Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Beshalach

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il


Parashat Beshalah 5760/2000

"You shall carry up my bones from here" (Ex.13:19)

Dr. Aaron Arend

Department of Talmud

Because of the special sanctity and virtues of the land of Israel, many Jews have come to Israel from all over the Diaspora. Many have the good fortune to come in their lifetime, sometimes near the end of their days; some are not so fortunate, but after their death their relatives bring them to be buried in the land of Israel. The first such person was the patriarch Jacob, who died and was embalmed in Egypt and later was brought to the land of Canaan, where he was interred in the Cave of Machpelah as he had commanded (Gen. 47:29-30; 50:13). Also Joseph, before his death, requested of his brothers: "When G-d has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here." Indeed, after his death Joseph was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt (Gen. 50:26), and when the Israelites left Egypt, "Moses took with him the bones of Joseph" (Ex. 13:19) to fulfill the oath that Joseph had made his brothers swear, to take his bones out with them. After the Israelites came to the land and settled it, Joseph was buried in Shechem (Josh. 24:32).

Some people were not so fortunate as to be buried in the land of Israel, but while still alive they made a point of obtaining some grains of dust from the land of Israel which they kept in a bag so that when they died their relatives could bury them with the dust of the land of Israel; thus it would be as if they had been buried in the land of Israel since they had been interred in its dust.[1] Even gentiles practiced this custom, as attested by the traveler R. Moses Basola regarding the practice in Famagusta, Cyprus in 1522:[2] "There is a place to which many ships carried dirt from the land of Israel, and they would bury their dignitaries there in ancient times ... and this is an indication that everyone acknowledges the sanctity of the land of Israel."

Bringing the dead for burial in the land of Israel is a very ancient custom,[3] and is common today as well. What is less common is exhuming the remains of a person who died and was interred outside of Israel and bringing the bones to the land of Israel. Some halakhic authorities have been willing to sanction opening a person's grave and removing the bones for reburial in the land of Israel ("and cleanse the land of His people" [Deut. 32:43]), while others have opposed this, especially when the deceased did not express the desire to be buried in Israel or when he could have come to Israel before his death but did not ("But you came and defiled My land" [Jer. 2:7]).[4] Over the years there have been instances of bringing to reburial in Israel the remains of people who had been buried outside the land. We shall list several such cases the took place since the establishment of the state of Israel.

First we must mention the famous case of Theodor Herzl, visionary of the modern state. In his will Herzl asked to be buried in Vienna but added the request that after a Jewish state be established his bones and those of his family be brought to the state of the Jews. Upon his death in 1904 he was indeed buried in Vienna, but shortly after the establishment of the state, on the 20th of Tamuz 5709 (1949), his remains and those of his family were brought to Israel and buried on Mt. Herzl. Likewise Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who died in New York in 1940 and requested in his will that his bones be brought to Israel. Thus, in 1964, his bones were brought here and interred on Mt. Herzl.

In 1950 Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uzziel, Chief Rabbi of Israel, was asked if it was permissible for the last surviving Jew from the city of Kobel in Vohlin (Poland), who was a cohen, to take the ashes of his city's martyrs who died in the Holocaust, among them all the members of his family, and bring them to Israel. The rabbi ruled that it was permissible and viewed it as positive fulfillment of the commandment to bury the dead.[5]

