Final Rest

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Death rites are widely observed in any religion, as people look to tradition for guidance in that confusing time following a loss. Judaism demands a simple burial in the ground. However, often out of ignorance, many Jews opt for cremation. This is certainly contrary to Jewish practice. The Tur (Yoreh De’ah 362) and Shulchan Arukh (ad loc., par. 1) explicitly require burial in the ground, as opposed to placement in a coffin or container above ground, based on a Biblical verse.

For many, Jewish law is sufficient. For others, R. Doron Kornbluth recently wrote a convincing book titled Cremation or Burial? A Jewish View. Many choose cremation because it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly. R. Kornbluth points out that the most expensive cremation is on par with the most expensive burial while the least expensive cremation is only slightly cheaper than the least expensive burial. The key to managing the cost is embracing Jewish burial tradition.

An ancient custom demands that Jews use burial shrouds that are simple white robes and that any casket used is a plain pine box with no metal at all. Deceased bodies are not embalmed, covered with cosmetics or otherwise tampered with beyond the (free) purification performed by the burial society (Chevra Kadisha). While many choose to hold funeral services at a chapel prior to burial, a graveside service is certainly acceptable and even common. All this saves significant money (even moreso when done through a bulk program like Levaya) and also makes for a more environmentally friendly burial.

People often mistakenly think that cremation is the natural way to dispose of a body. It is actually more damaging to the environment than a traditional Jewish burial. Statistics comparing the environmental impact of burial and cremation fail to consider that much of burial’s impact is avoided by Jewish tradition. The coffins, formaldehyde and cosmetics that pollute the earth are contrary to Jewish law. A Jewish body decomposes along with its wooden coffin, completing the cycle of life by returning to the dust from which we came (Gen. 3:19). While decomposed dust brings life to the ground and allows for plant life to flourish, ashes destroy the ground and prevent anything from growing. The energy required to cremate a body — maintaining approximately 2,000 degrees for about 2 hours — is a significant use of fossil fuel. Additionally, every cremated body emits toxins. Those with fillings, medical insertions or other unnatural parts will emit even more. The environmental impact is significantly diminished in a simple burial.

R. Kornbluth sensitively points out that graves are for the living. Children, grandchildren, even distant relatives may someday want a place where they can connect to their lost loved one. Even when people live far away, a single location designated for a deceased relative is a very meaningful connection to the past, a way to return to your roots.

Jewish law requires burial in the ground. R. Kornbluth goes beyond the law, using language and ideas accessible to all readers to show why burial is the most sensitive and appropriate way to conclude a life and continue the chain of existence. R. Kornbluth’s excellent book received input from many, including R. Elchonon Zohn of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha. I pray that this contribution will help to console the bereaved and guide them toward tradition during their difficult time.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

61 comments

  1. ” Judaism demands a simple burial in the ground.”

    is this really true?
    did you ever visit the sanhedria caves before they were gated up?

  2. Did you follow the link to the Tur or look up the Shulchan Arukh? See also this teshuvah from the Beis Yitzchak (YD vol. 2 no. 161): http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=619&st=&pgnum=554&hilite=

  3. Gil — and what about textual sources before the 13th century?

  4. IH: Is that how you pasken a she’eilah?

    Ephrayim: That’s interesting to discuss from an historical perspective but inadmissible to an halakhic discussion. But see Otzar Yisrael for a different conclusion http://HebrewBooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=2590&st=&pgnum=228

  5. Moshe: Dr. Brill confirms that Orthodox rabbis have consistently forbidden cremation and mainly discusses whether cremated ashes may, after the fact, be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

    Here are some good sources on contemporary halakhah:

    Ya’aneh Be-Eish http://HebrewBooks.org/530
    Kol Bo Al Aveilus http://HebrewBooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=2825&st=&pgnum=53&hilite=
    Gesher Ha-Chaim http://HebrewBooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=31174&st=&pgnum=130&hilite=
    R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin http://HebrewBooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=22080&st=&pgnum=106&hilite=
    Otzar Yisrael http://HebrewBooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=2590&st=&pgnum=228

    And from the Conservative movement, R. Isaac Klein http://www.schechter.edu/JM_Lib/Responsa.pdf

  6. interesting that this is today’s headkine:
    http://www.vosizneias.com/102072/2012/03/02/jerusalem-rabbis-promote-layered-burial

    necessity is the mother of invention?
    KT

  7. I am surprised that any Jew living this soon after the Holocaust could choose cremation on purely emotional grounds. And most of those dying today were alive during WWII, not just “soon after”.

