Why are Jewish dead flown to Israel for burials?
The coffins containing the bodies of the victims of the French shooting arrive at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.
March 21st, 2012
10:45 AM ET

Why are Jewish dead flown to Israel for burials?

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.’”

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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:

And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were a hundred forty and seven years.

And the time drew near that Israel [Jacob] must die; and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him: "If now I have found favour in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me; bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt.

But when I sleep with my fathers, thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying-place." And he said: "I will do as thou hast said."

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.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Israel • Jerusalem • Judaism

soundoff (396 Responses)
  1. Hannah

    Since apparently we are all talking about Israel's right to exist, surprise surprise, I suggest you all get your facts straight. Do some research, then come back and voice your slightly irrelevant opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Here's a place to start: http://israelipalestinian.procon.org/

    September 20, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  2. Tim


    August 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  3. joe d

    to steal more land and beg for American money

    July 6, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  4. joe d

    because they are a bunch of inbred weardo's

    July 6, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  5. Joel

    It is interesting how some handle these burials. But what of the spirit of man after death? The body of course decays and returns to dust, but what of the spirit? Several verses come to mind. "You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory." Psalm 73:24 "But as for you (Daniel), go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your alloted portion at the end of the age." Daniel 12:13 Afterlife is clearly taught in Tanakh. I am Messianic and believe the only way to be ready for death is through faith in Yeshua the Messiah of Israel. Shalom

    May 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  6. Calvin Our World Millwood

    ‎...it is very difficult for many people to comprehend, but what is promising salvation, is actually leading to wars and our destruction... consider this reality, if by faith it teaches and practices segregation even in death, then honestly, won't that same faith-filled teaching have us living segregated in life?

    May 27, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Hannah

      The problem comes when people do not respect other's beliefs.

      September 20, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  7. Saif

    When the days will change? Just waiting for the bad days turns into good ones. Now, for your help I think this Jewish video goo.gl/BYMCd will really make you feel grateful!

    May 20, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  8. Mark Rosen

    Hey guys,

    Check out this new passover video on youtube.
    Its filmed in Israel and very inspirational music!

    April 9, 2012 at 5:39 am |
  9. Iqbal Khan


    April 8, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • ted

      90% of the Iranians imprisoned by Khomeni and the brutal clerical regime do not support the views expressed in this video.

      April 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
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About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.