American Reform Responsa
106. Removal of Dead Body to Another Grave
(Vol. XXXII, 1922, pp. 41-42)
QUESTION: A man in my congregation (in a western city) wishes to remove the body of his mother who is buried in our city, to New York, in order to have her rest by the side of his recently deceased father, who had to be buried in New York. Is there any objection on the part of Jewish law or custom to his doing so? And, if so, on what ground does Jewish practice base its objection?
ANSWER: Ordinarily, Jewish practice objects to the removal of a dead body from one grave to another out of consideration and respect for the dead. It was believed that after having been put to rest the dead should not be disturbed by removal. If, however, there is any valid reason for the removal (especially if there is any consideration which would justify the assumption that were the dead alive, he or she would consent to the change in the resting place), Jewish law and practice permit such a removal. Thus, e.g., the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De-a 363.1, permits the disinterment and removal of a dead body in order to bury the same in another place together with his or her relatives. This is exactly like the case you state, i.e., the son being desirous of having his mother rest in the same place where his father is buried.
Jacob Z. Lauterbach
Practice permitted such a removal. Thus, the Shulchan Aruch,Yoreh De-a 363.1, states:
We do not move the dead body or human bones, not from an honorable grave to another honorable grave, not from a dishonorable grave to another dishonorable grave, not from a dishonorable grave to an honorable grave, and, it goes without saying, not from an honorable grave to a dishonorable grave. But it must be kept in mind that one may be moved even from an honorable to a dishonorable grave in order that one may rest with ancestors. In addition, one may be moved and buried in the Land of Israel [from outside the land]. If one was buried [temporarily] with the conscious understanding that removal would take place, it is permitted under all circumstances. If one suspects that idolaters may be planning to remove the body [for pagan worship or orgiastic purposes], or that water may seep into the grave, or that it is the wrong grave-site, it is a mitzvahto remove it.
The Shulchan Aruch’s prescription fits not only the case above, but provides a reasonable response to many questions which arise on this subject. We see no basis for altering it.
S.B. Freehof, “Disinterment Due to a Labor Strike,” Contemporary Reform Responsa, pp. 160ff; “Disinterment from a Christian Cemetery,” Reform Responsa for Our Time, pp. 175ff.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.