Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Our Avot expressed the sincere desire to be buried in the Land of Israel. Before his death, Yaakov adjured Yosef, saying “…please do not bury me in Egypt. And I will lie down with my fathers and you shall transport me out of Egypt and bury me in their grave” (Bereishit 47:29-30). Later, Yosef too makes his brother pledge to “…bring my bones up out of here” (Bereishit 50:25). When Moshe says, “For I will die in this land; I am not crossing the Jordan” (Devarim 4:22), Rashi (ad Loc.) comments that Moshe is lamenting that even his bones won’t be buried in the Land of Israel (See also Sifrei, Pinchas).

The Talmud (Ketubot 111a) praises one who is buried in the Land of Israel: “Rav Anan said: Whoever is buried in the Land of Israel is considered as though he is buried beneath the altar. It is written here (Shemot 20:21): ‘An altar of earth [adama] you shall make for Me,’ and it is stated there (Devarim 32:43): ‘…and atones for the land of [admato] His people.’” Just as the altar in the Holy Temple provides atonement for sin, so too burial in the Land of Israel provides atonement.


The Talmud (Ibid.) continues: “Ulla was accustomed to ascend to the Land of Israel. He died outside of the Land. They came and told Rabbi Elazar. He said of Ulla, ‘Shall you die in an unclean land?’ (Amos 7:17). They said to him: But his coffin is arriving [for burial in Israel]. He said to them: There is no comparison between one who was absorbed [by the Land of Israel] while yet alive, to one who was absorbed after death.” In the view of Rabbi Elazar, living one’s life in the Land of Israel is preferable to merely being buried there. Additionally, according to Rabbi Elazar, the Resurrection of the Dead will take place only in Israel, the ‘Land of the Living,’ and those buried outside of the Land of Israel will not be resurrected. This view, however, is rejected, and the Talmud concludes that those buried outside the Land will roll – or walk upright – through tunnels until they reach the Land of Israel and come back to life (Ibid.).

While the Talmud Bavli praises burial in Israel, the Talmud Yerushalmi is critical of bringing the dead from outside the Land for burial in Israel: “Rebbi bar Kirya and Rabbi Lazar were walking on the street. They saw caskets arriving from outside of the Land to the Land. Rebbi bar Kirya said to Rabbi Lazar: What have these people accomplished? I apply to them the verse, ‘You have rendered my heritage an abomination’ in your lifetime, ‘And you came and contaminated My land’ in your death” (Kil’ayim 9:3).

According to this view, bringing a body for burial to the Land of Israel is akin to bringing impurity into a pure land. The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 96:5; Tanchuma, Vayechi) and Zohar (Vayechi; Terumah; Acharei Mot) voice similar objections.

The Pnei Moshe (Kil’ayim 9:3), however, explains that this criticism is limited to one who had the ability to move to Israel during his lifetime, but deliberately chose not to. For such an individual, burial in the Land of Israel is likened to defiling it.

Curiously, the Talmud Yerushalmi itself records examples of sages from Bavel who merited burial in the Land of Israel, seemingly without any objection. Some explain that the criticism of the Yerushalmi and Zohar apply to ordinary individuals. An exemption is made for righteous individuals and great rabbis, who, even if in their lifetime did not merit to live in Israel, are welcomed in death.

Nevertheless, some authorities are stringent and rule that one who lives his life outside the Land of Israel should not be buried in Israel. In fact, based on the Zohar, many Chassidic authorities ruled against burial in Israel. The Satmar Rebbe (Divrei Yoel 2:103) and Klausenberger Rebbe (Divrei Yetziv, Yoreh De’ah 224) pointed out that many great gedolim, tzaddikim, rebbes, etc., were not buried in Israel (See also Minchat Yitzchak 7:136).

But when asked by an individual who brought his parents’ bones to Israel for burial if what he did was correct, the Rambam answered, “What he has done is very good, and so did the great sages of Israel” (Teshuvot HaRambam, Freiman ed., 372). Recognizing that it is better to live one’s life in the Land of Israel rather than arrive after death, the Rambam concludes that it is still meritorious to be buried there: “There is no comparison to being absorbed there during life than to being absorbed there after death. Nevertheless, the great Sages used to take their dead to be buried there. Go and learn from Ya’akov Avinu and Yosef HaTzaddik” (Hilchot Melachim 5:11).

