Question: If a person passes away on Yom Tov, do we bury him on Yom Tov or wait until after Yom Tov?
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Summary of our response until now: The Gemara (Beitzah 6a) quotes Rava as saying that we ask gentiles to help bury someone who passed away on the first day of Yom Tov, but do so ourselves if he passed away on the second day since observing the second day is only a rabbinical obligation.
Mar Zutra says we bury the person since we fear the body will decay. Rav Ashi, however, argues that we bury him because of the lesser status of the second day of Yom Tov.
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Answer: The Gaon Rabbi Moshe Stern, the Debreciner Rav (Ba’er Moshe, vol. 5:109), was asked in 1973 about placing the body of someone who has deceased on the floor on Yom Tov. He replied that if one intends to bury the person that day, doing so is permissible provided that the clothing is exchanged for tachrichim (shrouds).
The Gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim, vol. 3:76) argues that we should not bury a person on Yom Tov in today’s day and age since it often leads to Yom Tov desecration. For example, non-observant friends and relatives may drive their cars to the funeral service or cemetery. If the cemetery cannot be reached on foot, those attending to the burial (i.e., the chevra kadisha and gravediggers) may ride on an animal (or drive a car) to get there. Friends and relatives, however, who are not needed for the actual burial may not do so.
If one holds a funeral on Yom Tov, therefore, one may be guilty of lifnei iver – placing a stumbling block in front of the blind – by causing non-observant Jews to violate Yom Tov. It would be a disgrace to the deceased, rather than an honor, if his funeral caused Yom Tov to be desecrated.
Rabbi Feinstein bases his ruling on the Gemara (Shabbos 139a-b), which states that the inhabitants of the city of Bashkar were told not to bury their dead on Yom Tov because they were unlearned and the Sages were concerned that it would result in zilzul Yom Tov – a degradation of Yom Tov.
Rabbi Feinstein also notes that today we have refrigeration, so we need not fear that the corpse will decay if it isn’t immediately buried on Yom Tov.
The Gaon Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik (and presumably his son, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, too – see Nefesh HaRav by Rabbi Hershel Shachter, p. 189) maintained that funerals should not be held on the second day of Yom Tov in America. Rabbi Shachter writes that the senior Rabbi Soloveitchik cited the Gemara (Shabbos 139b), which notes Raba’s ruling that eating an egg on the second day of Yom Tov that was laid on the first day is prohibited in a place where people are unlearned (even though it’s usually permitted).
Tosafot (139b, ad loc. “yom tov sheni”) notes that Jews who see a funeral on Yom Tov will believe that all sorts of melacha are permitted on Yom Tov. Rabbenu Tam in Boscar (France), for example, protested when he saw people where riding out of the techum on Shabbat and Yom Tov. He remonstrated even those who walked. Tosafot also notes that if Jews are buried on Yom Tov, secular authorities will believe melacha is permitted on this day and issue decrees requiring them to perform labor on Yomim Tovim.
Many chassidim follow the ruling permitting burying someone on the second day of Yom Tov. Perhaps they do so because they arguably do not have many non-observant relatives or friends. Perhaps the Debreciner Rav presided over a community that did not have Yom Tov violators even among relatives from outside their community.
Those authorities who are strict wish to prevent Yom Tov desecration. The world is a small place today and, unfortunately, many Jews have non-observant relatives or friends. Also, today we can preserve bodies (due to refrigeration), so we need not be concerned about bizui ha’met.
In conclusion, the answer is: It depends on which day of Yom Tov the person passed away and it depends to which community he belonged. May we merit seeing the coming of Moshiach and techiyat hameitim speedily in our days.