CARR 174-175


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

113. Responsibility for


QUESTION: What responsibility does the community have

towards the care of Jewish cemeteries? What is the responsibility for graves which have

subsided or not been filled properly? Can soil other than that removed from the grave be used to

fill a grave? (M. Witkin, Reseda, CA)ANSWER: Traditionally one of the first acts of

any Jewish community was that of setting aside land for a cemetery. This often preceded the

creation of a congregation or the building of a synagogue, as for example, herein Pittsburgh,

where the Troy Hill cemetery antedated the charter of the Rodef Shalom Congregation by more

than a dozen years. Congregations made every effort to own their cemeteries outright (Ezekiel

Landau, Noda Biyehudah, I, Yoreh Deah #89; Isaac Spector, Ein Yitzhoq Yoreh

Deah #34). After purchase, the land of the cemetery was treated with great respect, both the

sections which had already been used for graves and those which were still vacant (Meg. 29a;

Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 368; Moses Sofer, Responsa #335). Some authorities,

like David Hoffmann, prohibited the sale of a segment of a cemetery if other sections had

already been utilized for graves (Melamed Lehoil Yoreh Deah #125). Only if there was no

possible future utilization of the cemetery could segments which had not yet been used for burial

be sold (Abraham Gumbiner Magen Avraham to Orah Hayim, 153.12). It is

incumbent upon the Jewish community to look after cemeteries even if they have been

abandoned by their community or those who originally founded them (Greenwald, Kol Bo Al

Avelut, p. 164; Mosheh Feinstein, Igrot Mosheh Yoreh Deah #246). If all Jews have

moved from a town this duty must be borne by a nearby community. Such care refers

to the cemetery generally. It means that damage caused by flooding or subsidence must be

properly repaired. Furthermore, the entire cemetery must appear neat. Lawns, shrubs, trees and

fences must be appropriately maintained. Any individual grave should be filled with earth taken

from it, or similar soil if this is not feasible. Most states have provided for permanent

funds which must be set aside for the perpetual care of cemeteries. These endowments are

designed to provide general care for the cemetery; frequently provisions for the maintenance of

individual graves may also be made in perpetuity in accordance with the local cemetery’s policy.

Such funds placed in trust must be utilized only for the maintenance of the cemetery or

individual graves.May 1985

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.