And while burial in the Land of Israel is the subject of much discussion and debate, many rule that it is indeed beneficial to the soul of the deceased to be buried in Israel, even if they did not live in Israel during their lifetime. Among them: Rav Yaakov Beirav (Teshuvot Mahari Beirav 38), Rav Levi ibn Chaviv (Teshuvot Maharlabach 63), Radbaz (2:611), Maharshdam (203), Rav Mordechai Yaakov Breish (Chelkat Yaakov 3:142), Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 11:75), Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer, Yoreh De’ah 6:31; Yechave Da’at 4:57), and Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner (Shevet HaLevi 2:207).

Some contemporary authorities express other concerns and considerations. Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, for example, was concerned about the costs involved in bringing a body to Israel for burial. In addition to the financial burden, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky believed one should be buried close to his family, so they may visit the grave (See also Kol Bo on Aveilut, p. 252, and Sefer Chassidim, 710).

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 363:1) rules that it is permissible to disinter a body to be reinterred in the Land of Israel, especially if the individual was buried on condition that he be reburied in the Land of Israel should it become possible. The Shach & Levush (ad loc.) explain that this is because burial in Israel provides a special atonement for the deceased.

But who has the authority to make the decision to disinter the body and rebury it in Israel?

In his will, Theodore Herzl requested that his bones – and the bones of his family – be brought to Israel after a Jewish State was established. Upon his death in 1904, he was buried in Vienna. Shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, on the 20th of Tammuz 5709 (1949), Herzl’s remains and those of his family were brought to Israel and buried on Mt. Herzl. Likewise, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who died in New York in 1940, requested in his will that his bones be brought to Israel. In 1964, Jabotinsky too merited to be reinterred in the Holy Land.

But when Rav Pinchas Toledano, dayan of London’s Sephardic community, sought to bring the remains of Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore to Israel, a controversy ensued. Rav Toledano argued that as there is no longer a Jewish community left in Ramsgate, England, where the Montefiores are buried, it is a mitzvah to reinter them in Israel (See Rav Pinchas Toledano, “Pinui Atzmotav Shel Montefiore La-Aretz,Techumin, vol. 8).

Rav Moshe Feinstein disagreed and argued that only one’s children have the right to make the decision to move a body. In his teshuvah, Rav Moshe wonders aloud why they would choose Montefiore instead of other holy and righteous individuals buried abroad. He adds that Montefiore chose to be buried in Ramsgate and ruled that it is prohibited to move him and his wife (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 3:153).

Rav Ovadiah Yosef, however, ruled that it was permitted to reinter Montefiore in Israel, as burial in Israel provides the soul of the deceased with atonement. He cites the many authorities who permit reinterment in Israel, and mentions how the body of the Chida, Rav Yosef Chaim David Azulai, was moved to Israel in 1960 and how the decision was met with much approval. Rav Ovadiah adds that burial in Israel is especially fitting as Sir Moses Montefiore was a great lover of the Land of Israel in his life, and was a great supporter the settlement here (Yalkut Yosef 7:32). Rav Mordechai Eliyahu and Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron also approved the Montefiores’ reinterment in Israel.

Today, Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore remain buried in Ramsgate, next to the synagogue they built. But as recently as 2011, the issue of moving them to Israel was once again raised and discussed.

When the Rebbe of Karlin passed away, Rav Zvi Pesach Frank ruled that since his chassidim knew full well that the Rebbe desired to live in Jerusalem and be buried in Jerusalem, it is a “mitzvah to bring him to be buried in the Land of Israel” (Har Zvi, Yoreh De’ah 274). Rav Levi ibn Chaviv ruled that children may choose to bury their parents in Israel, even without their parents’ express consent (Teshuvot Maharalbach, 63. See also Pitchei Teshuvah, Yoreh De’ah 363:2).

For those who do not merit in being buried in the Land of Israel, the custom is to bury them together with earth from the Land of Israel (See Rema, Yoreh De’ah 363:1). Many explain that this too provides atonement for the deceased.


Previous articleUN WATCH On UNRWA’s Links To Terrorism
Next articleJewish Couple Seeks $40 Million In Damages From JetBlue After Being Booted From Flight
Rabbi Shimshon HaKohen Nadel lives and teaches in Jerusalem, where he serves as mara d'atra of Har Nof's Kehilat Zichron Yosef, rosh kollel of the Sinai Kollel and Kollel Boker at Hovevei Zion, and lectures at the OU Center.