CCAR RESPONSA

American Reform Responsa

96. Burial of Jews in Section of General Cemetery

(Vol. XXVII, 1917, p. 88)

The following answers were given to a colleague who submitted a series of questions in regard to burial rites.

(a) That the Jews, whether Orthodox or liberal, may bury their dead in a section of a cemetery in which the greater part is devoted to the burial of non-Jews is evidenced by the story of the Cave of Machpelah which, according to Genesis 23, formed part of the burial place of the Hittites. It was separated, however, by a field with its trees, as verse 17 shows. And it seems that the Jews in the Middle Ages loved to plant trees in their cemeteries, so that we find them called by Christian writers "Hortus Judaeorum," the "Garden of the Jews" (see Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, p. 77).

(b) and (c) In Biblical times the better classes had their family sepulchres (see, among others, Gen. 49:31; I Kings 13:22); and the burial place of the fathers endeared the desolate cities to the Jews (Neh. 2:3). Only the common people seemed to have had a common burial place (II Kings 23:6; Jer. 26:23; compare the Potter's Field in Matt. 27:7).

Later on, the acquisition of a cemetery became one of the first obligations of a Jewish congregation, as may be learned from the significant words of Ruth: "Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried" (Ruth 1:17), and to visit the father's grave on special occasions was one of the religious practices of the Jew, prayers being offered there. Of course, the Jewish cemetery was always to be distinguished from the non-Jewish ones--intrinsically, as it was to be treated with special marks of reverence due to the sacred character of the surroundings of the dead; and externally, as none of the signs and symbols of other creeds could have a place there. Thus, naturally, a separate place was required for the Jewish cemetery. In fact, by a Talmudic law codified in Yoreh De-a 362.5, and based on II Kings 13:21 (see Sanh. 47a), the burial of a wicked person alongside of a righteous one is also regarded as wrong. But no law exists in our Rabbinic codes requiring either walls or fences to separate the Jewish cemetery from another one. The walls or fences were, however, found necessary for the protection of the graves against violation by the mobs, especially frequent during the Dark Ages. Consequently, any form of separation, whether by granite posts or by considerably larger pathways distinguishing the Jewish section from the Christian ones, is sufficient.

K. Kohler and Jacob Z. Lauterbach

See also:

S.B. Freehof, "Communal Mausoleums," Reform Responsa, pp. 158ff.

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.