jewish Funeral Guide

prev Contents :: Jewish Cemetery :: Burial rights in a Jewish cemetery next

Jewish Cemetery

Burial rights in a Jewish cemetery

Any Jew, even the most unrepentant of sinners, is entitled to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, albeit not necessarily in a place of honor. It has always been considered honorable to be buried in proximity to the graves of rabbis, learned and righteous people. As a rule, religiously observant Jews are not buried nearby confirmed sinners.

A burial plot purchased in a Jewish cemetery, even though it was designated for a specific person, may be re-sold. The buyer, however, may only use it for the burial of a Jew.

Family plots. It is an ancient Jewish tradition to purchase a cemetery plot during one's lifetime. The graves in most cemeteries are arranged according to families. Some cemeteries, however, have separate sections for men and women. In many cemeteries it is customary not to bury a woman next to any man other than her husband. Therefore, the graves alternate: husband, wife, wife, husband, husband, wife, etc. The unmarried are usually buried alongside their parents. Some cemeteries allocate separate sections to different Jewish communities.

Former marriages. If a married couple separated during their lifetime, they may nevertheless be buried alongside one another, unless one of them requested to be buried separately. A remarried person may be buried with any of the previous spouses. In this case burial location depends on the expressed will of the deceased, if known. Otherwise, the next of kin make this decision.

Intermarriage. Just like a family plot is consecrated exclusively for the burial of family members, excluding burial rights to outsiders, similarly, a Jewish cemetery is consecrated exclusively for burial of members of the Jewish faith. The Jewish partner of a mixed marriage, who did not renounce the Jewish faith is, therefore, entitled to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, while his or her unconverted Gentile partner and Gentile children may not be buried there. At best, they may be buried in an unconsecrated adjacent area, separated by wall, fence or hedge from the Jewish cemetery. This is one of the bitter consequences of intermarriage.

Apostates. A Jew who has renounced the Jewish faith and has accepted another religion is still considered to be Jewish. However, for all practical purposes, apostates have the same status in the Jewish community as Gentiles. An apostate cannot be included in a Minyan / מניין - a quorum of at least ten Jewish men over the age of thirteen required for public prayer. An apostate cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Mourning is observed, and rending of the garments is performed, but not when the apostate dies; this is done at the time when Jewish faith is formally renounced. However, an apostate who repented and returned to Judaism is eligible to be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Suicide. Jewish law does not recognize the “right to die”. Life and death are in the hands of God, as God says in the Book of Deuteronomy 32:39“I put to death and I make alive / אני אמית ואחיה”. Those who take their own lives willfully are, therefore, considered to be great sinners who deny the divine Providence and, traditionally, are buried separately near the cemetery gate, or at least Arba Amot / ארבע אמות - four cubits from other Jewish graves. Traditionally, no mourning is observed for those who committed suicide, but Mourner's Kaddish / קדיש יתום and Yizkor / יזכור are recited, and Yahrzeit / יארצייט is observed.

In practice, though, the graves of those who commit suicide are not separated from the other Jewish graves, since we presume that a sane person would never take his or her own life. People who commit suicide are usually regarded as at least temporarily insane and, therefore, not culpable for the act.