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Community Burial

 

I. Separate Cemeteries

Jews and Gentiles share many aspects of their lives but in their deaths they must separate. Halakhic authorities over the centuries have consistently ruled that Jewish cemeteries must remain exclusively for Jews. In early nineteenth century, R. Shlomo Kluger strongly opposed joint cemeteries and decades later R. David Tzvi Hoffmann demanded that a Jewish cemetery exclude (halakhically non-Jewish) children of Jewish fathers and Gentile mothers (Tuv Ta’am Va-Da’as 3:2:253; Melamed Le-Ho’il 2:127). R. Avraham Kook (Da’as Kohen 201), the Minchas Elazar (2:41), the Tzitz Eliezer (16:36) and R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer 7:YD:36) are just some of the recent authorities who have insisted on maintaining this tradition. What is the reason for this practice?

When Rus, the paradigmatic convert, indicates her intention to join the Jewish nation, she tells Naomi: “Your people are my people, and your God is my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:17-18). The Talmud (Yevamos 47b) explains that Rus was saying that Jews bury the righteous and wicked separately (see Sanhedrin 47a).

This is quite puzzling because Rus was never wicked. She had been a righteous Gentile and became a righteous Jew. Why was she implying that prior to her conversion she would have been buried separately from Naomi?

II. Separate Burial

Elsewhere, the Talmud (Gittin 61a) states that the Jewish community buries Jews and Gentiles. The commentaries — Rashi, Ritva, Ran, Meiri — explain that this means that the Jewish community tends to the needs of the deceased regardless of ancestry. However, it does not mean that we bury everyone together. Rather, Jews are buried in a Jewish cemetery and Gentiles are buried in their cemetery.

The Ran, in his commentary to the Rif (ad loc.), states that we cannot bury Jews and Gentiles together because we do not even bury righteous and wicked Jews together. Later authorities, such as the Bach (Yoreh De’ah 151), phrase it as a logical deduction. We don’t bury righteous and wicked Jews together so certainly (kal va-chomer) we don’t bury Jews and Gentiles together. But what is the kal va-chomer between a wicked Jew and a righteous Gentile?

III. Separate Communities

I suggest that the separation of cemeteries — which requires at least a deep gate and a space of eight amos — is not a function of righteousness but of community. Burial is not just a sacred religious rite but also a lifecycle ritual. We perform those ceremonies as a community, practicing our religion as only a society can.

Those who are distant from our religious community are excluded from these rituals. While denying access to non-religious Jews is an obviously sensitive subject, those who are executed by a religious court (the subject of the talmudic discussions) are more easily turned away. They have been tried and convicted of irreligiosity and cannot be buried with our community.

Righteous Gentiles share a bond with religious Jews but only as like-minded people within different communities. Therefore, while we take care of their burials needs, we require that they have their own cemeteries. If even wayward Jews are excluded from a Jewish community cemetery, then certainly Gentiles must be as well.

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

36 Responses

  1. IH says:

    For info, according to the footnote associated with this page of Heilman’s “When a Jew Dies” — http://tinyurl.com/5uofttw — “dates the establishment of [seperate] Jewish cemeteries to sometime in the mid-fourteenth to early fifteen centuries”.

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    Actually Parshas Chayei Sarah, and the protracted negotiations for the purchase of Kiryat Arbah, serves as a very early model for a Kever Yisrael as a communal institution.

  3. Hirhurim says:

    Someone should have told Rashi and the other Rishonim.

  4. IH says:

    Feel free to discuss it with Prof. Heilman. Let us know the result…

  5. Hirhurim says:

    You mean Prof. Samuel Heilman, the sociologist?

  6. IH says:

    Yes (link as above).

  7. Skeptic says:

    The Jewish cemetery in Worms has tombstones that go back to the 1000s.

  8. You mention a “tradition” of separating those who are halakhically non-Jewish as well, despite the fact that they may consider themselves Jewish in every respect. Do you know of any cemetaries where this tradition is maintained? I imagine it would only be in places where there is a large Jewish population; the Jewish population in Australia is too small (approx. 120,000) to cause such a division within the community.

