Recently I read an article regarding burial in Israel. There seems to be a shortage of graves and therefore there are those that are using this method of burying 4 deep underground in order to alleviate the shortage of space. Are there any Halachic issues with this? Is this an area of dispute amongst Halachic authorities?

  • There seems to be some confusion, as to whether or not these "layered burials" would be above or below ground. Which is part of the real debate. See here for more info: bet-almin.com/2009/08/blog-post_185.html – avi Mar 6 '12 at 19:31
  • There are two types of "dense" burial being offered: bhol.co.il/Article.aspx?id=35810 1) Machpelah -- in the ground, and two graves are on top of each other (for instance, husband and wife). 2) Sanhedrin -- above ground, in chambers built into the walls. (An additional aspect is 'Ramah' - burying in 'parking lot'-type structures, where on each 'floor' people will have the option of 'Sanhedrin' or 'Machpelah'). – ChaimKut Mar 7 '12 at 12:58

Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 362:4 states:

אין נותנין ב' ארונות זה על זה... ואם יש ביניהם עפר ששה טפחים מותר

"One may not bury two coffins one atop the other... But if there is six tefachim of dirt between them, it is permissible."

(Gra and R. Akiva Eiger there cite Beis Yosef, who in turn cites Terumas Hadeshen, that indeed three tefachim is enough.)

Shach there (:4) points out that even the requirement of six tefachim of separation can be waived if there is no other way to perform the burial (as indeed was common in the European communities, where the size of Jewish burial grounds was sharply restricted by the authorities - see Pischei Teshuvah :3).

Obviously it's a question for the local rabbanim to decide on a case-by-case basis, based on their evaluation of how critical the shortage of space is.

  • I would check with @GershonGold if he is asking about burial below or above ground. – avi Mar 6 '12 at 19:35

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