There were three things that I was puzzling over the other day.
I have forgotten two, but if I think of them, I’ll post them here
too. But I remember the third, and I’m hoping someone can explain.

It’s my understanding that Judaism has some strict requirement on how
long can pass between death and burial, and that the time period
is relatively short.

Now, typically, when someone dies in the coldest months of the year
here, they’re put into storage until the spring thaw, because they
can’t be buried in the frozen ground.

So obviously waiting months doesn’t work for Jews, if my understanding
is correct. But what does happen when a Jewish person dies
while the ground is frozen?

12 responses to “Puzzling”

  1. As I understand it, the rule is within 24 hours. This is largely because the practice of embalming is against Jewish law.

    What happens when a Jew dies while the ground is frozen is, they dig the grave anyway, somehow.

  2. I can’t figure out how they do it, though. Construction projects in the winter use jackhammers on backhoes, or dynamite, and I can’t quite picture either in a Jewish cemetery.

    I don’t suppose mausoleums are allowed..?

  3. Never seen jackhammers or backhoes in a Jewish cemetary, nope! :) I don’t *think* mausoleums are allowed, and in fact, there’s a tendency in Jewish cemetaries to eschew even the typical headstones in favor of a simple plaque that’s at ground-level, so the cemetaries look like vast, manicured fields rather than cemetaries. Which is nice. But which doesn’t answer your question.

    I wonder how, too. Maybe they have some sort of funky ground-heater? Or maybe there’s some sort of foul-weather exception to the rules that I’m not aware of.

    You should write to The Straight Dope and ask!

  4. Understandable. It took quite a bit of work to call the site “Judaism 101” and not “JEWFAQ” when I wrote the comment above.

  5. Technology to the rescue?

    In Groton, he uses a propane heater shaped like a casket which and thaws a rectangle of ground “just the spot I’m going to dig.”

    Overnight, it glows red in ghostly fashion.

    The Plots Thicken, Lowell Sun, 24 Jan 2003

    The story seems to say that in pre-propane-heater times people either broke the ground with incredible efforts or just waited till spring. The Jewish tradition was stretched to mean “as soon as possible” rather than “within 24 hours”.

  6. They use heaters to thaw the ground and then dig. I’ve buried grandparents and a great-uncle in the dead of winter here. We northern people find ways of coping with this winter weather :P

  7. Reform . . . well, they don’t care to adhere to the law.

    But, the law says before the next sabbath. Without embalming, sure, things will begin to stink. In some areas religious officials allow burial exceptions. For example, in southern California, the requisite plain woodening casket is buried inside a cement container for earthquake reasons. The cement container is technically a boundary between two sections of earth, but it’s allowed because the religious officials okay’d it.

    I asked my elderly relatives who did this in a frozen tundra in the beginning of last century. One said she remembered as a child, men working in shifts and using small, sharp shovels. One said he boiled water and poured it on the ground when the shovels didn’t work.

  8. Things, as always, are different in Jerusalem and the rest of the world.

    In Jerusalem, the tradition is to bury the person before sundown and with a flat, more plaque-like marker than any upright headstone or other statue-ish thing. In other places, it is done as soon as possible (I believe it must be before the Sabbath) and usually takes about a day. Frozen ground means more work, although it should be able to be dealt with without such measures as jackhammers and dynamite: building a fire, boiling water, some other application of heat to make it softer, big strong men with determined faces and good tools.

    And mausolea are right out. You come from the earth, and you return to the earth. That’s that.

    If you care to strictly adhere to the law, that is.