  9. Shlomo says:

    “Why was she implying that prior to her conversion she would have been buried separately from Naomi?”

    Yes, because each FAMILY had its own burial site.
    באשר תליני אלין ושם אקבר – the first half of the the phrase refers to a family home; presumably the second half is similar.
    Ruth wanted to join not only the Jewish people but a particular family in that people.

  10. mycroft says:

    Steve Brizel on February 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm
    “Actually Parshas Chayei Sarah, and the protracted negotiations for the purchase of Kiryat Arbah, serves as a very early model for a Kever Yisrael as a communal institution.

    Hirhurim on February 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm
    Someone should have told Rashi and the other Rishonim”

    Certainly Tanaitic/Mishnaic/ period burial practices are not at all similar to todays.

  11. Nachum says:

    I think Gil was making a sarcastic remark about Professor Heilman, i.e., what do those ignorant historians know trying to confuse us with the facts!

  12. aiwac says:

    “I think Gil was making a sarcastic remark about Professor Heilman, i.e., what do those ignorant historians know trying to confuse us with the facts!”

    Uh, Nahum, I think his point was precisely that Prof. Heilman is NOT an historian. Don’t let that get in the way of a good swipe, though…

  13. Nachum says:

    He swipes, I swipe, you swipe.

  14. mycroft says:

    “Uh, Nahum, I think his point was precisely that Prof. Heilman is NOT an historian. Don’t let that get in the way of a good swipe, though…”

    Instead of swipes-is Prof Heilman accurate or not?

  15. Clara says:

    If Jews and Gentiles are separated at death because they have lived (communally/religiously) apart in life, where would a ger toshav have been buried? In these days, where should an observant bat or ben Noach be buried?

  16. Baruch Gershom says:

    Gil: Are there any responsa about battlefield cemeteries and nationally prestigious cemeteries, such as Arlington National Cemetery?

  17. Baruch Gershom says:

    Gil: One more thought: If a Jewish relative is buried in a cemetery that is mixed, are relatives banned from visiting the graves (assuming they had no say or power to move the mes to a Jewish cemetery)?

  18. Josh S says:

    Baruch,

    Re Arlington… I had the same question re Allied Cemeteries abroad.. look at pictures of the US Cemetery on Normandy. I had seen a response in JWB Jewish Welfare Board publication online that was matir with the following logic. It seems there is no issur rather it’s a desire of not burying the good and wicked together and considerations should be given to the following. Those soldiers fought and died together for a united cause how would it appear if you looked out at all the headstones and saw only crosses? People would say did the Jews do anything? Did they fight? So I think the svara is it’s not an issur muchlat and there are other considerations in play i.e. let the world know jews fought and died to …it was a kiddush Hashem !!! To be honest I can’t remember if the writer was orthodox or reform but the svara sounds good. Also, it’s important to note that there could be a bedeeved and l’chatcila answer. I.E. should one be place with non jews on a military cemetery of note. FYI – in WWII they way it worked was that the allies would bury people where they fell and after the war the US and allies went back and recovered bodies and buried them in these central cemeteries. To be more correct the US Gov’t gave the families a choice where they wanted the bodies to be buried. I know first hand of the grand son of a great Polish admor and posek (quoted in Sredai Aish) whose grandson was killed in the US Army and at the families request was reinterred in the jewish cemetery in Paris (Seine). There may have been halachik considerations but the reason they gave was that his mother was buried there not because of his faith.

    Gil,

    Who is Rus ? Why is it the book of Ruth but written Rus ? Do we need to be so frum ? It’s written as Talmud not Gemara ? It took me about 10 seconds to figure it out maybe I’m showing my ignorance.

  19. S. says:

    >I think Gil was making a sarcastic remark about Professor Heilman, i.e., what do those ignorant historians know trying to confuse us with the facts!

