Two caskets in one grave
Recently I was asked by the management of a local Jewish cemetery if double-depth lawn crypt-burials are
permitted under Jewish law. In this method of burial, a casket is lowered into a concrete lined grave several feet
deeper than normal. The casket, however, is completely surrounded by earth which has been inserted into the
vault. Subsequently, a second casket is buried over the first, with a layer of earth between them.
We are interested in three aspects of this method of burial.
1. Are double-depth burials (one casket over another) permissible?
2. Is crypt-burial surrounded by earth permissible?
3. Are there significant differences of opinion among the major branches of Judaism on this
subject? (This particular cemetery presently serves all three branches of Judaism.)
A sketch of the proposed burial method is enclosed. (Rabbi Allan C. Tuffs, Allentown, PA)
The Halakhah of burial in the earth is derived from Deut. 21:23, which prescribes interment for executed
criminals, and from this the Talmud derives the obligation to bury every dead person.1
We will deal first with the question of burying caskets on top of each other.
The traditional literature deals with bodies which are placed one above the other. The relevant passage is
found in the Shulchan Arukh and reads: “Two caskets are not buried one over the other, but when six
handbreadths of earth separate them it is allowed.”2 The Hoop Lane cemetery in London, England, which serves
both a Reform and an Orthodox Sefardi constituency, permits double and triple depth burials.
What if these bodies and caskets are placed for burial in a vault (here called “crypt”)3, a custom which is
widespread in North America? Does such a vault present a problem? R. Jekuthiel Greenwald says it does and
forbids it, because the vault compares to a mausoleum which is seen to delay or possibly prevent decay and thus be
unmindful of the implications of the Deuteronomic passage which says, “You shall surely bury him (kavor
tikberenu).4 But R. Moshe Feinstein (who forbids mausoleum burial5) would allow the vault, because it is not
designed to, nor does it, interfere with the process of decomposition, especially when the body is surrounded by
We hold with the latter opinion. The use of cement casings does not interfere with the purpose of interring
the body, that is, returning it to the earth. It is merely the way by which many cemetery authorities prevent the
ground from sinking, so that the appearance of the burial grounds is not marred and the honor paid to the dead
(kevod ha-met) is not diminished. However, as indicated, the use of the vault might be contested by some
The sketch submitted to us reveals an additional feature, in that two caskets are buried in the same casing,
one on top of the other, with layers of earth surrounding each casket. This too does not represent any
obstacle in our view or in the traditional Halakhah.
Are there additional considerations which we might bring to bear on these issues? With cemetery space
becoming scarce in many, especially larger communities, we would consider burials in a single plot, with
due separation of the caskets, an acceptable alternative. Also, this would better enable survivors to carry
out the mitzvah of visiting the graves of their dear ones.7
- BT Sanhedrin 46 b.
- Yoreh De’ah, #262:4. Similarly Tur , Yoreh De’ah, # 262. Rambam, Yad, Hilkhot Avel14:16, discourages the practice, apparently because of the danger that the earth
separating the two bodies might not prevent the upper body from sinking and coming too
close to the other; see the commentary of the Radbaz on the passage, and R. Moshe
Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe, Y.D. # 233/234. See also R. Solomon B. Freehof, Reform
Jewish Practice, vol I, pp. 123 ff.; Current Reform Responsa, p.148.
- Usually a cement casing.
- Kol Bo al Avelut, vol. 2, pp. 47 ff.
- Iggerot Moshe, Y.D. # 143. On this issue see R. Walter Jacob, American ReformResponsa , # 102.
- Iggerot Moshe, Y.D., # 142.
- On mausoleum burials, see Solomon B. Freehof, Reform Responsa, no. 38.If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.