QUESTION: An individual was recently buried on our cemetery in the wrong grave. The person will soon be interred in the proper grave, but the question arose whether the grave in which the individual was briefly interred may be used or must it remain vacant. (Rabbi Thomas Liebchutz, Winston Salem NC)
ANSWER: There is a broad and sweeping general rule which indicates that no benefit must be received from the deceased. This referred, for example, to grazing animals near graves, etc. This principle of hanaah (Meg 29a; San 47b) would seem to prohibit such a reuse along with the statement of the Talmud (San 47a b; Tur and Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 364.7), which declared that if a man prepared a grave for his father he, the son, may not be buried in it even though the grave was never used for the father. However, the discussion indicated that other matters were at issue; this referred to a kever shel binyan (in other words a grave that had been constructed of stone or possibly a grave built in a cave, and not a grave simply dug in the soil). The Talmud also indicated that its prohibition was limited to father and son because of the respect and devotion due from a son to a father, but that the grave could have been used for someone else. Furthermore, the Talmudic section also indicated that although no benefit of any kind may be received from a grave, i.e., it could not be sold, but it could be used for burying another individual. This whole matter was developed further in a responsum by Moses Sofer (Ketav Sofer Yeah Deah 177) who indicated that although one may not benefit from the dead, for example by using an empty grave as a storage site, one may bury another body in it. The same decision was reached by Abraham Glick (Yad Yitzhaq Vol III #295).
It would therefore be perfectly permissible in this instance to rectify the error, and rebury the body in the proper location. Then the individual who originally owned the grave or to whom it had been assigned may utilize it at the appropriate time. May that time be distant.