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A friend of mine recently showed me this video describing a method of burial where the deceased's decomposing body is used to nourish a growing tree. In theory, I don't see any obvious halakhic issue with it. The one issue that I'm not sure about is that the person is buried in the fetal position. I am not aware of any halakhic issues with this either, but it is obviously not the current norm.

Is burying someone in the fetal position halakhically problematic or should it be permissible?

  • It's not clear that planting on top of a grave would be ok he.wikisource.org/wiki/… – Double AA Mar 3 '16 at 19:06
  • @DoubleAA I'm having trouble seeing what part of the source linked in your second comment might indicate that planting on top of a grave might be problematic? – Daniel Mar 3 '16 at 19:17
  • The Rama says the dirt might be Asur BeHanaah. What qualifies as Hanaah here is an interesting question. – Double AA Mar 3 '16 at 19:36
  • @DoubleAA How would a tree growing in the dirt be hanaah? We're assuming that I put the seed in the pod with the body. If the dirt that was dug up ever happens to come in contact with the seed, it's not because I made it happen. – Daniel Mar 3 '16 at 19:42
  • First of all, sitting under such a tree for shade could totally be hanaah. Second I speculate that planting anything there would be included and most poskim just don't directly reference people farming a graveyard. I'm not saying it's for sure a problem, but it definitely doesn't seem obviously permitted to me. – Double AA Mar 3 '16 at 19:50
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The Yerushalmi (Nazir 9:3) records that the standard way of burying people is with their legs extended and their hands over their hearts. Elsewhere (Kilayim 9:3) it records how R Yirmeya asked to be laid on his side, as if ready to awake and greet the Mashiach, in his grave. The Bavli (BB 74a) describes how the Jews who died while wandering the desert for 40 years were sleeping on their backs.

The Tur (YD 362) writes:

ולדברי הכל נותנים המת על גביו ופניו למעלה והכי איתא בירושלמי יהבוני על גבי לא עומד ולא יושב ולא מונח ראשי בין ברכי אלא כאדם שהוא ישן
And according to everyone we lay the deceased down on his back with his face up, and so it says in the Yerushalmi [TTBOMK we don't have this exact line in our Yerushalmi -- AA]: Lay me on my back, not standing, not sitting, and not with my head between my knees, but rather as one who is sleeping.

The Shulchan Arukh (362:2) rules as well that the deceased should be laid as if sleeping on his back with his face up. The Shakh there (sk 2) writes that in a standing or sitting position would be "דרך גנאי", a disgraceful way of being buried.

It's hard to say burying someone in the fetal position would not fulfill the obligation of burial, but the traditional position seems to be strongly preferred.

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