QUESTION: An individual or family is considering the gift of a considerable sum of money so that the congregation can establish a cemetery. May the cemetery be named for an individual or a family? Does tradition mandate any particular wording for such a dedication? (Rabbi Michael M. Remson, Naperville IL)
ANSWER: Although there is a good deal of literature about death, burial and mourning, there is nothing about the name which a cemetery may bear. Traditionally cemeteries have either been named for the sponsoring congregation or simply for the neighborhood in which they were located. The latter name was often assigned by the people as they wished to describe the location; it was not part of an official document. In other instances the cemetery was merely designated as "old" or "new" and bore no name other than the name of the city.
I suppose that several considerations kept congregations from naming cemeteries for particular individuals. In ages past, and to some degree nowadays, there are superstitions connected with the cemetery and with death, so individuals feel that it is bad luck to have the cemetery bear the name of a living person or for that matter even the name of a family which survives in that community. Such considerations are of minor importance to us.
The second reason may be the fact that the cemetery is the final resting place for all individuals in a community and some bad feelings toward a particular family may make it difficult for some individuals to be buried in a cemetery which bears the name of that person. However, the same considerations would play a role with classrooms or meeting halls in synagogues which frequently bear the names of both living and dead donors.
There is also a third consideration if the cemetery is named after a family, will others be willing to provide funds to maintain it. So me funds, of course, are mandated by law; others are designated for individual graves, however, additional funds may be necessary and difficult to obtain when the cemetery bears a particular name. It may be wise, therefore, to attempt to include an endowment in the original gift and thereby avoid this problem in the future.
None of these considerations are of great significance. If an individual wishes to provide the funds so that the congregation may obtain a cemetery then it may in gratitude be named after that individual.