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Home  »  Burial in Jerusalem: The Har Menuchos Cemetery – Part III
24 Cheshvan 5763 – October 30, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly

IN-DEPTH FEATURES   Burial in Jerusalem: The Har Menuchos Cemetery

by M. Samsonowitz

Part III

For two thousand years, it has been the dream and hope of many individuals to be buried in Jerusalem. This is a report of the situation today.

If Bituach Leumi pays only the burial costs, who is funding the cemetery development?

As you may have guessed, it’s the good Jews abroad who want to be buried in Israel whose payments cover this expense. The Chevra Kadishas market grave plots to Jews abroad, and they charge a not inconsiderable price for them. The standard cost for one’s “makom bechayim” is $5,000 for the karka, and another $2,000-2,500 for burial costs. Add to this another $3,500-5,000 for transportation, and being buried in Jerusalem is $11,000. The total cost is not unreasonable in comparison to burial in many places abroad, and the gemora says that anyone buried in Israel has a special kaporoh. $10,000 is also not that much in comparison to the savings and pensions that many people have today. Not surprisingly, thousands every year choose the option of burial in Israel.

“Some people are afraid to buy plots while they’re still alive,” Rav Gelbstein says, “while others say it is a special segulah for arichas yomim.”

Kehillas Yerushalayim charges $7,500 for a package deal. Perushim takes a $5,000 payment for the plot and advises the purchaser not to pay the burial costs in case he happens to be visiting in Israel or has moved to Israel when he passes away, in which case Bituach Leumi will pay the cost of burial. There is strong competition in New York between various funeral chapels to handle and transport niftorim.

The actual cost for a burial from abroad depends on a whole range of criteria. Grave plots closer to rabbonim are more expensive. The cost rises depending on the grave’s location — how close it is to the cemetery’s entrance, the road and the stairs.

Many Americans buy plots and are buried in Beit Shemesh, in the Artzos Hachaim cemetery which is private.

Rabbi Gafni says that the subject of burial from chutz la’aretz is entirely a free-for-all. He says he would like to pass a law to cover this too, but he doesn’t see it in the foreseeable future.

It is clear that the burials from abroad constitute a sizable portion of the Chevra Kadishas’ profits, particularly since such burials constitute between a fifth to a third of all the burials they handle.

Three hundred of Perushim’s 750-800 yearly burials come from abroad. Jews come to be buried from all over the world, but primarily from the U.S. and Europe. Considering the sensitivity of religious Jews to the importance of a burial site in Israel, it is not surprising that Perushim leads in the number of burials from abroad.

“We get requests from all over — Mexico, Tashkent, Riga, Ukraine, Holland,” says Rav Gelbstein. “We even sent a team to South Africa to bring 25 deceased over, because the government was going to desecrate the graves to develop the area.”

The Israeli public’s attention was riveted on a secret operation to transfer to Israel the bones of Rav Yosef Ochayoun, a Sephardic rav buried decades ago in the Casablanca Jewish cemetery. The operation, which took place about 3 months ago, was concluded successfully with his reburial in Tzfas near the grave of Rav Pinchos ben Yo’ir.

Many people buy their own plots while yet alive. For instance, HaRav Eliashiv’s family bought 16 plots next to where his wife was buried. HaRav Kreiswirth’s family insisted that talmidim couldn’t buy plots near Rav Kreiswirth until the family had taken their choice. In the end, there was no room for talmidim to buy near his grave.

“It can get chaotic when both family and talmidim want to be buried near a rav or rosh yeshiva,” Rav Gelbstein avers.

The General Sephardic Chevra Kadisha handles 400 burials a year, with 100-120 coming from abroad. Most of those from abroad come from France, the U.S., Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, London and Canada. Many come to be buried near family or famous rabbonim. The Sephardic communities most inclined to this are the Syrian Sephardim from South America and the U.S., and Moroccans who are currently living in France and the U.S.

Yitzchok Armosa, the head of the General Sephardic Chevra Kadisha, mentions that many Sephardim seek a burial place near the rabbis of their communities, the most popular being HaRav Yaakov Ades and HaRav Levi Nachmani.

Another interesting phenomenon which has occurred with increasing frequency is reburials from France. Since French law stipulates that after 30 years a cemetery may be dug up and all the bones removed to another place if the land is needed for development, Jews often transport the bones of relatives to Israel for reburial.

