At several burials that I have attended, I noticed that they (I assume the funeral home) had written the word rosh ("head") on the top of the coffin, indicating which way the body's head was located.

Before lowering the coffin, the rabbi indicated the people to rotate the coffin so that the head faces a certain way when lowered into the ground.

  • Which way is the head supposed to face - east / west. etc. What if the grave is not configured in an east - west direction?
  • Why must it face in that direction?
  • Sources for the above.

I assume that the rabbi may be following the alignment of neighboring graves and assumes that the head should be in line (same direction) as the neighboring markers (e.g. head closest to the headstone).

But, of course, if the body were buried in an open field or somewhere that had no markers, is there a preferred direction?

  • … and does it actually need to be aligned with its neighbors? – msh210 Nov 15 '16 at 5:02

As Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson states on Chabad.org:

Rav Moshe Sofer says that, while Jewish law does not require all graves to face any particular direction, in anticipation of the ultimate redemption and the messianic era, when all will be resurrected, there was a custom that evolved in many communities:

In many cemeteries, the bodies are buried with their feet facing the entrance to the cemetery, to symbolize that they will leave the cemetery at the time of the resurrection of the dead. At the time of the resurrection, everyone will head to the Land of Israel, and therefore some cemeteries are set up so that the feet of the dead face the direction that one would take to travel to Israel. For instance, in cemeteries in Europe, the dead were buried with their feet to the east, and in others, with their feet to the south.

Because Israel is southeast of Eastern Europe, one would (then) travel either east to Turkey and then south, or first south to the Mediterranean and then east. Based on the above, some cemeteries in Europe had entrances on both the south and east sides and buried their dead in either direction.

Retrieved from: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1672031/jewish/Do-Jews-Bury-the-Dead-in-a-Specific-Direction.htm

Sources used by the Rabbi (for convenience):

See the Talmud, Bava Batra 102a, which discusses graves that are placed next to each other in many different directions.

Chatam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah 332.

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  • 2
    Welcome to Mi Yodeya. I see that you carefully thought through this answer before posting ;-) Thanks for the interesting answer. I'll try to view the Chabad link, later, when I can access it. – DanF Nov 16 '16 at 21:29
  • Thank you. I am new here and hope to do well. I am going to edit the answer now as i see it is lacking proper format. – The Thinking Yid Nov 16 '16 at 21:34
  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Thinking Yid! Thanks for the answer. – mevaqesh Nov 17 '16 at 1:11

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