    I once pointed this out to a friend, and he was able to use it to convince his grandmother to take a request for cremation out of her will. I do not know how he phrased it to her, though, and I would think that would be critical.

  8. “An ancient custom demands that Jews use burial shrouds that are simple white robes and caskets that are plain pine boxes with no metal at all.”

    The requirement for pine boxes is a myth. Plenty of people are buried with no box at all.

    And we find more and more burial sites of Jews who are buried in ostuaries, in caves, and not “six feet under”

    Confusing Minhag and Halacha is always a bad idea.

  9. Gil, thanks for this. I always wondered why, if we want the body to decompose as soon as possible, cremation isn’t OK, but this puts it well.

    A couple of factual points: 1) The coffin is usually not burned. The body is in a cardboard box or liner when they do. 2) There are no ashes. The heat destroys everything but the bones- turns it to gas. The “ashes” are actually ground bones.

    IH, yes, they laid them out in caves. But that seems to have been “burial” in their lexicon. It *is* in the earth, technically. Of course, they then gathered the bones and put them in a box and then put *that* in a cave.

  10. To add to avi- the halacha, in fact, is no coffin at all. In Israel, only people who die violently (including soldiers) are buried in coffins. (There is a cinderblock vault, though.) A coffin is a concession to dina d’malchuta, and even then has no bottom or virtually none. Some people pay off the cemetery people to look the other way while they break up the coffin.

  11. Moshe Shoshan

    Gil,
    I did say that Brill post contradicted what you wrote
    However I dont see the relavence of the tur citation. Where does it sya that you cant cremate if you bury the ashes?
    Is there a source in the poskim pre-1850 who says that it is assur to burn a body before burial? I am to challenging the issur. But it still does not seem to be so obvious from earlier sources

  12. Gil – I’m not sure why you are being so defensive. I agree with your Halacha le’ma’aseh; but, the justification is much more complex than you let on. In glossing over the complicated history and its interrelationship with cultural norms at different times in Jewish history (particularly the Tana’im), you leave hostages to fortune.

    E.g. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/History/Early+History+-+Archaeology/Beit+She-arim+-+The+Jewish+necropolis+of+the+Roman.htm

  13. Nachum: I’m not sure that all of your facts about cremation are correct. And your statement that the halakhah requires no coffin is incorrect. The Vilna Gaon was buried in a coffin!

    Avi: You are correct. I should have written “at most” a plain pine coffin.

    Moshe: I wrote regarding the Tur: “The Tur (Yoreh De’ah 362) and Shulchan Arukh (ad loc., par. 1) explicitly require burial in the ground, as opposed to placement in a coffin or container above ground, based on a Biblical verse.” I do not believe you have said anything to contradict it.

    Regarding cremation, the Gemara in Avodah Zarah 11a seems to say that it is only permitted for kings and nesi’im but the text requires interpretation.

  14. Joel: I believe layered burial is still considered within the ground.

  15. R’ gil
    I agree – just that it may take away some of r’ kornbluth’s apologetics using the term to mean a defence of halacha using non halachic mores)
    Kt

  16. Hirhurim,

    In the Biblical and Second Temple periods Jews consistently did not cremate. This is especially important in the Second Temple period when even though it seems that other prominent Jewish burial practices were taken from Graeco-Roman culture, cremation was NOT adopted.