Chaim Barda, a Sephardic Chevra Kadisha worker, did this 30 years after his mother’s death. His brother and he received her bones in a 90 cm. aron. The Chevra Kadisha arranged the bones in their proper contour and reburied them on Har Hamenuchos.

Kehillas Yerushalayim handles about 140 burials from abroad, mostly of religious Jews — Ashkenazim from the U.S. and Sephardim from France. Shachor says that in his experience, couples usually buy their plots together. On occasion, people purchase a family plot.

“Sometimes we are asked to bury a niftar in a certain area or plot,” says Shachor. “If the plot is empty, we’ll try to arrange it without charging extra.”

He recalls the case of a woman whose father served as a British army guard and was killed by Bedouins in 1936. His orphan daughter grew up, married an American and found her future abroad. When she became ill with a terminal illness, she asked her family to bury her near her parents. When she died, the family phoned the Chevra Kadisha, and they discovered that the grave next to her parents was empty. The woman was buried there.

Esthetic Considerations

To increase the marketability of their cemetery plots, Kehillas Yerushalayim’s cemetery is symmetrical and carefully designed. Roads are strategically placed so it is easy to reach most gravesites. Bushes and trees line the different sections, to afford shade from the sun beating down in the long Jerusalem summer. Color- coded signs help visitors locate the graves they want to visit. This “modern” layout is part of what the original organizers of Kehillas Yerushalayim set out to achieve when they founded their chevra kadisha almost seventy years ago.

In contrast, Perushim strictly maintains all the customs instituted in Jewish cemeteries for centuries, regardless of how it will affect the cemetery’s appearance. They strictly forbid any vegetative growth even along the edges of the cemetery — Rav Gelbstein says he chemically eliminates any growth that does appear — in keeping with Jewish tradition. He explains that trees and plants can penetrate graves, destroy bones, and even lift up graves. It also causes problems for kohanim if a tree covers both a grave and the walkway.

“I was in many Jewish cemeteries all over the world,” says Rav Gelbstein, “and in the older cemeteries there are no trees or plants. That’s how it should be.”

The Perushim cemetery, especially the older sections, have barely a few inches between graves and are crowded. However, people go to them because they are the oldest and most identified with traditional Yerushalayim and its customs, and in death, many people are more worried about spiritual concerns and the identity of their neighbors than esthetics.

Shachor explains the high expenses of burial in Har Hamenuchos as being a result of the quality services provided by the Chevra Kadishas there. “We give much better service than do the Chevra Kadishas in other parts of the country,” he explains. “We provide a minyan of Chevra Kadisha workers for each levaya. In other places, they only give a chazan and the family pushes the hearse. We insure that the cemetery is beautiful, symmetrical and well- kept. Since it’s attractive, it’s easy to sell.”

Kehillas Yerushalayim has several distinct advantages because of the sheer volume of burials which it handles. It possesses two funeral parlors, one in Sanhedria and the other on the grounds of Har Hamenuchos, which allows it flexibility in when to schedule a funeral.

The other Chevra Kadishas have to share the Shamgar street funeral parlor, which entails a fee to the municipality and requires adjusting funeral times when there are a few funerals occurring together. However, the Sephardic Chevra Kadisha is completing its own funeral parlor on Har Tamir, the newest section of Har Hamenuchos. The new Beit Hespedim shel Hasfardim contains loudspeakers, air conditioning and all the conveniences.

Kehillas Yerushalayim distributes a CD called “Burial in Jerusalem” which shows pictures of its cemetery, the various kinds of plots, maps, halachos, how to get in touch with the Chevra Kadisha, and more. It’s done in color and even has a soundtrack.

Kehillas Yerushalayim also has published a book relating its history: the founding of the Chevra Kadisha, how it developed the cemeteries, minhagei Yerushalayim concerning burial, who were its founders and members, its different services, even the squabbles it had with Bituach Leumi and other Chevra Kadishas that tried to usurp its land.

Kehillas Yerushalayim has undertaken to help organize Jewish burial for kehillos in Eastern Europe. Every so often they send shlichim to meetings organized by the Joint Distribution Committee and Lev Levayov. One of the latest communities to benefit from this assistance is Riga.

