Do modern Jewish cemeteries separate the "righteous" from the "wicked"? I have read in various sources that "we don't bury rashim near tzadikim"--that people must be buried near others of similar righteousness. From this page:

"The halachah states that one should not bury an evil person near a tzaddik, nor even a very wicked person near a mildly wicked person, nor a good person near an outstandingly pious individual (Sanhedrin 47a; Rashi, ibid.; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 362:5)., [...] The Gemara explains that there were therefore different cemeteries even for different levels of rishut, evil. For example, there were different burial areas for those killed by beit din via stoning and those killed by sword.

"[...] Those of similar religious and moral stature should be buried next to each other. If, however, a tzaddik and a rasha are buried next to each other, it may not be necessary to move the rasha, although some separation, such as a halachic partition, is usually advised (see Gilyon Maharsha, Yoreh Deah 362:5; Shu”t Chatam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 341; Minchat Yitzchak 6:136; Shevet HaLevi 7:193). [...] Rabbi Shmuel Engel (Shu”t Maharash, 3:65) permitted one to move his wife’s grave when it was discovered that she was mistakenly buried in a section of the cemetery reserved for Shabbat desecraters. [...] Thus, only in a Jewish cemetery does one find separate burial sections for societies of like-minded individuals."

Are these distinctions imposed in today's Jewish cemeteries, and to what extent? For example:

  • Are there still separate sections for those guilty of different violations, such as Shabbat desecrators and suicides?

  • Are "burial societies" based on level of religious observance and righteousness actually common practice?

  • Is care still taken to ensure that a tzaddik is not buried next to a rasha, and would the graves of a tzaddik and a rasha be separated by a halachic partition even today?


3 Answers 3


At Westpark Jewish Cemetery in Johannesburg there is a section at the back for Jews who married non-Jews, separated from the adjacent graves by a chain-link fence.

  • 2
    Is that because they married non-Jews, or because they want to be buried alongside their non-Jewish spouses, which isn't permitted in a Jewish cemetery? Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 12:57
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    No, it's because they married non-Jews. If they want to be buried next to their non-Jewish spouse they will have to be buried in another non-Orthodox Jewish cemetery. Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 13:02
  • Gotcha. I've heard of cemeteries that have an "annex" (not technically part of the Jewish cemetery) for that purpose, hence my question. Commented Jun 12, 2013 at 13:04

Practices vary.

Suicide is a very complex subject; traditionally we'd apply every benefit of the doubt ("we assume he fell, not jumped"), and today when we add in mental-health issues it's even more complicated. On this one all I can say is consult a rabbi on a case-by-case basis, and we pray not to have such cases.

My impression is that most synagogues have their own cemeteries, and if someone is a member of that synagogue they have the option of burial in the cemetery. No additional criteria are applied. This means that those who affiliate Orthodox will be buried together.

I do know of one Jewish cemetery that doesn't belong to any given congregation; it has a section for those who were "sabbath-observant." I don't know how that's enforced.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein has a fascinating letter to a fellow in Baltimore on how to run a Jewish cemetery. He says you don't bury a known-sabbath-observer right next to a known-sabbath-desecrator; however if you have margins of 16 feet (in a pinch, 8 will do) in between that's not "next to", and it's not your problem who will get buried in-between later. Similarly a fence (or mausoleum, I suppose) would serve as a separation. Lastly, Rabbi Feinstein addresses a category of people (I wonder how many exist today) who are "eh we don't know what they do on sabbath" [don't ask don't tell?]. He says you can bury such a person next to either a known-sabbath-keeper or a known-sabbath-violator, thus filling in the empty plots.

Again, practical practices here will vary. Wildly.

  • There are plenty of "eh we don't know what they do on sabbath" people in modern MO and RW "halachic egal" communities, although I'm pretty sure that we're dan lekaf zechut that they are shomrei Shabbat Commented Jul 23, 2019 at 22:48

At the Meretzer cemetery (the cemetery established by and for Jewish immigrants from Meretz in Lithuania) in Woburn, Massachusetts, USA, founded probably around 1920, there is an aisle separating those who were Shomrei Shabbat from those who were not.

I have not seen any such separation in newer cemeteries.

I do not know whether the OP would consider 1920 "modern" or not.

According to my father (Conservative Rabbi) while historically those who committed suicide were buried outside the walls, the modern interpretation is that such people are clearly mentally ill and should be treated no differently than those who died of any other illness.

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