American Reform Responsa
102. Preferred Burial Site
QUESTION: One parent is buried in New York; the other is about to die in Houston. One son lives in Houston, and the second in California. Should the burial of the mother take place in Houston, where one son can from time to time visit the grave, or should the burial take place by her husband’s side in New York? (Rabbi Samuel E. Karff, Houston, Texas)
ANSWER: In this question, we have a clash of two Mitzvot: one is concerned with burial, the other with visitation of the grave in subsequent years. In the case where a family plot has been established, tradition would clearly state that the wife should be buried alongside her husband, and it is the duty of the husband to provide for the burial of his wife, and not vice versa (Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 89; 118.18). Furthermore, our tradition sought to establish family burial sites similar to the Cave of Machpela, in which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as most of their wives, were buried. The Talmud, in a legend, speaks of a rabbi who died, and whose friends, upon seeking to bury him, found a snake obstructing the way into the cave. The snake was told to move so that the son could be buried with his father (Talmud, Bava Metsi-a 85a). The only discussions in the halachic literature which dealt with the burial site of husband and wife in two cities treated the question of disinterment for the sake of instituting a family plot. This has been discussed by Isaac Glick (Yad Yitschak, vol. II, #249), as well as by Saul Schwadron (Maharsham, vol. III, #343). Glick decided that the husband may not be disinterred to be buried with his wife unless other members of the family were already buried in the same plot as his wife. In the case of Schwadron, it was a question of whether the wife might be disinterred. He decided positively because a number of other burials had already taken place in the husband’s plot. Both of these decisions are based on Sh.A.,Yoreh De-a #363, which listed reasons for disinterment, and among them is “burial with his fathers.” In the case cited in our question, no family plot has yet been established, and at first glance it would seem preferable to bury her in New York, as the husband is buried there. If, however, the children intend the Houston plot to become a family plot, and will later inter other members of their family there, then–even according to the tradition–this would be permissible.
The other matter which enters the discussion is the future visitation of graves. It is a mitzvah to visit graves on the Yahrzeit (Rashi to Yevamot 122a, who has cited the responsa of the Geonim; Ketav Sofer, Yoreh De-a #178). This custom was established in the days of the Geonim for scholars, but subsequently applied to all Jews: if it was possible to visit the grave it was done; if not, then the family might send someone else to visit the grave as Chatam Sofer stated. Visiting the grave on Yahrzeit is clearly a well-established custom. It does not have the same weight as statements connected with burial which are law, in this case mide-oraita,yet for us this custom may be at least as important as the law. It will be comforting to the family to be able to visit the grave. This reason, and the fact that the family intends the Houston plot to become the family plot, would lead me to decide in favor of burial in Houston.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.