Burial In Israel

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People are frequently sent to Eretz Yisroel for burial, especially with the advent of modern air travel. Is there a reason for one to choose to be buried in Eretz Yisroel? What if one instructs his family that he does not wish to be buried there? Is there a preference for burial in Yerushalayim over other cities in Eretz Yisroel? Is it permitted to exhume a grave in order to bring the niftar to Eretz Yisroel? Sometimes the chevra kadisha will place dirt from Eretz Yisroel in the coffin; what is the source and reason of this custom? All these issues and others will be addressed in this issue.

Halachically Speaking
Volume 10 Issue 2

Authored by Moishe Dovid Lebovits
Reviewed by Rabbi Ben-zion Schiffenbauer Shlit”a
Piskei Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlit”a
Reviewed by Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlit”a

Burial in Eretz Yisroel

It is apparent from the Gemorah [1]Kesubos 111a. that there is a benefit to be buried in Eretz Yisroel. This is learned from the fact that Ulah died in Chutz La’aretz and was brought to Eretz Yisroel. The Gemorah says that although he was buried in Eretz Yisroel, there is a difference between living in Eretz Yisroel and be buried there, and living in Chutz La’aretz and being brought to Eretz Yisroel for burial. [2]Gesher Hachaim 1:27:8:1. The Yerushalmi [3]Maseches Kelayim 9:3. says one who dies and is buried in Chutz La’aretz in essence has two deaths (disadvantages). One who dies in Chutz La’aretz and is buried in Eretz Yisroel only has one death. We know that Yaakov Aveinu commanded Yosef to bury him in Eretz Yisroel (see below). [4]Rambam Hilchos Melachim 5:11. In addition, Yosef instructed the B’nei Yisroel to remove his bones from Mitzrayim. [5]Bereishis 50:25.

Many poskim mention the custom to be buried in Eretz Yisroel as well. [6]Refer to Keser Shem Tov 2:page 676, Shevet HaLevi 2:207,  Minchas Yitzchok 7:136,  Chelkas Yaakov Y.D. 206, Tzitz Eliezer 11:75, Gesher Hachaim 1:27:8:1, Be’er Moshe 7:page 325:5. Today the custom of many is in fact to be buried in Har Ha’zeisim outside of the Old City of Yerushalayim. [7]Gesher Hachaim  1:27:8:1.

Reasons

There are a number of reasons for burial in Eretz Yisroel.

The Gemorah [8]Kesubos 111a. says that one who is buried in Eretz Yisroel is considered as if he is buried under the mizbe’ach. Furthermore, one who is buried in Eretz Yisroel is considered as if he has no sin. [9]This is quoted in Medrash Tanchuma Vayichei 6. This latter reason is quoted in the Rambam [10]Hilchos Melachim 5:11. as well as other poskim. [11]Shach Y.D. 363:3.  See Kesubos 111a.

Why Did Yaakov Wish to Be Buried in Eretz Yisroel?

When Yaakov was about to die he requested of his son Yosef not to bury him in Mitzrayim. [12]Bereishis 47:29-30. Rashi [13]Bereishis 47:29 “al.” quotes three reasons for this request: First, the dirt will turn into lice. Second, those who die in Chutz La’aretz will only merit techiyas ha’meisim by their bones rolling to Eretz Yisroel. Finally, he was concerned that the Egyptians would make him into an avodah zarah.

Parent Do Not Wish to Be Buried in Eretz Yisroel

There is an opinion in the poskim who maintains that it is a mitzvah for a child to make arrangements for a parent to be buried in Eretz Yisroel. However, if the parent specifically said not to bury in Eretz Yisroel then the child should not go against the words of the parent. [14]Maharalbach 63, Pischei Teshuva Y.D. 363:2.

Yerushalayim vs. Other Cities in Eretz Yisroel

There is a discussion in the poskim if there is any preference for burial in Yerushalayim versus other cities in Eretz Yisroel. The opinion of some poskim is that Yerushalayim is preferred over other cities in Eretz Yisroel. [15]Tzitz Eliezer 14:79:2, Shevet HaLevi 2:207:2. One reason is that since burial in Eretz Yisroel is as if one is buried under the mizbe’ach, one should be buried as close to the Bais Hamikdosh as possible. [16]Ibid.

