CORR 160-162



San Francisco has had for some weeks now a strike of the gravediggers. This fact has caused special unhappiness to Orthodox Jewish families because of the impossibility of immediate burial. The bodies must be stored until the strike is finally ended. Now it has been suggested by some Orthodox scholars that the bodies be buried immediately in the neighboring city of Oakland to which the strike does not extend. The only question, then, is whether it will be permissible later when the strike is over to disinter the bodies from the Oakland cemetery to rebury them in the San Francisco cemetery. (From Louis J. Freehof, San Francisco, California)


THE EFFECTS of a labor strike on Jewish burial practices are multifarious. First, what about the custom or law of immediate burial? What about the practice of embalming, which is frowned upon by Jewish law and custom, but which is inevitable since refrigeration storage space is limited? Third, if the body is not buried in the ground for weeks or months, when is the process of mourning to begin? These and other questions are involved in the situation created by the strike. The question now asked is a special one, namely: Would disinterment from the Oakland cemetery be permitted after the strike is over, for reburial in San Francisco?

There is no question that the answer must be in the affirmative. It is permitted. But first of all one must dispose of an apparent objection stated in the Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 363:2, namely, that it is forbidden to take a body from one city to another for burial if there is a Jewish cemetery in the city where the man died. In the first place, because of the strike there is no available cemetery in the city where the man died; and in the second place, the exceptions are given immediately in this same section of the Shulchan Aruch. The exceptions are: to bury the man in the land of Israel, or to bring him to the burial place of his fathers, or if before his death he asked to be taken to his home city (see Isserles).

In the present case we may assume that it would have been the desire of the departed to be buried in San Francisco, the home city, especially if there are other members of the family already buried in the San Francisco cemetery. In fact there is a famous responsum (#369) of Solomon b. Adret from Algiers which has become the classic one in all such cases: A man and his son came from Oran to Algiers for business (this was at the end of the 14th century). He became sick and told his son that should he die, he would like to be buried in his home town (i.e., Oran). He died of that sickness in Algiers but there was a war going on and the son could not take the body to Oran. As soon as the war was over they asked whether they may move the body and whether, now, in order to make it possible to move the body, they may use quicklime to hasten its decay. Solomon b. Adret gave full permission to do so.

The following, then, are the reasons why, after the strike is over, the bodies may be disinterred from the Oakland cemetery: First, due to the strike, there is no available cemetery in San Francisco. Secondly, if the man has family already buried in San Francisco, he is being disinterred to be buried with his family. Thirdly, if the burial in Oakland is a burial al t’nai (a conditional burial), with the understanding that the body is to be transferred later {Yore Deah 331:1). It was on the basis of conditional burial that Isaac Elchanan Spektor (Eyn Yitzchok, Yore Deah 33) gave permission for a temporary burial in a mausoleum (see Ozar Dinim u Minhagim, article “Pinui Mesim”).