    Another note: The Tur and SA are obviously our guides for a halachic discussion, but when it comes to figuring out what Biblical figures actually did, Biblical archaeology and pshuto shel mikra (which in this case is difficult, but ultimately decipherable) are clearly the only admissible pieces of evidence.

    It happens to be, happily for you (I think), that the current picture of things is that Jews (yes, I know, and I don’t care) buried in the ground if they could not afford to bury in standing caves. Tanach only describes the practice that we find in the caves (although it’s possible that even Jews who couldn’t afford them would mimic them by later collecting bones and dumping them in a pit). In the caves (which, as far as I know, is the only form of burial in use during the First Temple period (although, again, those who couldn’t afford it likely simply buried in the ground – whether a wooden coffin was used is unclear, but I suspect not)) the bodies were buried on benches where the bones were collected after decomposition and stored either under the tomb, or in a charnel pit. This is the simple meaning of “v’asifcha el avosecha” and similar expressions in the sense that the bones of parents and children (i.e. multiple generations) LITERALLY rested together.

    In any case, I think the traditional picture of Jewish burial is pretty solidly on Gil’s side.

  17. Yes, if one is flexible about the definition of “burial” as Nachum correctly observes at the end of 7:12am.

  18. Joel: It’s my “apologetics” — or, as I would call it, simply stating the unanimously agreed upon halakhah. R. Kornbluth doesn’t really discuss it, presumably because he doesn’t expect his audience is particularly interested.

  19. IH: I am being “defensive” (I guess that’s better than being offensive) because 1) I don’t believe history has any role in this discussion, and 2) you tend to imply, if not actually state, that history should play a role in halakhah.

  20. Gil — on the other hand, when you look at the above-ground burial in caves of Tana’im and their contemporaries — which are plain to see — you can unnecessarily and inadvertently sow doubt amongst believers simply by being overly literal/polemical. I don’t think that is a good strategy.

  21. It seems to me there is another interesting angle on this topic: bodily resurrection.  This is, of course, a fraught discussion post-Shoah.  But, I suspect it intersects with the minhagim and halacha that developed regarding burial.  Anyone know?

  22. Rafael Araujo

    Nogeiah to Purim, interesting that the Targum says that Haman HaRoshoh was prepared to burn the bodies of the Jews.

  23. IH: Surprisingly, R. Kornbluth devotes a chapter to this. He takes the Ramban’s approach.

  24. GIL:

    i just looked quickly at the tur. please free me of my ignorance and point out to me the relevance to my question above about the sanhedria caves. (i freely admit to almost never opening up yoreh deah and maybe i’m not understanding some of the terminology in this siman.) of course these caves say noting about permission to cremate, which i understand is the point of the post, but i was just trying to understand the statement that jews must be interred in the ground.

  25. MICHA:

    “I am surprised that any Jew living this soon after the Holocaust could choose cremation on purely emotional grounds.”

    there was a case recently (in israel?) of a woman who willed that she be cremated. i don’t recall the details, but she felt guilty that she alone survived and she felt this was how she could be reunited with her relatives (or something like that)

  26. Abba: My point was that the Tur and Shulchan Arukh are unequivocal about the obligation to inter in the ground, Sanhedria caves notwithstanding.

  27. I came across stories like this when living in the UK as well. German survivors who chose to be cremated. I couldn’t believe it the first few times I read about it….

    Here’s a link to the UK Reform movement’s view: http://www.reformjudaism.org.uk/a-to-z-of-reform-judaism/contemporary-issues/cremation.html

  28. GIL:

    that’s great! now i don’t feel so bad. i thought i was missing something in the tur.
    in any case, i didn’t doubt that our normative halacha is burial in the ground. but presumably not always the case?

  29. IH, MICHA:

    “I couldn’t believe it the first few times”

    it’s shocking to us, but the more i think about it i’m not sure why. the germans didn’t invent cremation for the purpose of disposing of jewish bodies. cremation existed before hand and was even used by jews (obviously not orthodox jews). and did the germans cremate jewish bodies for reasons other than practicality (i have no idea)? as prof. leiman once quipped (i think in reference to the fact that germans generally didn’t desecrate jewish cemeteries), they only cared about living jews, not dead jews. is there any indication that they cremated the bodies davka because it is against halacha and to further violate jews even after death?