    Speaking of Heilman, in an article he wrote in the early ’80s, he said that R. Akiva Eger taught at Volozhin (!!!). Now, R. Akiva Eger was offered, and declined, the rabbanus of Vilna, but does anyone know of even any other tortured or farfetched explanation for it? (I’m hardly an expert in Lithuanian-Ukrainian geography, but Google Maps shows that it is today a two hour drive between Vilnius and Valozhyn, so it isn’t even as if one appointment somehow could have entailed the other.)

  20. IH says:

    So, Prof. Heilman’s footnote references this book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Crossing-Jabbok-Nineteenth-Century-Contraversions-Literature/dp/0520081498

    It appears to be a translation from the French original written by this Historian: http://www.eurojewishstudies.org/redirect.php?url=http://crh.ehess.fr/document.php?id=149

    —–

    I read Heilman’s book last year and thought the most interesting parts were the chapter on Tahara (1st half previewable on Google Books) and the explanation of the hakafot minhag that is used in Israel by some Jerusalem chevrei kadisha, and in the YU affiliated Eretz haChaim cemetery (ref: Pages 107 (middle) through 109 in the same tinyurl link provided in reply #1).

    Overall, it is an excellent book to read during the extended months of one’s aveylut; as is Wieseltier’s brilliant Kaddish which examines the history of Kaddish Yatom using Shu”t through RMF.

  21. IH says:

    I leave it to those more learned that I, but the Talmud has some broader ideas about Ruth and Orpah and their legacy which adds meaning to the reference in the posting.

    While Ruth becomes the progenitor of David ha’Melech (and all the significance thereof), Orpah becomes the progenitor of Goliath (and all the significance thereof). There is an aggada I recently learned in Sanhedrin 95a that I dubbed “Crouching Tiger” because it is so graphic in its narrative it would make a wonderful animated short.

    ——-

    Rus, as far as I know, is the name of the ethnic Russian people, region and states; but, I am not a historian or sociologist :-)

  22. IH says:

    Regarding non-Jews in Jewish cemeteries, as mentioned the other day, if you’re ever lucky enough to be in London when Elkan Levy conducts his tour of the Willesden United Synagogue Cemetery (the first multi-congregation Orthodox cemetery in the UK, opened in 1873) you will learn how the intermarried Rothschild family members are buried there with their non-Jewish spouses.

    At a minimum, he generally conducts the tour during the annual European Jewish Heritage Day that occurs in the later summer.

  23. DTC says:

    The Chief Rabbi of Washington DC during WWII was asked by the family of a Major in the US Army if they would be allowed to follow the specific request in the Major’s will to be buried in Arlington.
    After going through a short discussion of the reasons for separate cemeteries, he was willing to entertain the proposal that the reason for separate burial is due to the fear of the lack of Kavod Hameis in a non-Jewish cemetery, which in theory (recent scandals to the contrary) should not be an issue at Arlington National Cemetery.
    However, the teshuva sent to R. Ruderman in Baltimore does not have a reply printed with it, and the name of the requestor was not published so the actual psak in that specific case is unknown.

  24. Josh S says:

    DTC – do you know the name of the Rabbi in DC ?

  25. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    it seems the politics of the time was to tend to permit the family request in DTC’s case during WWII. but would not be practical today.

    the “famed” Lt Birnbaum was scholar in residence a few years ago at i shul i community i lived in (ok, he’s not a scholar, or a sociologist, or a historian, but he’s a good speaker, and it was good politics for the local rabbi to invite him as SIR) describes how he buried his brother after D-Day, then arranged to bring his body back after WWII via usarmy program to do this. (after lending the klausenberger rebbe his tfillin.)

    3. since discussing jewish and non jewish burial practices, note that our concept of “kavod ha-met” applies to non jews, but i assume we defer to non jewish practices if they aren’t (overly) objectionable.

  26. IH says:

    http://www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/shockoe.htm

    “The Hebrew Confederate cemetery on Shockoe Hill in Richmond, Virginia, is the only Jewish military cemetery in the world outside the state of Israel.”

  27. DTC says:

    The Chief Rabbi was R. Yehoshua Klavan, the father of the current President of the Va’ad Harabbanim – Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, R. Hillel Klavan.
    The topic is raised in the posthumous sefer: Divrei Yehoshua in the 3rd section (I don’t have the volume in front of me currently.)