Opinion of Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l

It is recorded that Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l did not advise burial in Eretz Yisroel. However, he wondered aloud why a certain gadol hador was not buried in Eretz Yisroel. Based on this, his family decided to bury him in Eretz Yisroel. [17]Stated in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 36:page 28.

The Case Against Burial in Eretz Yisroel

Many times when one is buried in Eretz Yisroel the relatives do not have the opportunity to visit the niftar too often. The Sefer Chassidim [18]710. Refer to Tosfos, Sotah 34a “avosi.” says that it is beneficial for the niftar when people come to visit and daven for the neshama of the niftar.  Others say based on the Zohar if one did not live in Eretz Yisroel during his life he should not come to Eretz Yisroel and defile the ground to be buried after he died.

Harav Henkin zt”l [19]Am Hatorah 1:15:page 5, Teshuvos Ivra 66, 68:3. was against this custom, as he felt that it exhibited haughtiness and arrogance. It used to be the custom to bury a dead person with lavish clothing. Poor people who could not afford this would leave the dead person in the street. Because of this, Rabban Gamliel left a will that he should be buried in a simple shroud and plain box. From that point on this became the custom. We see that one is not supposed to spend a lot of money on a burial. Even if one argues that it is a hiddur to be buried in Eretz Yisroel, it is uncertain if one has a right to spend a lot of money on this. He says, this is considered stealing from the widows and orphans since this will become the custom of many, and if they do not do it, the niftar may be disgraced. Perhaps it may be permitted for a gadol hador in order to show kovod hatorah. However, for others it is definitely not proper to do. One who has received a large inheritance should not waste it on caskets, marble monuments, and the cost of the trip to Eretz Yisroel. Rather, he should use the money to support Torah and give tzedakah. [20]Teshuvos Ivrei 66:page 90.

The Satmar Rebber zt”l [21]Divrei Yoel 2:103, see Divrei Yoel on Vayechi pages 515-516, Teharas Yom Tov 6:pages 112-113. was also not in favor of this: “We have not seen or heard that any of the righteous people or leaders of the generations did this.”

Exhuming the Grave to Bury the Niftar in Eretz Yisroel

Generally one is not allowed to exhume a grave in order to bury the niftar in a different place. [22]Tur Y.D. 363, Shulchan Aruch 363:1.  Refer to Shevet HaLevi 5:185:3, B’nisivi Chesed V’emes 5747:pages 43-49 in depth.  The Bais Yosef [23]Y.D. 363. explains that this is difficult for the niftar since he is scared of the yom hadin. Others say it is a disgrace for the niftar. [24]Refer to Gesher Hachaim 1:26:9. Typically, it is only permitted after the body has decomposed and one only moves the bones. [25]Gesher Hachaim 1:26:2:1.

One exception (among others) [26]Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 263:1. to this is for the purpose of burying the niftar in Eretz Yisroel. [27]Tur Y.D. 363, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 363:1. Refer to Am Hatorah 1:15:page 5. One can see from here that burial in Eretz Yisroel is desirable. Based on this, the Har Tzvi [28]Y.D. 274. was asked if the Karliner Rebbe zt”l, who died in Chutz La’aretz, was allowed to be taken to Eretz Yisroel. In addition, the Rebbe zt”l yearned to live in Yerushalayim and those close to him knew he wanted to be buried there; therefore, it was permitted to bring him to Eretz Yisroel.

There is an opinion in the poskim that if one is buried in Chutz La’aretz on condition that he is brought to Eretz Yisroel later on then he may be disinterred and brought to Eretz Yisroel.

Moses Montefiore

Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l [29]Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:153. was asked whether or not Moses Montefiore and his wife may be brought to Eretz Yisroel for burial. Harav Moshe zt”l ruled that “only a child has the authority to exhume the grave, not a third party. In addition, this would be a disgrace for all the Sefard and Ashkenaz Rabbonim who are buried in Chutz La’aretz. Furthermore, Montefiore instructed his relatives to bury him in Chutz La’aretz even though he knew about Eretz Yisroel. If he wished to be buried in Eretz Yisroel he should have come in his later years to Eretz Yisroel in order to die there. Therefore, one should not go against his will.”

Easier to Visit

A question was posed to Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l if a child is allowed to exhume the grave of his parent in order that it is easier for him to visit the grave. He ruled that this is not permitted especially since this is not for the benefit of the niftar but for the benefit of the child.  In addition, going to visit a grave of one’s parents is not an obligation.

