A mausoleum is an above-ground tomb, or structure enclosing a tomb, that acts as an alternative to a standard gravesite. Jewish law for burial is based on the teachings of the Old Testament, specifically Genesis 3:19 and Deuteronomy 21:23, that appear to require burial in the ground. Further, some rabbinical interpretations of these teachings recommend no additional burial enclosure beyond a wooden casket, returning the body to the earth. Consequently, Jewish law does not appear to allow burial in an above-ground mausoleum, but there have been exceptions for specific circumstances as well as differences among movements of Judaism.
According to Zalman Goldstein of Chabad.org, the Bible commands that the deceased must be properly buried in the ground immediately to limit the time that the soul of the individual is in turmoil. It is believed by Goldstein and some Jewish movements that the custom of in-ground burial returns the body to the earth and puts the deceased’s soul at peace, thereby forbidding above-ground mausoleums and other burial alternatives. However, a mausoleum, though an above-ground structure, is permitted if the deceased within it is buried in the ground consistent with Jewish burial law. In such a circumstance, the mausoleum acts only as a large grave marker, rather than a vault or tomb.
Variations Among Movements
Jews of the Orthodox movement disallow above-ground burial of any kind, such as a casket inside a mausoleum structure. Jews of the Reform movement, however, do not feel that above-ground mausoleum burial is problematic, citing historic precedent. Conservative Jews’ interpretations vary and may permit mausoleums in some cases.
According to a paper by Rabbi Morris Feldman and adopted by The Rabbinical Assembly in 1983, even though mausoleum burial is discouraged, Rabbis are permitted to officiate such services. He also specifies that where a cemetery has a single mausoleum for multiple deceased, Jews can only be buried in mausoleums dedicated to members of the Jewish faith. However, Rabbi Feldman details additional accounts in the Talmud of both below-ground and above-ground mausoleum burial, supporting that mausoleums were used in Jewish history, even if forbidden by some Jewish movements today. Similarly, acceptance of mausoleums by Reform Jews cites precedent in the Bible, such as Abraham’s wife Sarah buried in a cave (Genesis 23:11) and other accounts of tombs.
Mausoleums and Cremation
Like above-ground burials, cremation is permitted by Reform Jews, though it is forbidden by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, citing teachings in the Books of Genesis and Deuteronomy. Mausoleums for Reform Jews may contain cremation urns in addition to, or instead of, caskets.
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