Those of you who may have read my profile know that I have been reading and transcribing information on tombstones in towns in the Spis Region of Slovakia, in which no Jews remain. My colleague is a very devout Evangelical Christian with great respect for the Jewish people. He and others who live in towns that no longer have a Jewish presence have done their best to clean up and maintain the vandalized and abandoned cemeteries, sometimes fixing the surrounding fences, and so forth. They feel a certain responsibility to honor those who were martyred from their town, by caring for the ancestors of those people, and they do this with great respect and care. (I even have photos of their clean-up efforts.)

Recently these people in Slovakia were seeking funds to help with the clean-up and possibly raising fallen stones to set them upright and maintenance after the clean-up. It's hard work and needs more hands to accomplish this. In some rare cases they have even rebuilt or poured cement around a grave, so that the gravestone can be reset, at the request and payment of a descendant of that person.

Now I have been told that it is improper for non-Jews to be doing this. That it might need at least a Jewish mashgiach (supervisor) to ensure all is done appropriately. With about 700 Jewish cemeteries in Slovakia alone, it would seem to be an impossible job to be done by bringing teams of Jews to do the work. (Where would they stay? For how long in each place? etc.)

Can anyone provide any information to support the idea -- or not -- that if all is done in a respectful manner, that non-Jews are permitted to do this in places where there are no Jews?

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    That is really fascinating! Is there any more information about this available online? – Hod - Monica's Army Jul 3 '12 at 18:31
  • For me it is worrisome -- have they been doing an averah? Have I been encouraging them to continue this work? The valuable information they have helped collect through their efforts have helped people living today to reconnect with their ancestors. Many rabbanim have visited from Israel, USA, and elsewhere and have been very grateful for their efforts. – Madeleine Jul 3 '12 at 18:38
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    Re "have they been doing an averah?": I find it very hard to imagine that there's any sin for a gentile to tend to a Jewish cemetery: the worst I imagine to be the case is that it's considered improper for Jews to allow one to unsupervised. But answers will tell.... – msh210 Jul 3 '12 at 18:49
  • @Madeleine - First of all, "kol hakavod" to you for your important work. To me it seems obvious that faced with a choice between having restoration work done by a non-Jew, and not having it done at all, the former option is clearly the correct one. By the way, don't you yourself qualify as a mashgiach of sorts, since you are working in conjunction with them? Don't tell me that people expect a Meshgiach Temidi... – Dave Jul 3 '12 at 20:08
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    I always appreciate the responses I get from everyone -- isn't that really the best raison d'etre of this website anyway? Since submitting this question here, I also managed to submit a similarly worded question to a rabbi who has visited such a cared-for cemetery because of an ancestor buried in it. I'm hoping he'll have an answer or psak for me. If so, I'll be glad to share! – Madeleine Jul 4 '12 at 19:06

I don't see why there would be a problem with non-Jews tending to Jewish graves if, as it says in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim Siman 526 (especially Se'if 4), non-Jews do the burying of Jews on Yom Tov.

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    But this is done at the behest and under the direction of Jews. We still don't know whether it would be proper to have the non-Jews take care of everything themselves. – Dave Jul 6 '12 at 16:12
  • There in Shulchan Aruch the non-Jews do everything from taking the body to the cemetery and digging the grave and burying etc. on the first day of a Yom Tov and according to Ramah even on second day where possible. – Meir Zirkind Jul 6 '12 at 17:47
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    Yes, but again, all under Jewish supervision. There is no indication from Shulchan Aruch that we would allow non-Jews to do things on their own as they see fit. That is the specific issue under discussion here. – Dave Jul 6 '12 at 18:42
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    OK, the opinion I got from the rabbi who had relatives buried in such a cemetery, was that this should not be a problem. As some of you have indicated, even the Jewish organizations who do restorations employ non-Jews. It probably is not necessary to have a Mashgiach, if they can be relied upon to do the work in a respectful manner. I think I can live with that and not worry about it any more! The rabbi felt these people are really doing a very good thing. I'll add, ken yirbu! Thanks everyone! – Madeleine Jul 7 '12 at 1:37
  • @David when the non-Jews take the body to the cemetery not always do Jews go with them. Please learn the entire Siman. – Meir Zirkind Jul 8 '12 at 2:25

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