Next To Whom Shall I Lay?

Burial decisions can be difficult, and sometimes they are even more complicated than usual. One contemporary category of complication involves situations of widow(er)s and remarriage. Here’s a basic scenario:

A is married to B, and B dies. A remarries C, and then C dies (and is not buried next to B). When A dies, should A be buried next to B or to C?

This precise situation arose in my wife’s family, where her father had been married and widowed twice (and then married a third time). My father-in-law’s first two wives were buried in different cemeteries. When he died, there was, initially, some anxiety about the decision about where he should be buried. As it turned out, my wife knew that when her birth mother (her father’s first wife) had died, they had bought a double plot. That resolved the problem.

Upon return from the funeral, my wife and I realized that we were confronted with a potentially similar situation, since I had been widowed (and had not bought a double plot at the time of my late wife’s death). We wanted to avoid potential difficulty for everyone down the road, and bought a double plot for ourselves. Our first choice would have been to buy plots next to that of my late wife, but that section was fully subscribed, so we made a purchase in a different section (of the same cemetery) and told our children about the purchase. (Though we assured them that we had no imminent need of the plots, they were somewhat distressed at the idea. That’s a separate issue.)

A friend recently confronted a different but connected issue. Her father had died years before, and he and his wife had purchased a double plot. But when the wife died recently, the purchased second plot was, at least temporarily, unusable due to water saturation, and she was buried at some distance (though within the same cemetery) from her late husband. My friend was distressed at this, and wanted to know if a disinterment and reburial was possible. Since that cemetery (in England) is under Orthodox supervision, the situation involved halachic issues.

Some research shows that there is substantial discussion of this idea. (Kudos to David Zinner for pulling together this information and more.}

There is a general prohibition of disinterment, to prevent:

* humiliation of the dead
* confusion of the dead
* embarrassment of the dead

But there are exceptions, which are:

* If it was a temporary place (Semachot 13:5)
* To move the deceased to a family tomb (Semachot 13:7)
* To re-bury in Israel (Shulchan Aruch)
* If the original site is unprotected (Shulchan Aruch)
* If there was a stipulation at the time of burial (Shulchan Aruch)
* If the deceased did not have the right to be buried in that space (Shulchan Aruch)

The issue of disinterment was addressed by an inter-dominational panel of American rabbis in connection with challenges posed during and after World War II, when American soldiers had been buried in Europe in what were intended as temporary graves. Their response reads, in part:

Considering the special circumstances involved there can be no objection from the point of view of Jewish law to this proposed removal of bodies to America. In the first place it was clearly the intention of the government to move the bodies back to America, therefore this burial overseas was made with the intention of re-interment; second, the government will not maintain overseas cemeteries and [there] would be none to protect and guard any graves that might by chance be left; and third, because the re-burial will be al kever avoth [“in the grave of ancestors”] (Yoreh Deah 363 #1).  [See Responsa in War-Time]

Such dilemmas go back to Talmudic times. In Tractate Mo’ed Katan (25a), the Rabbis are debating where one of their colleagues, the eminent Rav Huna, should be buried. They decide to bury him next to his equally eminent colleague, Rav Chisda, presumably because of a principle enunciated in Tractate Sanhedrin (47a), that “We do not bury a wicked person next to a righteous one,” and extend this to the principle that “nor do we bury an ordinary righteous person alongside an unusually great man.” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 362:5).

Sanhedrin cites II Kings 13:21 as the source of the principle that “we do not bury a wicked person next to a righteous one.” In an incident there, a evildoer’s corpse is tossed into a grave which turns out to be that of the prophet Elisha. When this corpse rolls up against that of Elisha, the evildoer is restored to life, indicating that God doesn’t want him buried next to Elisha.

Dan Fendel is co-founder of the Chevrah Kadisha at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA, as well as co-author, with Rabbi Stuart Kelman, of the Expanded Third Edition of Chesed Shel Emet: The Truest Act of Kindness: Exploring the Meaning of Taharah, and Nichum Aveilim: A Guide for the Comforter. He was lead organizer of the East Bay Chevrah Kadisha Consortium, which promotes cooperation and sharing of resources among the dozen or so Chevrah Kadisha groups in the greater Oakland/Berkeley area. Dan is a graduate of, instructor for, and serves as Dean of Students at the Gamliel Institute.

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Upcoming Gamliel Institute Courses

The next course scheduled for the Gamliel Institute is Course 3 – Chevrah Kadisha Education, Organization, and Leadership (EOL). It focuses on leadership, communal education, and organizational skills for creating and maintaining a Chevrah Kadisha. It will run September 3rd through December 17th 2019. Registration is $500. with a volume and clergy discount available.


Gamliel Continuing Education provides advanced programs in three 90 minute to 2 hour sessions on consecutive Wednesdays in the Spring and Fall each year. The next series will be September 4th, 11, and 18th, 2019, taught by Rabbi En Leader. The topic will be Taharah Liturgy. Tuition is $72.00.


Taste of Gamliel is a series delivered on a monthly basis, consisting of five 90 minute sessions. The tuition is $36.00. In general the series runs from January to May or June, usually on Sundays. The 2020 topic will be announced soon.


Gamliel Café is a free monthly online gathering of Gamliel Students at which one of the Gamliel students or faculty will offer a teaching or lead a discussion, and the conversation will flow from there, with an opportunity to catch up and network..It is scheduled for the third Thursday of the month, when there is no holiday or other reason to cancel. 90 minutes.

The next Gamliel Café will be on June 20th, and will feature Rabbi Richard F. Address, the newly announced incoming Dean of the Gamliel Institute.


To register for any of these events, go to For more information or to discuss special circumstances, contact us at or 410-733-3700.


If you are interested in submitting a blog entry, please be in touch with us at, or 304-989-4014. We welcome articles from 750 to 3000 words that relate to Jewish matters around living Jewishly, the end of life, dying, death, chevrah kadisha, Taharah, Shmirah, comforting the ill and mourners, and other related issues.


We hope that you find this blog to be uplifting and inspiring. We would welcome your thoughts and reactions.

About Expired and Inspired

Expired and Inspired is Kavod V’Nichum’s blog on all matters relating to life end, death, funerals, and comfort. 

The topic of death and dying has long been a taboo subject. Because death comes to all of us, and touches almost all of us in our life, we feel that it needs to be open for conversation and learning – not necessarily in a morbid fashion: there are aspects of this part of life that are beautiful and touching. Our view is that the death of a loved one is sad, but the sacred, holy work in which we engage in this arena can be spiritual, loving, transformative, and life-affirming. Talking about it should not be ‘taboo’ or avoided. There is even room, at times, for humor, as well as awe, love, and honor, as we explore this universal part of life.

Expired and Inspired is intended to educate, reveal, and share stories in an interesting and compelling way about the people involved, and the Jewish process, rituals, and activities that include Bikkur Cholim (comforting the ill and the dying) and the work of Caring Committees, and all aspects concerning the Jewish approach to the end of life, death & dying, the work of the Chevrah Kadisha (the Holy Society involved with preparation of the deceased for burial), care for the deceased, and comfort for mourners and those bereaved.


Our range of topics is very broad. As a part of what we include we consider Shmirah (watching or guarding) the body (and soul) of the deceased, burial preparations at ‘home’ or done ‘personally’ by family or community members vs. those provided by professionals, suitable locations for funerals and memorial services, the specifics of Jewish funerals and memorial services, all aspects of Jewish rituals, customs, and ceremonies, Jewish forms of mourning, comforting and supporting mourners, Jewish issues around cremation and other forms of non-burial, ‘difficult’ or complicated situations, ‘green’ funerals and cemeteries, concerns with care for and ownership/maintenance/regulation of cemeteries and Jewish burial locations, the fees and costs associated with funerals, and other related matters, with an emphasis on first person stories. Our goal is to draw attention, inform, raise interest, educate, and encourage others to learn more about the work that we do, to consider calling on the organizations that do this work in their community at their time of need, and perhaps to consider becoming involved in this work in their own community.


We are not limited other than by what our authors choose to cover.


Kavod v’Nichum (Hebrew for “honor and comfort”) uses education and advocacy to empower Jews of all backgrounds to reclaim the mitzvot (“commandments” or “good deeds”) of honoring the dead. The organization ensures that local groups and congregations can support mourners through traditional Jewish activities and rituals in ways that are accessible and relevant to today’s Jewish community. Kavod v’Nichum helps the Jewish community engage with traditional practices while giving individuals the information they need to adapt those traditions in their own meaningful ways.

Kavod v’Nichum encourages and assists the organization of bereavement committees and Chevrah Kadisha groups in synagogues and communities so that they can perform Jewish funeral, burial, and mourning mitzvot; protect and shield bereaved families from exploitation; and provide information, education and technical assistance. Kavod v’Nichum is the premier North American organization providing assistance, training, and resources about Jewish dying, death, funeral, and bereavement practices for Chevrah Kadisha groups and bereavement committees in synagogues and communities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Kavod v’Nichum also works to expand and adapt its manuals and resources to serve the needs of a diverse Jewish community, taking into consideration emerging concerns such as interfaith, same-gender and other non-traditional families, transgender persons, and those interested in “green” burials.

Kavod v’Nichum was recognized and named as one of the 50 most innovative and cutting edge Jewish Organizations for 2013-2014 in the Slingshot guide ( Organizations included in the Guide are identified as driving the future of Jewish life and engagement by motivating new audiences to participate in their work and responding to the needs of individuals and communities – both within and beyond the Jewish community – as never before. The Slingshot Guide has become a go-to resource for volunteers, activists and donors looking for new opportunities and projects that, through their innovative nature, ensure that the Jewish community remains relevant and thriving. Organizations included in the Guide are evaluated on their innovative approach, the impact they have in their work, the leadership they have in their sector and their effectiveness at achieving results. “The groundbreaking organizations that we highlight in the Slingshot Guide are game-changers in the realms of community engagement, social justice impact, and religious and spiritual life. The Slingshot Guide is not just a book listing organizations doing interesting things; it’s a resource relied upon by doers and donors alike. It’s the framework for a community that through the collaboration that results from inclusion in the Guide, becomes something significantly more effective than what each of the individual organizations can achieve on their own” according to Will Schneider, Executive Director of Slingshot.

Kavod v’Nichum’s website ( offers the most comprehensive resource available for Jewish end-of-life matters. The organization provides technical assistance and educational materials, and organizes Chevrah Kadisha (“holy society”) groups at the local level to perform Jewish funerals and mourning activities. Kavod v’Nichum also hosts the North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference, the only annual gathering of its kind (


The Gamliel Institute ( is the foremost center for study, learning, advocacy, and leadership training concerning Jewish end of life practices. The Institute is a project of Kavod v’Nichum (Honor and Comfort). The Gamliel Institute offers distance learning classes using the latest and best technology for rabbis, cantors, medical and health professionals, lay leaders, and other interested persons from across North America. These courses prepare individuals to assist grieving families and to train volunteers within their communities to perform Jewish end-of-life rituals and support members of their community.

It is the only institution (of which we are aware) that offers rigorous instruction at a graduate level in courses on the topics of the History, Origins, and Evolution of the Chevrah Kadisha; Taharah & Shmirah; Education, Organizing & Training a Chevrah Kadisha; Nechama (Comforting); & Ritual Practice. The Covenant Foundation has recognized the value of the work that the Gamliel Institute does by awarding a multi-year grant to fund the development of the fifth (and final) course in the curriculum on the subject of Ritual Practice (to be taught starting in Spring 2015). The Gamliel Institute offers a variety of ‘Taste of Gamliel’ sessions, class sessions focusing on specific topics, such as Complicated Taharot, Infection Control, Non-Traditional Mourners, and Taharah Liturgy.


The Gamliel Institute was founded in 2010, and began offering courses to the first cohort of students in October of that year. There have now been multiple cohorts, and at this point there are six courses that comprise the instruction cycle of the Gamliel Institute.

  1. The History, Origins, and Evolution of the Chevrah Kadisha
  2. Taharah & Shmirah
  3. Education, Organizing, and Training
  4. Nechama
  5. Ritual Practice
  6. International Perspectives

Each course is twelve sessions (except the sixth, which is six sessions and a travel period of over 2.5 weeks), and requires extensive reading, preparation, chevrutah study, writing, and hands-on work. Several of the courses also require development of a project in an area selected by and of deep interest to the student, usually something that will actually be implemented and used in their community, and possibly replicated elsewhere.


We have invited those who are involved in this sacred work to submit items for this blog. Among those who have joined us are some the officers, staff, and members of Kavod v’Nichum, Administrators, Instructors, and students in the Gamliel Institute, and others who wish to participate. We welcome original submissions by the author, but reserve the right to accept or reject, publish as is, edit, or modify the submission. The author retains the copyright to the work in regard to any other publishing of that material so long as they include a notice that the work originally appeared in the Kavod vNichum blog Expired and Inspired, but Kavod v’Nichum has full rights to reproduce and use with attribution any item that it publishes as part of this blog, for the purposes of instruction, inclusion and display on our website, or as part of training materials, newsletters, or other publications we produce and distribute.