QUESTION: Is it possible to exhume and reinter a member of afamily who is now buried outside of his family plot? The family would like to have all of their deceased in one location. (Rabbi I. Blum, Dayton, OH)
ANSWER: The statementswhich you have made based on Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 363) are perfectly correct. Moses Sofer (Hatam Sofer 6.37) also permitted such reinterment in a place where relatives, who had previously died, had already been buried (Mak. 11a). There is a good deal of discussion about this by various Orthodox authorities, but most of the instances of reinterment deal with problems of temporary burial, the need to move a body from a place which is no longer safe, or which has been condemned by the government for some public use. (See also W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, # 106, 115).
The classic American legalcase on this question arose in 1900 and involved the burial or reinterment of the wife who had predeceased her husband to the family plot in which her husband had been buried some two years later. The children, in accordance with the wish of the father, sought permission from Congregation Sheerit Yisrael, and the matter went to court (Howard Cohen against Congregation Sheerit Israel, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, New York.) A large number of authorities presented their opinion on both sides. Those aligned against granting permission were Rabbi Mendes of Congregation Sheerit Yisrael, Rabbi Louis Ginsburg, Rabbi Solomon Schechter, Rabbi Benjamin Drachman, Rabbi De Sola of Montreal, Rabbi Herman Adler and Rabbi Moses Gaster of England. Those who gave testimony in favor of this disinterment and reburial consisted of both Reform and Orthodox rabbis. Among the Reform were Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler; among the Orthodox were Rabbi de Sola of St. Louis, Rabbi Rudolf Plaut, Rabbi Samuel Zeil, and Rabbi Eisenstein. The court decision favored disinterment and reburial.