your mother's expressed wish, and a good son fulfills his mother's desires. In this case, however, you are permitted to rebel. After all, if your mother would stretch out her smallest finger and ask you to burn it, would you do so? All the more so, you must refuse when she asks you to burn her entire body. It is an act that cannot be reversed. It is said to cause pain to the soul. And in my experience, it is an act that is almost always deeply regretted by the bereaved.

Which brings us to another issue that you yourself have raised: It is quite doubtful that any traditional Jewish cemetery will permit an ash urn to be placed in the cemetery, as this would be providing imprimatur on a distinctly un-Jewish ceremony. You and your siblings are able to visit your father's grave, and from that place your soul may connect with his, and you honor his memory by returning to that place. That will never be so with an urn of ashes. Ashes are a destruction of a memory, a complete divorce of the soul from this world.

I could simply answer your question and my job would be done. But we Jews are all responsible for one another, we care for one another as a single family. And so, I am writing not just to answer your question, but to express my sincere concern and heartfelt hope that you will bring your mother to a proper Jewish burial, as every mother deserves.

Here are three brief essays on the topic of cremation that you may find informative food for thought:

What is the Jewish View on Cremation?

Why Does Judaism Not Allow Cremations?

Why does Jewish law forbid cremation?