DISINTERMENT


Jewish law forbids the transfer of a dead body or of remnant bones from one grave to another, even when it is to a more respected site (Sh. Ar., YD 363:1; based upon Sem. 13:5–7; TJ, MK 2:4, 81b). This traditional prohibition is, however, lifted in the following cases: (a) If the dead person is to be reinterred alongside his parents or close relatives; the sanction is based on the concept that "It is seemly for a man to repose with his family, and in doing so, honor is conferred upon the deceased" (Sh. Ar., ibid.; Sem. 13:7). In Orthodox practice this is applicable where reinterment is in a family plot already in use, but not if a new site is acquired for future family use. Reform Judaism, however, permits disinterment for reburial in a family plot that is to be inaugurated and consecrated. Litigation on this subject took place in New York City in 1902 (Cohn vs. Congregation She'arith Israel) and the court sustained the congregation which refused to permit disinterment in accordance with traditional halakhah (see The American Hebrew, March 14, 21, 28, 1902, and Jewish Exponent, April 18, 1902). Most traditional halakhic authorities permit the removal of a dead body to a new family plot if the body was temporarily buried, i.e., with the intention of being later transferred to a family plot to be acquired. (b) Disinterment for the purpose of reburial in Ereẓ Israel was always regarded as a meritorious deed and a great honor for the deceased (Ket. 111a; Sh. Ar., ibid.). (c) The body of a Jew interred in a gentile cemetery may be exhumed for reburial in a Jewish cemetery. (d) Where a grave is in danger of water seepage or if it is not safe against robbers, etc., transfer is permitted.

In modern times, urban planning and the construction of railroads, highways, etc., frequently encroach on cemetery sites, necessitating disinterment by order of the authorities. Most halakhic authorities permit the transfer of the dead on condition that decent repose for the deceased is provided. A son may not be buried in a grave reserved for his father or in one vacated by his father through disinterment (Sanh. 47b; also Sh. Ar., YD 364:7); other persons, however, may be interred in a vacated grave, but it must not be used for other purposes (Sem. 13:9). On the day of the disinterment, members of the family are obliged to observe the customary mourning rites. (For the practice in talmudic times of "gathering the remnant bones" for reburial after 12 months, see *Likkut Aẓamot.)

Under the halakhic direction of its chief rabbi, Shlomo *Goren, the Israel Defense Forces developed procedures for disinterments which are based upon those practiced during the wars fought during the period of the Second Commonwealth. Slain soldiers are temporarily buried in either nearby permanent or temporary military cemeteries (cf. Er. 17a; TJ, Er. 1:10, 19d). Only the military chaplaincy is present, and relatives do not participate in these funerals. There are no eulogies, and only a brief religious service is held. A declaration is made during this service that the interment is only temporary, and that it will therefore be permissible to rebury the deceased in a permanent cemetery. After a year has elapsed, the soldiers are reinterred in permanent military or civilian cemeteries in accordance with the wishes of their families (cf. TJ, Sanh. 6:12, 23d; Oho. 16:5). During the *Sinai Campaign of 1956, temporary cemeteries were consecrated by the military chaplaincy in the Northern and Central Negev. A year later, the remains of 132 soldiers were reinterred near their hometowns. During the *Six-Day War of 1967, temporary and permanent military cemeteries were used for the temporary burials. During June 1968, one year after the war, 475 military reinterments took place. During the reburials, special military and religious services were held in accordance with instructions issued by the army rabbinate.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Eisenstein, Dinim, 338ff.; CCARY, 32 (1922), 41ff.; S.B. Freehof, Reform Jewish Practice, 1 (19482), 149ff.

[Meir Ydit]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.