    R. Klavan was known as one of the foremost talmidim of R. Baruch Ber Lebovits (and he would frequently commute to Baltimore to serve as Magid Shiur at Ner Yisrael in the absence of R. Ruderman.)

    The implication from the teshuva was that R. Klavan was looking for a way to be lenient but was did not wish to make such a far-reaching statement on his own, so he sent the teshuva to his close friend, R. Ruderman for concurrence.

  28. Josh S says:

    DTC

    Many thanks, yes i know of Rabbi Klavan

  29. Steve Brizel says:

    Mycroft asked:

    “Instead of swipes-is Prof Heilman accurate or not?”

    When Prof Heilman is writing pure participant sociology as in his exellent book on the Charedim, synagogue life or his adventures in finding a shiur to learn in Yerushalayim during a sabbatical, his works are excellent and great Sifrei Musar.

    However, when his works either venture into his own POV re MO’s slide to the right , one can find many instances in the latter books where an agenda for a MO lite is being advanced at the expense of the historical record.

    As far as the bio of the LR is concerned, one introductory comment is in order. Even if one accepts as many of us do that there are major Halachic and Haskafic issues with Chabad messianism, Chabad is an important port of entry for many BTs and Gerei Tzedek and serves as the only semblance of Orthodoxy on many college campuses and in many Jewish communities. I can’t comment on Prof Heilman’s bio of the LR ZL,because I haven’t read the book in its entirety, but from my skimming of the book, as well as what I read in the printed reviews and in Prof Heilman’s own defense in response to R Chaim Rappaport’s heated critique, perhaps the real message is that the LR was one of the greatest BTs of our age.

  30. mycroft says:

    “Mycroft asked:

    “Instead of swipes-is Prof Heilman accurate or not?””

    Is he accurate or not is the question.

    “”When Prof Heilman is writing pure participant sociology as in his exellent book on the Charedim, synagogue life or his adventures in finding a shiur to learn in Yerushalayim during a sabbatical, his works are excellent and great Sifrei Musar.””
    He should be writing as a professor-not as one giving mussar-the question remains: Is he accurate

    “However, when his works either venture into his own POV re MO’s slide to the right , one can find many instances in the latter books where an agenda for a MO lite is being advanced at the expense of the historical record.””
    The issue of what is the historical record is very problematic-there is a vested interest of vayakam melech chadash to pretend nothing existed before us. We find that happening often. Certain Heilmans work has less prejudice than histories of organizations paid for by the organization.

  31. Nachum says:

    One option given by the Army was to send bodies back to the US. I once read that Jews took advantage of this much more than Christians- likely because of the desire to have them buried in Jewish cemeteries- and if that hadn’t been the case, we’d see a lot more Magen Davids in the European cemeteries. That we see even the amount we do is remarkable.

  32. josh s says:

    Nachum,

    You are correct. I had to track down the body mentioned above. Sixty years later the Army was able to provide a copy of the entire file 100 plus pages. 11MB it was amazaing to read it and see the sequence of events and how things were done

  33. Shachar Ha'amim says:

    The Rus/Ruth usage was a way out there case of badly used ashkenazis/yeshivish

  34. talmid says:

    Gil – according to your thesis wouldn’t a person executed in a Jewish court be allowed to be buried together with a gentile (they are both outside of the community). I do not believe the halacha is that way. Perhaps the reason for this halacha is similar to the reason that there is no mitzvas kevurah at all on gentiles. See Eretz Hatzvi (Rav Schachter) for a beautiful explanation of why there is only a mitzvas kevurah on a Jew.

  35. Steve Brizel says:

    Mycroft wrote in part:
    ““”When Prof Heilman is writing pure participant sociology as in his exellent book on the Charedim, synagogue life or his adventures in finding a shiur to learn in Yerushalayim during a sabbatical, his works are excellent and great Sifrei Musar.””

    You missed my point-I found the above works, despite their being based in participant sociology, were great Sifrei Musar.

 
 

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