CORR 185-189



a) Is there any objection from the point of view of Jewish tradition to burial at night?

b) If the wife owns a lot in one city and the husband in another, is there any guidance in the traditional literature as to which city should be the place of their burial? (Question by Rabbi William Sajowitz, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)


a) As TO THE FIRST question concerning burial at night, I have answered that fully in Volume II of Reform Jewish Practice, p. 110 ff. The general conclusion there is that tradition is opposed to night burial unless, of course, there is a special emergency which necessitates it. If you lack Volume II of Reform Jewish Practice, let me know and I will send you a photostat of the responsum.

b) When the husband and wife now live away from their respective home towns, is there any traditional guidance as to where (in his or her home town) they should be buried? As far as I know there is no direct discussion of this question in the literature. There is, however, considerable discussion as to where a man should be buried, and to the extent that that is clear, it is then decided automatically that the wife should be buried there too. Of course if this is the wife’s second marriage, then the question would arise with which of her two husbands should she be buried. I have also discussed this question ( Reform Jewish Practices, Volume I, p. 146 ff.) and the general mood of the tradition is that she should be buried with the husband with whom she had children.

Now with regard to where the husband should be buried in relation to the wife’s burial place, all the discussions concern the serious matter of disinterment. For example, let us say that the husband has been buried in a certain cemetery. Later the wife is buried in another cemetery. The children decide to buy enough land around their mother’s grave to establish a family plot. May the husband be disinterred in order to be buried beside his wife in the new family plot? This question is discussed by Isaac Glick (Yad Yitzchok, II, 249). Of course bearing in mind the general objection of Jewish law to distinterment in general, it is understood that no body may be disinterred except for specifically enumerated reasons as given in Yore Deah 363. Among these reasons for which he may be disinterred is to be buried “with his fathers,” that is to say, in a family plot. See the Taz ad. loc. The question therefore arises in this case which is mentioned, whether the wife alone, being buried in that new place, can be considered to have made it a family plot. The answer that Isaac Glick gives is that he may not be disinterred unless there are other members of the family already buried there, not the wife alone. The reverse question is discussed by Saul M. Schwadron (Maharsham, III, 343, and he decides that the wife may be disinterred to be buried with the husband since there are enough graves in his plot for it to be deemed a “family plot.” See also Pekudas Eliezer (Eliezer Lev of Ungvar) #124.

Isaac Glick in the above mentioned responsum calls attention to the fact that the patriarchs all were buried with their wives. So Jacob, in Genesis 49, mentions that he wishes that Joseph arrange for his burial in Machpelah and says, “There Abraham buried Sarah, and Isaac, Rebecca, and there I buried Leah.” But Rabbi Glick says that first he said, “Let me be buried with my fathers” (verse 29). In other words, it is proper that a man be buried with his wife, but primarily the important thing is that he be buried with his fathers.

There is another slight indication of preference from another point of view. We assume that in this case the husband already has a plot in one city and the wife has a plot in another city. According to the law (Even Hoezer 89) the husband is in duty bound to provide for the burial of his wife. But (Even Hoezer 118:18, Isserles) the wife is in no way duty bound to provide for the burial of her husband (his children are). Therefore it is the husband’s lot which fits into the requirement of this law. Of course that is not an absolute guide in this matter because while the wife is not in duty bound to provide burial for her husband, she is certainly not prohibited from doing so.

Now, leaving out the question of disinterment, or the question as to who is in duty bound to pay for the ground, there are some general tendencies in the law as to where a man should be buried. In the Bible (II Samuel 19:38) when David offers old Barzilai a comfortable living in Jerusalem, Barzilai refuses and says, “I will die in my own city and be buried with my fathers.” So in the Talmud (Baba Metziah 85a) one of the rabbis died and there was a snake guarding the cave in which his father was buried, and the snake was told to get out of the way so that the son may enter and sleep by his father. In fact, so generally is it understood that a man is to be buried near his ancestors that the Biblical phrase for dying is “to be gathered to one’s fathers,” and indeed it is actually the established custom that a man must be buried near his father and if that is impossible, near his mother, and if that is impossible, near his grandfather. See Greenwald, Kol Bo, 176.

Let us assume now that both the husband and the wife are alive and the question that is asked amounts to guidance as to where they should be buried when the time comes. The answer cannot be too definite but these are the guide-lines:

First, it is preferable that a man be buried where his family is buried. That does not necessarily mean in a family plot but as near them as possible in the same cemetery. The law does not discuss any such preference in the case of a woman with regard to her family. Therefore if husband and wife are to be buried beside each other, then it is evident it must be in his city so that thus he may be buried with his fathers.

Second, if however a family lot is established (whereas hitherto there were only single graves), then it would be preferable that both be buried in that family plot wherever it is. And if the plot is in the same city as the original grave (if one is already buried) disinterment is less objectionable, since it does not involve carrying the body from one city to another. We may say that the weight of preference is that the burial should be where the husband’s family is. If neither has family in either place, then the preference is where a family plot would be established