The case of Rabbi Hayyim Joseph David Azulai (Hida) received much publicity in its day. Hida was born in Jerusalem in 1724 and died in 1806 in Leghorn, Italy, where he spent the latter part of his life. In 1960 his bones were brought to the Har ha-Menuhot cemetery in Jerusalem, the city of his birth, and there he was interred on the 20th of Iyar. Why were his remains brought to Israel? This action was primarily the result of an initiative taken in 1956, on the 150th anniversary of Hida's death, by Chief Rabbi Isaac Nissim, for whom Hida, his life's work and writings, had a special place.[6] Another personality, however, must also be mentioned in this connection: Rabbi Nissim's friend Dr. Shlomo Umberto Nakhon. Out of his love for Italian Jewry, Nakhon initiated a project to bring synagogues from Italy to Israel, realizing at what R. Eliezer said in Tractate Megillah (29a): "In the future the synagogues of Babylonia will be established in the land of Israel." He brought to Israel about forty arks and distributed them among synagogues throughout the country (including the Ponevez Yeshiva in Bnai Brak and Kerem be-Yavneh Yeshiva, as well as the synagogue in the Knesset building); he founded the Italian synagogue in Jerusalem, in 1952; and brought Judaica and manuscripts from Italy to Israel, documenting them in the process.[7] Throughout the period that Hida lay buried in their city, the Jews of Leghorn remembered his life's work: the chair on which Hida sat in the Ferrara yeshiva was on display in the museum of the Jewish community, and on the eve of the High Holy Days they would visit his grave.[8] Nakhon, born in Leghorn , grew up in this atmosphere. Thus a friendship developed between the rabbi who was fond of Hida and his acquaintance from Leghorn, who was active in bringing religious objects from Italy to Israel, and they worked together to bring to Israel the remains of the great rabbi buried in Leghorn.[9] One must add the fact that Hida attempted to come to Israel several times, but did not succeed.[10] In 1959 Rabbi Nissim and Dr. Nakhon established an organization of Hida's followers, called "Yad Hida." This organization obtained permission from the Leghorn Jewish community to reinter Hida in Israel, saw to a burial place on Har Menuhot, arranged the funeral ceremony, elevated the image of Hida in the schools, and erected the Yad Hida memorial, a structure over Hida's grave that would make it possible for masses to visit the grave of this eminent rabbi.

There have also been cases of Hassidic Admors who were buried abroad and later had their remains brought to Israel. For example, Rabbi Israel Hager, Admor of Vizhnitz, who died in Romania in 1936 and in 1950 was brought to burial in Bnei Brak by his son.[11] Also R. Joel Moskowitz, Admor of Schatz, died in Romania in 1886 and was reinterred on the Mount of Olives in 1978.

Some proposals to reinter the deceased in the land of Israel were not carried out. In 1987 R. Phinehas B. Toledano, the rabbi of the Sephardic community in London, wrote that it was a great mitzvah to bring to Israel the bones of Sir Moses Montefiore, buried in Ramsgate, England, since the place where he lay was depopulated and a yeshiva had not been established near his grave, as he had requested in his will. He cites Rabbi Moses Feinstein's responsum opposing this on the grounds that Montefiore had requested to be buried abroad. Moreover, R. Feinstein argued that removing Montefiore's remains would constitute an affront to all the rabbis who remained buried outside of Israel. Rabbi Toledano disagreed, basing his views on rulings of R. Ovadia Yosef and R. Mordecai Eliyahu, who were in favor, arguing that Montefiore had had a special fondness for the land of Israel and its inhabitants and that bringing his remains here would give him bliss.[12]

In 1988 the idea was raised with respect to two Admors: R. Shlomo Karlin and R. Aaron Karlin, one of them buried in Ludmir and the other in Mlinau, Ukraine. Rabbi Simeon Buchspan addressed a query to leading rabbis in Israel as whether their remains ought to be brought to Israel since the tombstones in the cemeteries where they lay had been destroyed and the gentiles had built close to their graves, leading to a fear that their graves might be desecrated. Most of the halakhic authorities answered in the affirmative, but in the final analysis their remains were not brought to Israel because the Ukrainian authorities promised that cemeteries would not be harmed.[13] Not long ago it was suggested that the remains of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav be brought from Uman to Israel, perhaps to make it easier for the Bratslav hassidim to visit their rebbe's grave, not to mention the special affinity that R. Nahman had for the land of Israel. On the other hand, some people believe this is against his will, since he himself asked to be buried in Uman because of the martyrs killed there.[14] Be that as it may, also this initiative did not come to fruition.

