This question slightly merges into politics as there has been a push by some to reclaim Jewish remains and bring them back to Israel. This has actually already been done a few times, a famous example being the remains of Theodor Herzl at Mt. Herzl military cemetery.

Very recently, Benjamin Netanyahu asked the Lithuanian government to allow the remains of Vilna Gaon to be collected and transferred back to Israel for reburial. The request was denied and his remains are still in Lithuania.

My question: Are you actually doing a good thing by disturbing the remains of a Jew in order to have them reburied in Israel?

Being buried in Israel is certainly a blessing and I can understand why people would deem such an end preferable than being buried in foreign lands. That being said, once all burial observances are made and the body is in the ground and sealed, are you really doing a good thing by disturbing the body?

Wouldn't you risk the possibility of the remains not being kept intact during the move? Possibly even losing a piece of the person?

Halachally speaking, is it better to keep a body where it was buried (as to not disturb the remains) or is it acceptable to reclaim the remains of Jews so they can be brought back to Israel?

  • related but slightly off topic: your question was the one chosen by the Sridei Eish to test the Lubavitcher Rebbe before giving him smicha. Little known story retold here, the book mentioned there might be of interest to you if you want to dig deeper in the topic
    – mbloch
    Feb 5, 2019 at 5:32

2 Answers 2


Moving the body to Eretz Israel is one of the exemptions the Shulchan Aruch (YD 363:1) places on the general prohibition to move corpses or bones.

One should not remove a corpse and bones [...] And likewise, in order to bury him in the Land of Israel, it is permissible [to remove him].

(see also 363:2)

Writing at length on the topic (here), R Yitzchok Breitowitz brings context and starts by quoting the Sridei Eish (R Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg)

The removal of bones from one gravesite to another . . . is a matter that our rabbis and decisors in all generations have treated with great severity for we find that Chazal were very insistent on the proper respect to be paid to the dead . . . [T]he soul of a Jew feels great anguish [mitza'eret harbai] over the pain and humiliation of a corpse and [this sense of anguish] is deeply embedded in the very roots of our holy faith as the author of the Kol Bo elaborates with wondrous words [Rabbi Weinberg proceeds to quote the Kol Bo who states that the treatment of a corpse with respect and dignity is an affirmation of belief in the body's ultimate resurrection upon techiyat hametim; conversely, treating a corpse disrespectfully implies a belief that death is final and irreversible. Rabbi Weinberg then continues]: "And therefore we observe that time after time when a question concerning the disinterment of bones came before the great teachers [gedolai hamorim], they would apply themselves to this halacha with great gravity and seriousness and they would preoccupy themselves in the clarification and meticulous examination of all possibilities [b'biror u'vlibun ha'din micol tzad] and they would not rush to permit even under circumstances where the basis for leniency was clear and obvious.

Building on your concern that this could be risky he writes

the remains must be handled with respect and accorded proper dignity. To the extent ascertainable, bones from different bodies should not be intermingled and should be buried separately. The remains should be transported to burial as soon as possible and should not be kept for archeological inspection, museum collection and the like.

Similarly R Moshe Feinstein (quoted here)

allows moving a body when the new place is demonstrably better than the old one, either because of the surrounding graves [...] or the place itself (like Israel).

PS. Incidentally your question was the one chosen by the Sridei Eish to test the Lubavitcher Rebbe before giving him smicha. Little known story retold here, the book mentioned there might be of interest to you if you want to dig deeper in the topic.


Yaakov didn’t want to be buried in Egypt because of two reasons 1. whether Techiyas Hamaisim applies outside E”Y and the suffering of rolling of bones 2. The plague of lice. Yosef may have asked to be transferred to E”Y when the Benei Yisrael left Egypt. (Kesubos 111a) also (Bereishis Rabah 96:5)

However one could ask what about Moshe and Aharon etc sources that I have come accross say that those of great sages who pass away outside of E”Y are great merit to that generation who live outside E”Y and will eventually bring them to E”Y when Moshiach comes. (Devarim Rabah 2:9) also (Yalkut Shimoni, Zos Haberacha 965)

Again, we find it possibly in Tractate of Kesuvos of being transferred or prefer burial in E”Y.

It’s a very sensitive issue but I have heard nowadays it’s more Kivrei Avos of where the family is buried. I don’t know if the vilna gaon parents are buried in E”Y. But I would say that if he didn’t explicitly ask to buried in E”Y then I would take it not to reintern him in E”Y.

Please feel to edit. Will locate sources as well.

  • Yoreh Deah 363:1 - burial in Eretz Yisrael is a Kapparah
    – MDjava
    Feb 5, 2019 at 3:51

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