Hello, my name is Zeev Clement. I am potentially going to be serving as a Chaplain in the U.S. Navy. I have been reading that there are requests by Jewish Seamen to be buried at sea. This request has been granted by Reform Jewish Chaplains in the past. I would like to know if there is any source in Halacha that would allow for a burial at sea. Of course, the traditional Navy policy of cremation before is not permitted. Is there any permitted form, and if there is, what is the prescribed manner it should be done? Thank you for your time.

Answer:

A number of sources indicate that burial in the sea is not considered burial. See Pirkei De-Rabbi Eliezer (Chap. 39) concerning the Egyptians in the sea, and Yerushalmi (Shabbos 19b) concerning drowning. The idea of burial is that the person is interned on land, where the dead will someday be resurrected, and the bottom of the sea does not qualify.

Therefore, if at all possible, the Chaplain should encourage Jewish seamen to be buried on land. This is certainly in their benefit, in having a halachic burial, and also in having a memory after their death, and in others being able to honor them by visiting the grave.

Good luck for the demanding job!

Tags: burial Grave sea

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2 Responses to “Burial at Sea”

  1. I understand why Jews are not cremated. I have a practical reason for asking about burial at sea, however, and I don’t particularly care if my loved ones visit my grave site on land. I’m living in Korea and the inclination of my extended Korean family (They’re not Jewish but I am) would be to bury me with all their ancestors. However, my main feeling is that after a dozen years of living in the Land of Kimchi, not seeing Korea will come as a relief and I idea of being buried here for an eternity would be additional punishment. I love my wife by not her country and I don’t foresee us moving back to the US.

    • There are various sources that indicate that sea burial is not a proper Jewish burial. Jewish thought teaches that burial is like a seed planted in the ground which will sprout up at the time of the final redemption.
      Either way it would seem you could arrange that when the time comes your body could be transferred for Jewish burial in another land, your birthplace, Israel or other.
      You can contact Rabbi Litzman who lives in Yongsan-Gu at : Rabbi@jewish.kr , he will be happy to help and discuss with you your options.
      Best Wishes for Long Years and Good Health

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