Grave Site Not Protected

If the cemetery is not protected properly from vandalism it would be permitted to move the body to Eretz Yisroel or even to a different cemetery in the same country. [30]Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 363:1. Refer to B’nisivi Chesed V’emes 5747:pages 43-49 in depth.  This question arose when Gaza was given to the terrorists and there were many Jews buried there.

Dream

The Chelkas Yaakov [31]Y.D. 206. Refer to Shevet HaLevi 2:207:5. was consulted by someone who was instructed in a dream to move his relative’s body to Eretz Yisroel. One who has this question should discuss it with his local Rabbinic halachic authority.

Wicked Person

One who was known to be a wicked person should not have his body dug up and brought to Eretz Yisroel for burial. [32]Chelkas Yaakov Y.D. 206:2.

Dirt from Eretz Yisroel

The custom is to place dirt from Eretz Yisroel on a niftar. [33]Rama Y.D. 363:1. It would seem that this is only  if one is buried in Eretz Yisroel. The custom of where to place the dirt varies. Some have the custom to put it on the niftar’s forehead; others place it on the shrouds, while others place it under his head.

Even those who are buried in Chutz La’aretz have some connection to Eretz Yisroel. The custom in Chutz La’aretz is to place some dirt from Eretz Yisroel in the coffin. Some question why bringing dirt from Eretz Yisroel to Chutz La’aretz is of any benefit. [34]Gesher Hachaim 1:27:9. Refer to ibid who has an explanation. Also see Refer to Keser Shem Tov 2:page 677.
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Endnotes

Endnotes
1, 8Kesubos 111a.
2Gesher Hachaim 1:27:8:1.
3Maseches Kelayim 9:3.
4Rambam Hilchos Melachim 5:11.
5Bereishis 50:25.
6Refer to Keser Shem Tov 2:page 676, Shevet HaLevi 2:207,  Minchas Yitzchok 7:136,  Chelkas Yaakov Y.D. 206, Tzitz Eliezer 11:75, Gesher Hachaim 1:27:8:1, Be’er Moshe 7:page 325:5.
7Gesher Hachaim  1:27:8:1.
9This is quoted in Medrash Tanchuma Vayichei 6.
10Hilchos Melachim 5:11.
11Shach Y.D. 363:3.  See Kesubos 111a.
12Bereishis 47:29-30.
13Bereishis 47:29 “al.”
14Maharalbach 63, Pischei Teshuva Y.D. 363:2.
15Tzitz Eliezer 14:79:2, Shevet HaLevi 2:207:2.
16Ibid.
17Stated in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society 36:page 28.
18710. Refer to Tosfos, Sotah 34a “avosi.”
19Am Hatorah 1:15:page 5, Teshuvos Ivra 66, 68:3.
20Teshuvos Ivrei 66:page 90.
21Divrei Yoel 2:103, see Divrei Yoel on Vayechi pages 515-516, Teharas Yom Tov 6:pages 112-113.
22Tur Y.D. 363, Shulchan Aruch 363:1.  Refer to Shevet HaLevi 5:185:3, B’nisivi Chesed V’emes 5747:pages 43-49 in depth.
23Y.D. 363.
24Refer to Gesher Hachaim 1:26:9.
25Gesher Hachaim 1:26:2:1.
26Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 263:1.
27Tur Y.D. 363, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 363:1. Refer to Am Hatorah 1:15:page 5.
28Y.D. 274.
29Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:153.
30Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 363:1. Refer to B’nisivi Chesed V’emes 5747:pages 43-49 in depth.
31Y.D. 206. Refer to Shevet HaLevi 2:207:5.
32Chelkas Yaakov Y.D. 206:2.
33Rama Y.D. 363:1.
34Gesher Hachaim 1:27:9. Refer to ibid who has an explanation. Also see Refer to Keser Shem Tov 2:page 677.

About Moishe Dovid Lebovits

Rabbi Moshe Dovid Lebovits is a Rabbinical Administrator for Kof-K Kosher Supervision and the author of Halachically Speaking volume 1 and volume 2.

One comment

  1. Is it just the Zohar that disapproves? I recall a story (in different versions in the Bavli and Yerushalmi) in which Tannaim express a very negative view of bodies being taken to Israel for burial.

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