  30. Unfortunately, a lot of Holocaust survivors became athiests as a result of their experiences. Look up Dr. Henry Morgenthaler of Canada, who was a Holocaust survivor, avowed athiest, and the person who publicly performed abortions in Canada in the ’80’s when it was illegal (until 1988).

  31. RAFAEL:

    lehefech, i read a story (in yaffa eliach’s hasidic tales of the holocaust?) about a nurse during the war was forced to perform abortions and afterward dedicated herself in some capacity (i forget exactly what) to working with newborns

  32. RAFAEL:

    are you suggesting that we can’t understand these people’s wishes for cremation because we are coming from different contexts (us halachik and them atheist) or that they davka will creation as part of their atheist rebellion?

  33. Gil – “An ancient custom demands that Jews use burial shrouds that are simple white robes and caskets that are plain pine boxes with no metal at all”

    i think people are harping on the ancient custom line would assume something recorded many centuries before the middle ages and into antiquity – nobody is questioning halacha here (except maybe the coffin issue which if you ever buried anyone in israel is not used in most places i think) but customs do change. are there sources in mishnah and talmud of plain wooden coffins? i believe that one source – which describes kokhim (holes in caves) is tractate smachot (mishnah i believe) which is post talmidic i think. then again, caves is burial in the ground (also i think they may have use sarcophaguses – made out of stone)

    jerry – was the practice of burial in caves in israel continue to when ? middle ages?

  34. AR:

    I believe the latter. However, I am of the mind that we simply cannot understand, try to understand, or even question the actions of survivors after what they went through.

  35. Ye’yasher kochakhem to our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student and distinguished respondents. However, I am slightly surprised by the first sentence of this excellent essay, when the Rav zatza”l writes as follows:

    “We are, therefore, opposed to any public debate, dialogue or symposium concerning the doctrinal, dogmatic or ritual aspects of our faith vis à vis “similar” aspects of another faith community.”
    (Source: http://www.traditiononline.org/news/originals/Volume%206/No.%202/Confrontation%20Addendum.pdf )

    Perhaps, then, the first sentence could be reformulated as “Death rites are widely observed by all human cultures, as people look to tradition for guidance in that confusing time following a loss.”

  36. Ruvie: I was clearly referring to the Mishnah and Baraisa on Mo’ed Katan 27a. If you want you can quibble about whether it means a coffin or just a slab of wood but I think my description is sufficiently accurate for a book review. Certainly there are plenty of mentions in Tannaitic literature of an aron in which the dead are buried. I believe the practice was to carry a body on a mitah and then bury it in a grave inside an aron.

  37. R’ gil – the mishnah in moed katan speaks of a bier – bed of the dead. how is that a coffin that is put into the grave of soil? maybe i misunderstood the misnah and gemera – but i see no reference to burial in coffin in soil. i find it strange that there is really no mention of how many feet underground or of a matzeveh etc.

    “Certainly there are plenty of mentions in Tannaitic literature of an aron in which the dead are buried. I believe the practice was to carry a body on a mitah and then bury it in a grave inside an aron.”

    not certainly.yes, a mitah but where is the proof of a pine coffin – and not caves. again, sarcophagus es are coffins but made of stone – which there is proof of.

  38. Gil,

    You don’t need to assume anything about the sugyos or the reality (or the connection between the two). Rachel Hachlili has already done all (and I mean ALL) of your homework for you. Look it up. There’s no need to sound ignorant when it’s so darn easy not to.

    Also, your contention that history has nothing to do with this discussion is wrong. All this insistence does is make your Judaism inauthentic. History doesn’t CHANGE the halacha or COMPROMISE the halacha, but it certainly provides a context for it. Ignoring it sounds (and is) phony.

    This is especially important when, I believe, you happen to have history on your side!

