Photo Credit: Jerusalem Burial Society
Hallowed Halls of Eternal Life, the Har Menuchot catacombs.

There is a lot of talk about “minhagei Yerushalayim,” special burial customs that are followed in Jerusalem and that are sourced in Kabbalah. And while they are fulfilled mainly by Jerusalem’s frum communities, the fact is that many who are not openly religious also opt for these rites, in acknowledgement of the enormous benefit they bring to the niftar. A case in point is former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who, famously, was given a traditional Yerushalmi burial, including a matzeivah completely free of epitaphs, with only his name and dates of birth and death listed.

Jerusalem Burial Society CEO Rabbi Moshe Shimon explains that these customs are elucidated in the sefer Ma’avar Yabok, which he calls, “the ultimate burial guidebook.”


One of the most widely known, and practiced, customs is that of burying the niftar the same day (other than Shabbos or Yom Tov). “Obviously, if there are extenuating circumstances, they are taken into account,” Rabbi Shimon says, “but by and large, we know that burying as soon as possible greatly reduces suffering to the niftar.”

Other kabbalistic burial customs performed in Jerusalem relate to the taharah. For example, whereas it is sufficient to pour nine kavin of water over the niftar, minhag Yerushalayim mandates that the niftar is be immersed in a mikveh — and indeed, the Jerusalem Burial Society has a special designated mikveh for this purpose.

Jerusalem custom also precludes the use of a casket; the niftar is buried in shrouds directly in the earth, in fulfillment of the verse, “v’chiper admaso imo,” implying that the very soil (of Eretz Yisroel) serves as an atonement for the niftar. And while there may be divergence with regard to certain practices, Rabbi Shimon notes that in this respect there is no room for flexibility. “Burial in a coffin is categorically not allowed on Har Hamenuchot due to the prohibition of ‘differentiating between one niftar and another.’”

When transporting the niftar, minhag Yerushalayim calls for a stretcher constructed out of metal poles, as a kapparah for the niftar. The source of the minhag goes back to King Chezkiyahu, who transported his father, the wicked King Achaz, on a bier made of ropes. He did so to enable his father to merit atonement, and our Sages commended him for this.

It is a widespread custom among Yerushalmi Jews that no children accompany the niftar to the cemetery.

At the graveside, members of the Chevra Kadisha hold hands and encircle the niftar seven times while reciting special pesukim. At the end of each round, they toss a coin in a different direction.

After the levayah, participants stand in 2 rows, and the mourners pass in between them, receiving consolations.

Needless to say, the Jerusalem Burial Society doesn’t compel anyone to adhere to these special customs. “We endeavor to accommodate families from diverse backgrounds, taking individual desires and needs into consideration while remaining firmly within the parameters of halachah,” notes Rabbi Shimon.

In fact, as the largest burial society in Jerusalem and the second-largest in all of Israel, the Jerusalem Burial Society deals with the majority of burials in the Holy City. “Our wide range of options and our vast experience enables us to offer services to mourners during their most difficult time. Most importantly, we are there for them, with sensitivity, caring and understanding,” he said.

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