In Jerusalem, Shachor does most of the sorrowful work of burying terror victims. Although he has unfortunately had quite a bit of experience in this in the past 2 years, there have always been terror victims over the years.

He explains that in terrorist attacks, most bodies are not intact. The Chevra Kadisha gets the body from the Forensic Institute at Abu Kabir, and arranges the contour of the body so the family doesn’t feel anything is unusual under the tachrichin. “We’re unfortunately prepared for terrorist attacks. The family doesn’t necessarily realize that anything is strange.

“The only difference in such a burial is that we don’t perform the tahara or dress the body in regular tachrichin,” says Shachor, “to make an ‘outrage in heaven’ that Jews are being so brutalized.”

Kivrei Tzadikim on Har Hamenuchos

One remarkable thing is people who go to visit kivrei tzadikim in the Ukraine and Russia, while they do not visit the kivrei tzadikim which are right here in Yerushalayim. While Har Hazeisim unquestionably has the largest number of kivrei tzadikim, going back to the time of the Bayis Rishon, there are plenty of tzadikim and gedolim to visit on Har Hamenuchos.

Visiting kivrei tzadikim of the past two generations has special meaning since it involves gedolim whom many people alive today knew and revere. While the graves are not of Tanaim and Rishonim, the sense of closeness which one feels with a teacher one revered is also of importance.

For those who want to know how to reach Har Hamenuchos, it’s very easy. One leaves Jerusalem on the Jerusalem- Tel Aviv highway, and makes a left at the first traffic light after passing the gas stations at the entrance of the city. (This is the exit to Har Nof.) Some 100 meters down the road, one makes a right. After passing a small industrial zone, one reaches Har Hamenuchos’s large parking lot. To the left are sinks where one can wash his hands when he leaves. The mountain to the direct right is Har Tamir, the adjoining mountain which was opened after Har Hamenuchos began to fill up. The turnoff to it is before the main parking lot of Har Hamenuchos.

Be forewarned that Har Hamenuchos is very large and since it’s a mountain, there will be some uphill climbing. However, there are roads that crisscross the mountain, allowing cars to come within easy reach of most graves.

Straight ahead, a little high up on the mountain but right after the parking lot, is the Perushim “Chelkas HaRabbonim” section , which can be discerned by the iron parapet constructed nearby, which allows kohanim to pray at the kivrei tzadikim without coming too near.

The Perushim Chelkas Rabbonim cemetery section has the greatest number of gedolim and rabbonim buried in it. Each grave contains a great tzaddik, rov or rosh yeshiva and one can spend literally hours stopping and praying at the graves within the section.

Before I continue, I must seek forgiveness for the many names of important rabbonim not listed out of oversight or ignorance or lack of room. In general, most of the rabbonim are buried in the old Chelkas Rabbonim in Gush Alef, or the newer Chelkas Rabbonim in Gush Yud Alef or Lamed-Lamed Alef.

The largest grave in the old Chelkas Rabbonim is the shrine of HaRav Aaron Rokach, the Belzer Rebbe. It has a special receptacle to light candles and it stands apart from the other graves. In proximity to it, also standing out, is the grave of HaRav Moshe Feinstein. Then, in clustered rows, here are the graves of the last generation’s great roshei yeshivos and rabbonim, in Chelkas Rabbonim Gush Alef (See the enclosed map which indicates where each Gush is located.):

HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer (rosh yeshivas Slutsk and Eitz Chaim of Jerusalem)

HaRav Reuven Bengis (rosh av beis din of Jerusalem)

HaRav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik (the Brisker Rov)

HaRav Akiva Sofer (av beis din of Pressburg, described in this week’s “Sparks of Glory” section; many of his family members are buried there too).

HaRav Aaron Kotler (rosh yeshivas Lakewood)

HaRav Aaron Aryeh Leifer (Nadvorna rebbe; plus many other Nadvorna family members)

HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel (rosh yeshivas Mir — Europe-Jerusalem)

HaRav Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz (rosh yeshivas Mir- Jerusalem)

HaRav Avrohom Yaffen, (rosh yeshivas Beis Yosef Novardok. His father-in-law, HaRav Yosef Yoizel Horwitz, the Alter of Novardok, was also reburied here).

