jewish Funeral Guide

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Jewish Cemetery

Burial in the ground

When God created man He called him Adam, because he was made from the dust of the ground - Adamah in Hebrew (see Genesis 2:7). When it was decreed that Adam would be subject to death, God told him that he would return into the earth, “for dust you are and unto dust you shall return / כי עפר אתה ואל עפר תשוב” (Genesis 3:19). Later in Deuteronomy 21:23, the Torah formulated this as a positive scriptural commandment“but you shall surely bury him / כי קבור תקברנו”.

The rabbis teach that Kevurah BeKarka / קבורה קרקע - burial in the ground, returns the physical part of us to its source in the earth so that the spiritual soul can return to its source in Heaven, as alluded to in the verse “The dust returns to the dust as it was, but the spirit returns to God who gave it / וישב העפר על הארץ כשהיה, והרוח תשוב אל האלהים אשר נתנה” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Mausoleums and Concrete Vaults

Jewish law requires burial in the ground. The grave should be at least two Amot / אמות - two cubits deep. This means that a mausoleum is permissible only if the deceased is buried in the ground itself, and the mausoleum is built above it. This was frequently done for scholars, communal leaders, philanthropists and other prominent individuals. This type of mausoleum was in fact just an elaborate grave marker called a Nefesh / נפש. It is prohibited, however, to have the deceased buried above the ground, not surrounded by earth within the mausoleum. If the casket is left above the earth it is considered as if the body was left unburied.

In certain parts of the world where the earth is unstable and shifts around, local authorities require caskets to be enclosed in concrete vaults. Clearly, the concrete vaults are likewise not in the spirit of the Jewish burial tradition, which requires returning “dust unto dust” (Genesis 3:19) and, therefore, they should be avoided whenever possible. Theoretically, concrete vaults are permitted, since they are considered to be joined to and part of the ground, especially if the vaults are designed to incorporate substantial holes at the bottom. It is preferable, though, not to use vaults in a Jewish cemetery.