  39. Ruvie: There are plenty of mentions throughout Shas of an aron for burial. See here where the Gesher HaChaim provides many sources: http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=31172&st=&pgnum=84&hilite=

    Jerry: I have never heard of Rachel Hachlili. Can you give a citation? History is good for telling what was, if you can possibly get past the speculative nature of the discipline. It doesn’t inform what is and what should be.

  40. R’ gil – will look at the sources post shabbat but the first source you mentioned – moed katan is incorrect from my quick – am haaretz – reading of it. although, what type of aaron is used – what is it made of – i don’t think is mentioned (just not sure but please tell me if you know); also, aaron can be of transportation for distances but locally not used.

    just curious, do you consider the custom of burying in caves problematic even though i would think it is the ground? or just sidestepping it?

    jerry – thank you for the reference of r. hachlili.

  41. Hirhurim: “Can you give a citation?”

    ‘Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period’ (2005). She’s written a lot, but this is a good, thorough place to start. Bibliography will send you anywhere you need to go beyond that.

    Hirhurim: “History is good for telling what was, if you can possibly get past the speculative nature of the discipline.”

    Some things are speculative, many are not. And even within the “speculation” category, there are things that are so likely to be true that they cannot be dismissed. Determining what may be safely dismissed and what may not is part of responsible scholarship. Often “It all has a chezkas ‘unreliable speculation'” is just as irresponsible as “It’s all true.”

    Hirhurim: “It doesn’t inform what is and what should be.”

    It does. Just not in the way you mean.

  42. correction -i do not wish to infer that the moed katan you reference mentions an aaron – it doesn’t but commenting on other possible references in rabbinic literature. there is also – i am told – many references to kokhim – which are holes in graves in rabbinic literature – but do not currently have citations for yo – maybe others here do.

  43. correction – holes in caves.

    shabbat shalom

  44. What’s you take on the recent controversy in Israel surrounding multi-layered burials. The haredi establishment is dead-set against it, because it would mean a hit in their bank accounts…

    It is pretty clear from both archaeological and Halakhic sources that such a burial is muttar and perhaps even preferable.

    Re: cremation, from the Tanach, it’s pretty clear that it was practiced (However, as you pointed out, this may have been reserved only for royalty). Some examples from tanach:

    ספר שמואל א פרק 31 כתוב:
    (יב) וַיָּקוּמוּ כָּל אִישׁ חַיִל וַיֵּלְכוּ כָל הַלַּיְלָה וַיִּקְחוּ אֶת גְּוִיַּת שָׁאוּל וְאֵת גְּוִיֹּת בָּנָיו מֵחוֹמַת בֵּית שָׁן וַיָּבֹאוּ יָבֵשָׁה וַיִּשְׂרְפוּ אֹתָם שָׁם:
    (יג) וַיִּקְחוּ אֶת עַצְמֹתֵיהֶם וַיִּקְבְּרוּ תַחַת הָאֵשֶׁל בְּיָבֵשָׁה וַיָּצֻמוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים

    בספר דברי הימים ב פרק טז כתוב:
    (יג) וַיִּשְׁכַּב אָסָא עִם אֲבֹתָיו וַיָּמָת בִּשְׁנַת אַרְבָּעִים וְאַחַת לְמָלְכוֹ:
    (יד) וַיִּקְבְּרֻהוּ בְקִבְרֹתָיו אֲשֶׁר כָּרָה לוֹ בְּעִיר דָּוִיד וַיַּשְׁכִּיבֻהוּ בַּמִּשְׁכָּב אֲשֶׁר מִלֵּא בְּשָׂמִים וּזְנִים מְרֻקָּחִים בְּמִרְקַחַת מַעֲשֶׂה וַיִּשְׂרְפוּ לוֹ שְׂרֵפָה גְּדוֹלָה עַד לִמְאֹד