HaRav Shmuel Gerstenfeld (ram in Yeshivas HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon)

HaRav Chaim Mordechai Katz (rosh yeshivas Telz- Cleveland)

HaRav Naftali Shakovitzky (rov of Gateshead)

HaRav Zalman Sorotzkin (av beis din of Lutsk, and head of Vaad Hayeshivos in Eretz Yisroel)

HaRav Dov Berish Weidenfeld (av beis din of Tchebin)

HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky (av beis din of London)

HaRav Shmuel Ehrenfeld (av beis din of Mattersdorf)

HaRav Noach Garfinkel (rosh yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Ozer in New York)

HaRav Boruch Sorotzkin (rosh yeshivas Telz Cleveland)

HaRav Yosef Dov Ber Soloveitchik (rosh yeshivas Brisk)

HaRav Aryeh Leib Mallin (rosh yeshivas Beis Hatalmud- Brooklyn)

Graves in the newer Chelkas Rabbonim and other sections:

HaRav Yehuda Leib Ashlag (author of Peirush Hasulam on Zohar: Ohel in Gush Vov)

HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank (rov of Jerusalem) (Gush Alef)

HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Jerusalem posek) (located in Gush Alef)

HaRav Moshe Soloveitchik (rov and posek in Zurich) (Gush Yud Alef)

HaRav Binyomin Paler, (rosh yeshiva of Toras Chaim in New York) (Gush Yud Alef)

HaRav Levi Krupenia (rosh yeshivas Kamenitz-U.S.) (Gush Yud Alef)

HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel (mashgiach of Yeshivas Lakewood) (Gush Yud Alef)

HaRav Boruch Shimon Schneerson (rosh yeshivas Kochav MiYaakov-Tchebin) (Gush Yud Alef)

HaRav Shlomo Avrohom Eliyahu Green, the “tailor,” mekubal of Tel Aviv (Gush Yud Alef))

HaRav Chaim Moshe Mandel, (the poel yeshuos of Bnei Brak) (Gush Yud Alef)

(many visit the above two graves seeking yeshuos)

HaRav Chanoch Henich Padwa (av beis din of London) (Gush Zayin)

HaRav Meir Shapira of Lublin (Ohel in Gush Zayin). HaRav Shapira was brought to Eretz Yisroel by relatives on 26 Elul 1958, 24 years after his petiroh.

HaRav Nachman Bulman (rov in U.S. and Israel) (Gush Yud Chet)

HaRav Eliyahu Boruch Goldshmidt (mashgiach of Lakewood and South Fallsburg yeshivos) (Gush Yud Chet)

HaRav Eliezer Kahanoff (rosh yeshiva of Torah Vodaas) (Gush Yud Chet)

HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth (av beis din of Antwerp) (New Chelkas Rabbonim — located in Gush Yud Tet)

In Har Tamir:

HaRav Shimshon Pincus (rov of Ofakim) (Gush Lamed Beit)

Chedva Zilberfarb (who lectured worldwide about shemiras haloshon and died young) (Gush Lamed Alef)

HaRav Yisroel Eliezer Kanerek (rosh yeshiva in the U.S.) (Gush Lamed)

HaRav Aaron Yehoshua Stein (av beis din in Boro Park) (Gush Lamed)

The Chassidim cemetery adjoins the Perushim cemetery. It also contains a number of illustrious rabbonim and Admorim.

The remains of HaRav Menachem Ziemba, the rov of Warsaw, were brought here for burial (Gush Beit).

Other famous personalities:

The Ra’ananer Rov and mekubal HaRav Yitzchok Huberman (Gush Yud)

Amshenover Rebbe (Gush Alef)

HaRav Zerachya Segal, the Tel Aviv mekubal (Gush Alef)

Pinsk-Karlin Rebbe (who passed away a year ago) (Gush Alef)

HaRav Shlomo Zevin, rov in Jerusalem (Gush Alef)

HaRav Yichye Shneur, a Yemenite rav.

