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This answer gives a rough estimate that about 90 percent of hilchot kevura (laws of burial) are based on local minhag, rather than actual halacha. Taking this into account, the next logical conclusion to enquire upon what the actual halachot are.

In particular, I am wondering

  • Whether there is a particular position in which the body should be placed on the bier or in the coffin
  • If there is any law regarding the creation of batei chayim (cemeteries)

If anyone knows the answers to these points, or other relevant halachot, could you please answer?

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I'm not sure of any particular positions for a body to be placed in coffin. It is just best to make sure that the body is buried in the white garment called a "Shroud." I'm not sure of many laws regarding the creation of a Jewish graveyard, but According to Jewish law, a Jew should be buried among Jews. It is forbidden for a Jew to be buried in a mixed- denomination cemetery, or in a cemetery that allows the burial of questionably converted Jews. A proper Jewish grave is one in which the casket is laid directly in the ground, and covered with earth/dirt until it is full and a small mound is formed on top. The grave should be at least forty inches deep, and wide and long enough for the casket. Above-ground burial, though, is strictly forbidden according to Jewish law, and Kabbalah adds that all alternative burial options interfere severely with the eternal rest of the soul. Then, of course, there is the tombstone. The tombstone is usually placed at the head of the grave, and the plot outlined with a low lying frame. The tombstone should be made from stone or granite and similar to those around it. It is customary to then engrave the Hebrew name of the deceased and his or her father's name, as well as the Hebrew date and year of passing on the tombstone. On all tombstones one adds the Hebrew letters תנצב''ה, which in acrostic form means "May his (her) soul be bound in the binding of life." Others write on the heading פ"נ , which means "Here is buried." Carving or engraving the form of a human being on the tombstone and mounting any pictures is forbidden. And also one should avoid writing the persons qualities and such. Hope this helps.

  • 1
    How much of this is halacha, and how much of this is minhag? It seems that some of this is certainly veering into the latter. – Noach MiFrankfurt Apr 17 '15 at 16:16
  • Yes, you are likely right. This is most likely minhag. But I really don't know where any of this is rooted or if it is Halacha, but is likely minhag. Shabbat Shalom-Gut Shabbos. – Dallas Apr 17 '15 at 20:21
  • gut Shabbos (15) – Noach MiFrankfurt Apr 17 '15 at 20:58
  • The term "forbidden" seems rather extreme for pictures. Here in Israel some communities have a custom of a laser engraved picture of the deceased on the headstone. Most (but not all AFAIK) Hevrot Kadisha accept this. – Epicentre Apr 19 '15 at 4:16

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