    ספר הנביא עמוס פרק ו (ט) וְהָיָה אִם יִוָּתְרוּ עֲשָׂרָה אֲנָשִׁים בְּבַיִת אֶחָד וָמֵתוּ: (י) וּנְשָׂאוֹ דּוֹדוֹ וּמְסָרְפוֹ [משרפו] לְהוֹצִיא עֲצָמִים מִן הַבַּיִת וְאָמַר לַאֲשֶׁר בְּיַרְכְּתֵי הַבַּיִת הַעוֹד עִמָּךְ וְאָמַר אָפֶס וְאָמַר הָס כִּי לֹא לְהַזְכִּיר בְּשֵׁם יְהֹוָה

  45. “I’m not sure that all of your facts about cremation are correct.”

    Verified by Wikipedia, my dark lord and master. 🙂

    “And your statement that the halakhah requires no coffin is incorrect.”

    You may have mistyped, as you seem to confirm this right below, but if coffins are required, how do you explain all the Israelis- and some non-Israelis- not buried in coffins?

    “The Vilna Gaon was buried in a coffin!”

    1) How do you know? 2) If so, so what? It doesn’t mean it’s required, and it doesn’t mean he wasn’t following some Russian law.

    Abba:

    1. I’d just like to point out that the Germans buried lots and lots of their victims. (Babi Yar, etc. etc.) That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, obviously.

    2. The story about the doctor is in one of Hanoch Teller’s books, but I’ve seen it written up elsewhere. (Al pi shnayim eidim, as R’ Leiman would say.) I forget her name.

    “I believe the practice was to carry a body on a mitah and then bury it in a grave inside an aron.”

    R’ Yochanan ben Zakai was carried out of Yerushalayim in a box. Maybe they were carried in an aron and laid out on a mitah?

  46. Moshe Shoshan

    ““The Tur (Yoreh De’ah 362) and Shulchan Arukh (ad loc., par. 1) explicitly require burial in the ground, as opposed to placement in a coffin or container above ground, ”

    Ok, but what happens if you pour the ahses directly into a hole in the ground? My point is that you have not established an issur against burning the body, just against the way cremation remains are usually interred. I repeat my request for sources that explicitly forbid the burning of a body. It seems obvious that iut should be assur, but does anyone say that out right prior to the late ninteenth C.?

  47. Ruvie: I acknowledge that the citation from Mo’ed Katan does not directly address coffins but I believe it does indirectly. The takanah was to ensure low-cost burials and that presumably includes every standard item in a burial. And coffins were used in Tannaitic times, as per above.

    Jerry: You are absolutely correct about history. I appreciate your nuanced response.

    Nachum: Perhaps you meant to say that coffins are not required but you said that coffins are not allowed. I find that hard to accept, especially since (for example) the Gemara (Mo’ed Katan 8b) permits making a coffin on Chol HaMo’ed for someone who died.

    Moshe: I think we are speaking past each other. Here is the original sentence from my post: “The Tur (Yoreh De’ah 362) and Shulchan Arukh (ad loc., par. 1) explicitly require burial in the ground, as opposed to placement in a coffin or container above ground, based on a Biblical verse.” I did not claim that the Tur forbids cremation if the ashes are subsequently buried.

    Joel Davidi: My understanding is that layered burial is still connected to the ground. Is that correct?

  48. IIRC in Europe multilevel seemed to take place?
    KT

  49. joel rich on March 2, 2012 at 5:20 am
    “interesting that this is today’s headkine:
    http://www.vosizneias.com/102072/2012/03/02/jerusalem-rabbis-promote-layered-burial

    necessity is the mother of invention?
    KT”
    Necessity? There is plenty oif unused land for cemeteries-maybe not as close to center Jerusalem as Har menuchot but certainly as close as Beth Shemesh-which is closerto central Jerusalem than many US cemeteries are to where the population is from.