The Sephardic Chevra Kadisha contains a number of distinguished Sephardic rabbonim:

In their Chelkas Rabbanim:

HaRav Yaakov Ades, member of Jerusalem beis din godol

HaRav Menachem Menashe, Iraqi tzaddik, author of sefer Ahavas Chaim

HaRav Yaakov Katzin, rav of Syrian kehilla in New York

HaRav Ezra Attiah, rav of Yeshivas Porat Yosef, from Aleppo

In Section Alef in Har Tamir:

HaRav Yosef Toledano, rabbi of a large kehilla in France

HaRav Benzion Maslaton, rav of Achiezer in Flatbush

HaRav Nissim Yagen, leading machzir bitshuva in Jerusalem, and rosh yeshivas Kehillas Yaakov (with chuppah built over it)

HaRav Sholom Lopez, Acco chief rabbi

HaRav Chaim Abuchatzera

HaRav Levi Nachmani, Moroccan mekubal

There are five graves of HaRav Ilu Shetreet and his family from Morocco, which the Sephardic Chevra Kadisha transferred to Israel and reburied with hundreds of people present.

Miriam, the Laundress of the Rebbe of Zevihl. Although she was childless, it is reputed that the Zevihler Rebbe promised her that her blessing would help other woman. Many women who want to be blessed with children go to pray at her gravesite, and dozens have related that they were blessed with children afterwards.

Kehillas Yerushalayim’s famous personalities are mostly buried in its Sanhedria cemetery. Nevertheless, there are a few lights in its Har Hamenuchos cemetery too.

First and foremost is the Chida, which is the large shrine to the left when walking from the parking lot towards the Chelkas Rabbonim of the Perushim. In an operation that took place in 1964, his grave was transferred to Har Hamenuchos and an impressive shrine built over it. The Chida, who was born in Jerusalem in 1727 and died in Livorno in 1806 is the most ancient person buried in Har Hamenuchos today.

To the left of the Chida’s grave are the graves of HaRav Simcha Wasserman and his wife, HaRav Mordechai Miller of Gateshead, and HaRav Avraham Aba Freedman of Detroit.


* Even the best of maps can be confusing and one may often go in circles trying to find a certain grave.

The best advice when seeking out a famous grave is to look for a pile of stones on top. This is the best sign that this is a grave of a tzaddik, rosh yeshiva or rov.

* In the summer, come prepared with a head covering (to protect from the heat — there is no shade from trees). The easiest hours to come visit are early in the morning or the late afternoon.

* Bring candles and matches along if you wish to light them at the gravesite.

* Call the Chevra Kadisha ahead of time to find out the exact location of particular graves you are seeking. From Jerusalem call: 538-4144 for the Perushim Chevra Kadisha, 5380101 for the Chassidim Chevra Kadisha, 6254371 for the Sephardic Chevra Kadisha, and 6252281 for Kehillas Yerushalayim.


Sending an Aron From France to Israel

A cemetery worker who is from France spoke about the difficulties he experienced in transporting the body of his father from France — and the many authorities who wanted to profit along the way.

It used to take five days to arrange for the burial of a body from France in Israel. First, the authorities insisted on a wait of at least 12 hours after death before the body could be sent. Only certain flights were permitted to carry aronos. Hospital directors were in no rush to move a body out of their morgue because they charge for storage once three days have passed after death. Chevra Kadisha owners were also in no rush since they charge 2,5000 Francs ($300) per day to watch the body.

Despite everyone else cashing in, the long wait was traumatic for family members. The delays also raised their fears that if the aron wouldn’t be sent out soon, it would be impossible to send it out at all, since French law stipulates that once 10 days have passed since death, one cannot transport a body out until a year has passed.

The family was finally relieved when after five days, they were able to arrange for the aron to be sent to Israel.

Since then, the Chevra Kadishas have streamlined their operation and it now takes only two days to arrange for an aron to be sent from France to Israel.


How Laws of Aninus Vary When a Niftar is Shipped to Israel for Burial

The laws of aninus are different for each family member, when an aron is sent to Israel.

In one particular case we were told about, the niftar left three sons behind. The son who was going to sit shiva in France became an onen as soon as his father died, and commenced shiva when the plane bearing the aron took off since he had finished his responsibility for burial.

The son who accompanied the aron to Israel remained an onen from the moment his father died until he was buried.

The son who was living in Jerusalem was only an onen after his father died until he had taken care of all the burial arrangements for him. Then he lost his onen status until the aron arrived in Israel, after which he became an onen again until after the father was buried here.



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