Rabbi Seeks to Bring Back Cave Burial

Head of Etzion Bloc Religious Council seeks to bring back Talmudic era custom of exhumation and use of ossuaries.

Gil Ronen,

Second Temple period ossuary
Second Temple period ossuary
Antiquities Authority Unit for Prevention of Antiquities Robbery

Israel is dealing with a shortage of cemetery space, and a new initiative in the Etzion Bloc suggests an original solution – exhuming the dead person's remains one year after his funeral and reburial inside an ossuary that is placed inside a burial cave.

This was the customary way for Jews in the Land of Israel to bury their dead during Talmudic times, some 1,500 years ago.

The idea is being floated by Rabbi Rafael Ostroff, Chairman of the Etzion Bloc Religious Council.

He told IDF Radio Monday: “At this time, burials are being conducted in ways that were not practiced in the Land of Israel during the time of the Mishna and Talmud. Rather, it seems that we learned this from the countries we were in during the period of exile.

"Now that we have returned to the Land, one of the burial options is something called 'likud atzamot' (literally – 'the collecting of bones'). A person is buried, as is done today, in a regular grave, and a year later, the bones that remain are collected and placed in an ossuary.”

The small container with the remains of the dead person is then placed in a special cave alongside many others, and the lone grave is once again free for use.

Rabbi Yaakov Roget, who is considered a world authority in regard to Jewish burial, is not opposed to the idea.

”Several elements that turned to us asked us if the burial system of the Mishna and Gemara can be renewed,” he revealed. “This is a very big change; in order to decide on such a change, general wall-to-wall agreement is needed. If a wide forum of rabbis allows it, I will agree to go back to it.”




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