SONS AT FATHER’S BURIAL
Asked by Dr. Abraham Bernstein of San Francisco after a visit to Jerusalem, where he was informed by a resident of that city that a son is not permitted to accompany his deceased father’s body to the cemetery. What is the source and the meaning of this unusual custom?
THIS CUSTOM IS OBSERVED by some in Jerusalem and referred to in two sources which specialize in dealing with the customs in Jerusalem. One is The Bridge of Life (Gesher ha-Chayim) by Tekuchinski. The work was begun by the father (Jehiel) and completed by the son (Nissim). The custom reported is found in this work in Vol. I, pp. 109 and 112. The author here says that the custom began with Joseph ben Abraham Molcho (about a hundred years ago), who, before his death, forbade his sons to accompany his body to the grave.
The reason for this strange custom is given most clearly in another work which deals with Palestinian customs (mostly Cabbalistic), Ha-Kuntres Ha-Jechieli (Vol. II, p. 18b), where the custom is clearly explained.
This Cabbalistic custom is based upon the law which declares it is a sin to waste seed (the male seminal fluid; see Shulchan Aruch, Even Hoezer #23). The Talmud (Nidda 13b) says that a person who consciously wastes his seed is like a murderer, the theory back of that statement being that each drop of seed might have produced a living being.
Now the Cabbalistic elaboration of the idea (that each wasted drop of seed might have become a living being) is that each wasted drop actually does become a living being, a ghostly being, a dangerous spirit (ruach). This superstitious idea is elaborated still further as follows: These ruchos (spirits), created by whatever seed a man may have wasted in his lifetime (voluntarily or not), all claim to be his sons. When the man dies, these ghostly spirits demand the right to accompany “their father” to the cemetery. In order to prevent this, a solemn ban (cherem) is proclaimed, calling upon all his sons not to accompany the father to the grave. This strange Cabbalistic ban, which is primarily meant to exclude these supposed ghostly sons, therefore necessarily also excludes his normal, human sons. This is the origin of this curious Cabbalistic Jerusalem custom.