A single presentation on the halachos of end-of-life issues and burial arrangements does little to present a better understanding of a matter that is perhaps the most important in the Jewish life cycle as there is no do-over in such things. “It’s a halachah l’Moshe miSinai not to be buried next to a person less righteous. The Gemara writes about neshamos that are buried next to each other speaking to each other,” said Rabbi Zohn of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha. “This is what I meant when I quoted the Chofetz Chaim as the dead as a chevrah.”
On having a halachic living will with a designated proxy for medical decisions, Rabbi Zohn noted that a proxy is necessary at any age. “Imagine someone in a coma at age 31, due to a fall or accident, or when in any serious medical situation, decisions must be done in accordance with halachah.” Along with a proxy, a Halachic Living Will requires that everyone designate a rabbi who can provide an answer when one faces a complex medical question that may clash with halachah. As he pointed out with himself as the example, the proxy and rabbi should know you personally, and must agree to it.
Rabbi Zohn suggested having the halachic living will examined every five years, if one wishes to designate another person or update information. “It’s a legal document recognized by the state and medical institutions, who will be directed by your proxy and rabbi. It needs to be up-to-date.”
Clearing up the confusion on serious issues such as DNR and DNI orders, feeding tubes, etc., Rabbi Zohn said that the big question here is when to sign such orders and when to refuse, when to insert feeding tubes in the first place, etc. “The opinion here depends on each unique situation.”
Likewise with burial in Israel, where on one hand it is a z’chus to be buried in the land where t’chiyas ha’meisim will occur first, but on the other hand the holy land is also for the living and not simply a cemetery. We must also need to balance whether family will be able to visit.
With choosing cemeteries, one needs to know how careful they are with whom they bury next to each other, will they allow burial on legal holidays, is there water in the graves, etc. Another important consideration: Each one has its rules relating to which monuments are permitted, their sizes, height, and how much space above the grave is covered. The halachic concern here is to make sure that people do not inadvertently walk atop graves. Talking about burial and cemeteries, Rabbi Zohn raised the issue of cremation. “When people feel that they cannot afford the high cost of graves and monuments, some take the option of cremation. Many people do it because of the lower cost. He urged everyone to reach out to family, friends, and neighbors who are not observant, to discuss their after-life decisions and encourage them to choose traditional Jewish burial and practices.”
The cemetery in Florida organized by NASCK was founded to confront the high cremation rate among Jews in southern Florida with an affordable and dignified burial. Ending life in accordance with halachah demonstrates an eternal recognition of our belief in the eternity of our souls and our belief in Olam HaBa.