[1] Cf. S. Ashkenazi, Avnei Hen, Tel Aviv 1990, ch. 31; S. Eidelberg, Afar Kodesh: Gilfulam shel Shnei Minhagim, PAAJR, 1993, pp. 1-7; R. D. Sperber, Minhagei Yisrael, Part VI, Jerusalem 1998, pp. 99-100. S. Y. Agnon wrote a story about this custom,"Afar Eretz Yisrael" in Elu va-Elu, pp. 278-289.

[2] Masa'ot Eretz Israel le-Rabbi Moseh Basola, Ben-Zvi ed., Jerusalem 1929, p. 34.

[3] Cf. Y. Gafni, Ha'ala'at Metim li-Kevurah ba-Aretz -- Kavim le-Reshito shel ha-Minhag ve-Hitpatkhuto, Katedra, 4 (1977), pp. 113-120. On the economic considerations in bringing the dead for burial in Israel cf. E. Ya'ari, Masa'ot Eretz Israel, Tel Aviv 1946, pp. 429-430.

[4] Cf. for example R. E. Joseph, Resp. Yehave Da'at, Jerusalem 1981, Part IV, §57; opposing him, cf. R. Y. Y. Halberstam, Resp. Divrei Yatziv, II, Netanya 1998, § 224-226. Also cf. P. Scheinman, "Pinui Metim mi-Hul le-Eretz Israel," in Netivei Emet va-Hesed, 1999, pp. 23-24.

[5] Cf. Rabbi Z. M. H. Ouziel, Piskei Uziel be-She'elot ha-Zman, Jerusalem 1977, §39.

[6] See the laudatory words that Rabbi Nissim had for Rabbi Hida on the night before his burial in the Jeshurun Synagogue in Jerusalem, published in his article, "Le-Dmuto shel ha-Hida," Ha-Zofeh, 20 Iyar, 1960, p. 2.

[7] Cf. his books, Iturim le-Sefer Torah, Jerusalem 1966; Aronot Kodesh ve-Tashmishei Kedushah me-Italia be-Yisrael, Tel Aviv 1970, and his articles in Turei Yeshurun and other platforms.

[8] Cf. S. A. Toaff, "Eduyot al Yemei Shivto shel ha-Hida be-Livorno," Sefer ha-Hida (ed. M. Benayahu), Jerusalem 1959, p. 57.

[9] Cf. Rabbi I. Nissim's remarks in Sefer ha-Zikaron le-Shlomo Umberto Nakhon, Jerusalem 1978, p. 129. The anthology on Hida (n. 8, above) and the major work by M. Benayahu, son of Rabbi Nissim, Al ha-Hida -- Rabbi Hayyim Joseph David Azulai, were published in Jerusalem in 1959, close to the time his remains were brought to Israel. It is interesting that in the entire book Benayahu only mentions Nakhon once (p. 76), and there it is in connection with a photograph of Hida's grave in Leghorn which Nakhon gave the author.

[10] Cf. Benayahu, n. 9 above, pp. 71-74.

[11] Cf. Y. D. Razamovich, Yamim mi-Kedem, Brooklyn 1994, pp. 221-233. Incidentally, the father-in-law of R. Joel Moses Teitelbaum of Satmer, R. Avigdor Shapira, died and was buried in Poland before the Holocaust. After the Holocaust his remains were transferred to Kiryat Joel in New York, apparently because of the negative approach of the Satmer hassids towards the state of Israel.

[12] Cf. Rabbi P. B. Toledano, "Pinui Atzmotav shel Montefiore la-Aretz," Tehumin, 8 (1987), pp. 387-382.

[13] Cf. editorial, "Odot ha'ala'at Avot ha-Hassidut be-Et she-rihafa Sakana al Shlemut Ziyunam ha-Kadosh," Beit Aharon ve-Yisrael, 12.3 (1997), p. 47-53. For a discussion of the proposal to bring to Israel all the remains in an entire cemetery abroad, cf. R. I. Glicksberg, "Ha'ala'at Beit ha-Kevarot mi-Hul le-Eretz Israel," in Netivei Hesed ve-Emet, 1988, pp. 26-27.

[14] Cf. Rabbi Nathan Sternhartz, Hayyei Mori ha-Rav Nahman, Jerusalem 1962, pp. 77, 80.

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