  50. “Nachum on March 2, 2012 at 7:15 am
    To add to avi- the halacha, in fact, is no coffin at all. In Israel, only people who die violently (including soldiers) are buried in coffins. (There is a cinderblock vault, though.) A coffin is a concession to dina d’malchuta, and even then has no bottom or virtually none. Some people pay off the cemetery people to look the other way while they break up the coffin”
    It is my impression that the OrthodoxJewish community in New Mexico is able to bury without coffins piggybacking on a nexception permitted for Native Americans religious practices.A coffin is concession to non Jewish legal requirements.

  51. R’ Gil – “I believe it does indirectly. The takanah was to ensure low-cost burials and that presumably includes every standard item in a burial. And coffins were used in Tannaitic times, as per above.”

    Where is per above? I wouldn’t assume anything if it’s not mentioned. Aderabba, I would also assume that a gold or silver inlaid coffin or ornamental one would be the most expensive item on that list – certainly more than fragrances – and would have been mentioned if they used coffins. Not convincing argument and based on what evidence? you are ignoring the Kokhim references in rabbinic literature and archaeology and secondary burial ( which the rabbis neither legislate nor denounced except for diaspora Jews which seem to have been controversial – see yerushalmi ketubot 12:3, 35b.

    Where is the source for coffins in tannaitic times as normative? It is strange that we have many halachot on mourning practices as halachot in antiquity but not burial (recorded that is)- any thoughts? I believe Josephus writes that many kin of the decease were impoverish for the excessive cost of funerals so moed katan takanot is dealing with a real and not insignificant problem in that society – similar to cost of bar mitzvahs or weddings in our times.

  52. Gil: Of course coffins are *allowed.* They’re just not required and, according to at least some, are not ideal.

    Joel, what’s the question? The Prague cemetery, for example, is pretty layered.

  53. “My understanding is that layered burial is still connected to the ground. Is that correct?”

    Depends what your definition of ‘connected to the ground means’. Here is a photo to better illustrate how it works:
    http://www.bet-almin.com/2009/08/blog-post_185.html

  54. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the objections. Are you (Nachum, Ruvie) objecting that in this sentence I imply that coffins are mandatory? “An ancient custom demands that Jews use burial shrouds that are simple white robes and caskets that are plain pine boxes with no metal at all.” My intent was that simplicity is mandatory but I now see that I unintentionally implied that coffins are mandatory.

    I’ve changed it to: “An ancient custom demands that Jews use burial shrouds that are simple white robes and that any casket used is a plain pine box with no metal at all.”

  55. Gil: I see the misunderstanding. Thanks for the correction.

  56. R’ Gil. – “Are you (Nachum, Ruvie) objecting that in this sentence I imply that coffins are mandatory? “An ancient custom demands that Jews use burial shrouds that are simple white robes and caskets that are plain pine boxes with no metal at all.” My intent was that simplicity is mandatory but I now see that I unintentionally implied that coffins are mandatory.”

    Yes plus there is an “ancient” Jewish custom of the use of coffins as well. The attempt of simplicity is understandable given certain facts that we know but painted a statement that some can argue is untrue ( since it was most likely middle ages and not in the land of israel acceptance of it). In looking into the subject over the weekend it was interesting to note that there were drastic ancient jewish custom changes in this area but not due to theology issues: no apparent reason why ossilegium (collection and reburial of bones) just disappeared. Thank you for the change.

  57. The first 3 photographs are thought to be of R. Yehuda ha’Nasi’s sons R. Gamliel & R. Shimon, as well as that of Hanina ha’Katan.

    As for R. Yehuda ha’Nasi himself, the guide writes: “Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi commanded that he be buried in the ground, and not in a sarcophagus and indeed, in the floor of the hindmost chamber, a special grave for a couple has been hewn from the bedrock, surrounded by a wall of well dressed stones.”

  58. Thank you R’ Gil for publishing this post. I also want to inform that for people who can not even afford the Levaya Program, we at Hebrew Free Burial Association (www.hebrewfreeburial.org) have been arranging funerals and burials for indigent Jews for 124 years. Last year, 380 Jews in the tri-state area were brought to a proper burial by our organization.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter


The latest weekly digest is also available by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter

Archives

Categories

%d bloggers like this: