Our generation is witnessing, first-hand, the incredible obsession the world has with our tiny country, Eretz Yisrael. Its history is replete with brutal wars and wholesale slaughter. Countless battles have left its parched earth stained with blood. We have been the target, from time immemorial, of incessant attempts by many nations to disconnect us from their spiritual roots, either by imposing evil decrees depriving us of our inalienable right to worship Hashem, destroying the written word from which we learned and prayed, and committing unbridled mass murder. The definition of exile is alienation from the land and the nations will do all in their power to perpetuate this, for it is yet another way the Jew to be oppressed and, indeed, decimated through assimilation. Of course, we know that all these calamities befall us because of our own shortcomings, but it might help us understand why other nations are obsessed with this ‘little speck of land’ in the Middle East.
But more than this, perhaps, is that Eretz Yisrael is infused with holiness, for it is here that our story, the story of the Jewish people has unfolded. It is the land promised to our forefathers, where the Judges, Prophets, and Sages, sanctified Hashem’s name, brought the fulfillment of the Torah to dazzling heights and where the glory of the Batei Mikdash healed us from our spiritual blemishes and stood as testimony to our deep connection to the Creator of the Universe.
When it comes to burial in Israel, the Torah’s account, in Parshat Chayei Sarah, of Avraham Avinu and his purchase of the Ma’arat HaMachpela (tomb of the patriarchs), teaches us of the great merit of securing a burial place for oneself and family. The fact that the Torah details the transaction, especially the enormous amount paid, adds further weight to the above contention. Later, in Parshat Vayechi, Yaakov Avinu makes his son, Yosef, swear that, upon his passing, he will transfer Yaakov’s remains back to Eretz HaKodesh for burial. Separately, he tells the other brothers to do the same just in case Yosef is prevented from accomplishing this by Pharoah. Similarly, Yosef himself adjures his brothers to ensure that his bones be returned to Israel for burial. The Midrash relates that Moshe Rabeinu busied himself in the period leading up to Yetziat Mitzraim to fulfill Yosef’s wishes. In fact, Rashi comments further that Moshe exerted himself to prepare the remains of all Yaakov’s sons, which were then to be transported by the respective tribes back to Eretz Yisrael (Shmot 13:19).
As we see the Avot (forefathers) set the precedent and the example for our people, who, through the millennia, would make extraordinary efforts to reach Eretz Yisrael. Many were elderly and frail but made the arduous journey to die and be buried in the Holy Land.
There are profound reasons for which the Avot themselves required, without compromise, burial in the holy soil of Eretz Yisrael. Chazal teach that those buried in Israel will be the first to arise at the time of ‘techiat hamaitim’ (rise of the dead) (Berieshit Rabbah). On the other hand, those buried in chutz la’Aretz (outside of Eretz Yisrael), will roll through special tunnels to Israel – a painful ordeal called ‘gilgul mechilot’. The Gemara (Ketubot 111a) states that one who is buried in Eretz Yisrael, it’s as if he were buried under the ‘mizbeach’ (altar). In the authoritative book, “Gesher Hachaim”, Rabbi Yechiel Tucazinsky writes that upon death, the soul rises directly through the gates of Shamayim and is freed of the torture of ‘gilgul mechilot’ and ‘chibut hakever’ (a process whereby upon burial, a person is shaken by angels until he is freed of the last vestiges of the yetzer hara that continue clinging on after death).
With the advent of the modern era and especially since the establishment of the State of Israel, it has become much easier for the Jewish community residing in chutz le’Aretz to purchase burial plots for themselves or their loved ones. Likewise, air travel and electronic communication has made the process of transferring caskets/coffins to Israel relatively simple. Actually, the entire procedure, from the passing of a person in chutz la’Aretz to the funeral in Israel, can be achieved within 24 hours. That is true, however, if there is a plot reserved and purchased, in advance. The Israeli Embassy or Consulate in the foreign country will not allow the body onto the plane without an ‘Ishur’ (permit) which is produced when there is a title deed for the plot.
In a situation where a person has passed away, each country presents its own set of bureaucratic challenges, which basically entails securing a death certificate and permits from the Department of Health and from the Department of Home Affairs. In certain cases, where the deceased was a hospital patient or a resident of a similar institution prior to death, a ‘non-infectious disease certificate’ is required. A coroner’s report in the case of unnatural causes is often demanded by the authorities. If the person dies in a city which has an experienced chevra kadisha, they are usually able to expedite these documents quite quickly. The most common delay, and possibly the most uncomfortable part of the process, is in the event that no plot has been pre-purchased. In that case, the grieving family has to purchase a plot in Israel and this may not be so straightforward. First, they need to decide on which cemetery, reach the persons responsible for burial there, usually have to communicate with that person in Hebrew or broken English, discuss matters like proving the Jewishness of the deceased and whether the family have males who are kohanim, before those in charge of the cemetery agree to fax or email an application form. Undoubtedly, and one can say cold-heartedly, the factor that matters most to the cemetery administrator at this time is payment for the plot. He will instruct the family to make a wire transfer to the chevra kadisha’s account. Alternatively, he will allow for a local relative pay into the account or in cash or by check. Only when satisfied, will he fax/email the ishur to the chevra kadisha overseas for processing. Besides the stress this causes the family at this most difficult time, it most often leads to lengthy delays and halachic issues of kavod hameit (respect for the dead).
Clearly, anyone from abroad contemplating the mitzva of burial in Israel, and has the means to do so, should not wait till it’s too late but seek out a experienced agent for the best advice both for selecting the most suitable plots and for assistance with the procedures. This can save a lot of time, money, stress and heartache. Purchasing a burial plot in Eretz Yisrael has the added advantage of being a segula for long life – the ultimate gift for the ones you love.
Dovid Kentridge is the Director of Jerusalem Burials. He has been actively involved in “Chesed shel Emet” for the last 22 years. As Funeral Director for the Johannesburg Chevra Kadisha for eight years prior to aliya, he has vast experience in all aspects of burial procedures both locally and abroad and can advise with burial requirements including the purchasing of plots in Eretz Yisrael. He can be reached at 054 841 9514 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. View the website jerusalemburials.com