March 21st, 2012
10:45 AM ET
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) – The four victims of Monday’s shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, were buried Wednesday morning – not in their home community but, after an overnight flight from Paris, in Jerusalem.
Though two of the young victims were born in Israel, the Consistory of Paris, which represents Jewish communities, told CNN that all the victims were being buried there for reasons of faith, not nationality. Being laid to rest in Israel, the birthplace of Judaism, ensures that their remains will not be tampered with, the group said. It also added that 40% of practicing French Jews are buried in Israel.
French religious Jews aren’t alone in wanting this, and the reasons run deep.
“It goes all the way back to the Bible, when Jacob passed away,” explains Rabbi Shaul Ginsberg, who oversees Shomrei Hachomos, an Orthodox funeral chapel in Brooklyn – which he says is one of three Orthodox funeral homes in New York state.
Before Jacob passed away, Ginsberg says, “One of the things he said to Joseph is, ‘Don’t leave me in Egypt.’”
He wanted to join those who had died before him, including his grandfather, Abraham, who received the first Jewish burial, Ginsberg says.
In the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 47:28-30 reads:
Jacob would be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs, known by Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham, in what’s now the West Bank city of Hebron.
Another incentive to be buried in Israel extends beyond the Bible - and beyond concerns, for some, about grave desecration. It’s rooted in the belief that when the Messiah comes, those buried in Jerusalem will be resurrected first.
Jews do believe that a figure will emerge to restore peace, save the righteous and judge those who've done wrong. But the Jewish concept of a Messiah is very different from Christianity's view. Christians believe the Messiah already came, in the divine form of Jesus Christ. Jews do not believe this. In fact, they don't believe that the Messiah will be divine - since God, from their perspective, cannot become human.
When the Messiah comes, Judaism teaches, he will shepherd in what's referred to as the "World to Come." There will be peace, no more evil and the reinstatement of the Temple in Jerusalem. And, apropos of this story, all Jews will return to Israel.
The significance of being buried in Israel is one Ginsberg both respects and anticipates for himself. He purchased his plot in Jerusalem years ago and says 60% of those he serves are being flown to Israel for burial.
That choice doesn’t come cheap.
When Ginsberg bought his plot in 2000, it cost him $4,500. But lack of land, demand and simple economics have changed things. The plot next to his, he says, recently sold for $25,000.
Granted, one can choose to be buried outside of Jerusalem at better rates. But once the cost for the flight over is factored in, the price is still steep.
For the majority of Jews outside Israel (and even within Israel) who are not ultra-religious, burial considerations are likely not driven by what Jacob said to Joseph or by thoughts of a potential Messiah. These motivations, in fact, are probably foreign to many of them.
Even so, for very observant Jews, and even for some others who are not Orthodox, the expense of an Israel burial – if they can afford it – may be worth it, says David Zinner, the executive director of K’vod v’Nichum, an organization that provides education and resources about traditional Jewish funerals and burials.
One page on the organization's website is dedicated to burial in Israel, offering tips, links to articles and cemetery options.
Yet Zinner, who works with Jews of all denominations, also points to passages in the Talmud where Rabban Gamliel, a first century authority, argued against expensive burials. Zinner says Gamliel feared high prices deterred people from upholding traditions. To this day, Jews are traditionally not buried in fancy caskets.
By extension, Zinner says, there are many who argue that splurging for a burial in Israel makes little sense.
“Money is to help the living, to give to charity,” Zinner says, summarizing that school of thought.
As for those who are buried outside of Israel, Ginsberg says, the resurrection, when it comes, will not be lost on them. The process will just be more arduous and definitely less comfortable.
Tunnels will be created underground leading to Israel, he says, “and their bones will roll into Israel.”
Those already buried there “will save themselves that pain.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.