American Reform Responsa
103. Direction of Graves in the Cemetery
(Vol. XXXIII, 1923, p. 58)QUESTION: Our congregation has just purchased adjoining territory to its burial grounds. The plot runs north and south. It runs from street to street and our plans are to make an entrance by the north side and the exit on the south side. This would mean that the graves and lots, when laid out, would either be facing north or south, and not east, as is customary. The question, therefore, which I desire to ask, is this: Is there anything in traditional Judaism concerning this matter? Is there any prohibition concerning the burying in graves that run north and south or vice versa?ANSWER: There is, to my knowledge, no prohibition of this kind in Rabbinic Judaism. Neither the Talmud nor the Shulchan Aruch has any definite ruling about the direction in which the graves should run. On the contrary, from the Mishna, Bava Batra VI.8, and the discussion of the Gemara (ibid., 101b), it is evident that they would have graves in every direction. Lest it be argued that this was only in Palestine, we have now the evidence from the Jewish catacombs in Rome, Italy, that some of the graves were arranged so that the head was in the direction of northwest and the feet towards the southeast, and others again in the opposite direction, i.e., head southeast and feet northwest (see Nikolaus Mueller, Die Juedische Katakombe am Monteverde zu Rom, Leipzig, 1912, pp. 48-49). And R. Moses Sofer, in his Responsum, Chatam Sofer, Yoreh De-a, no. 332, expresses his surprise at certain people who would fix the direction in which graves should run. In Pressburg, where he was rabbi, the cemetery was so laid out that the graves ran west-east, that is, the head was placed towards the north, and the feet towards the south. It would seem that certain people, believing that at the time of the resurrection the dead will get up and march to Palestine, would be careful to place the body in the grave with the feet toward Palestine, so that when the time comes the dead would be able to get up and walk right ahead without having to turn around. But, argues R. Moses Sofer, there are many roads toward Palestine, since from European countries one can go first south to a Mediterranean harbor and then by ship east, or one can go east by land to Constantinople first, and thence to Palestine; therefore, he concludes that there is absolutely no difference in what direction the graves run.Jacob Z. Lauterbach and Committee
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