Question: Should a burial be delayed more than one day in order to enable a close relative to attend the burial?
Short Answer: A burial should not be delayed even until the night or next day. However, many poskim allow delaying a burial less than 24 hours in order to enable additional relatives to attend.
I. The Source
The Mishnah and Gemara (Sanhedrin 46a-46b) note that one who causes “his meis” (i.e., a parent or another relative on which it is his obligation to see to the burial) to be unburied overnight violates a negative commandment, as the pasuk (referring to a person who gets misas beis din) states “kavor tikberenu” – “you must bury him.” The M’sores HaShas on that Gemara, however, cites to the Yalkut, who has a slightly different girsa (text), that the person violates both a positive and negative commandment.
While the Rambam (Hilchos Eivel 4:8) appears to understand that the person only violates a negative commandment, many poskim, including the Mishnah B’rurah (Orach Chayim 72:6), rule that he violates both a positive and negative commandment. [As an aside, the Ramban (D’varim 21:22) notes that in Eretz Yisrael, the person violates a positive commandment and two negative commandments, including “lo s’tamei es admascha”]. See Simchas Ephraim p. 473ff for further discussion.
II. The Reasons
The Gemara (ibid) explains that the reason why it is forbidden to leave the meis unburied overnight is because it is a bizayon (= degrading) and thus, it is permitted to leave the meis unburied if it is “lichvodo” (loosely translated as “for its own benefit”). The Radva (1179) (cited in Simchas Ephraim, ibid) adds two esoteric reasons why one should not leave the body unburied overnight: (i) because there are forces of tum’ah that enter an unburied body overnight; and (ii) because if unburied, the body may lose out its chance to be “misgalgeil” (i.e., roll).
III. When Do You Violate?
At what point though does one violate this prohibition?
The Ginas V’radim (cited in the Yad Avraham, Yoreh Dei’ah 357) rules that the prohibition is violated as soon as nightfall comes and the person remains unburied. Indeed, the pasuk does not say anything about “morning,” but rather says “lo salin,” implying that the prohibition begins at nightfall.
The Chavos Yair (cited ibid), on the other hand, rules that the prohibition begins at alos ha’shachar the next morning if the person remains unburied. Indeed, Tosafos (Bava M’tzia 110b), when discussing the obligation to timely pay a night-worker, notes that the phrase “lo salin” implies the entire night. This shows that the prohibition for leaving a person unburied is not violated until the entire night, i.e., until alos ha’shachar, has passed. The Pischei T’shuvah (357:1) cites the Radvaz as agreeing to this opinion, as well.
Practically, the Mishnah B’rurah (ibid) rules that even though the prohibition is not violated until the morning, one should hurry to bury the person before sh’kiah, to ensure that even the positive commandment (“kavor sikberenu”) is fulfilled.
IV. Waiting for Relatives
Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 357:1) rules, based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin (ibid), that one is forbidden to leave “his meis” unburied overnight unless it is for the “kavod” of the deceased. The Shulchan Aruch (again paraphrasing the Gemara and Maseches Sofrim) lists some examples, including delaying burial (i) in order to ensure the deceased has the proper shrouds or wailer, (ii) in order that the relatives can arrive (i.e., from out of town) in time for the burial, or (iii) so that the burial information can be publicized to potential attendees.
It would appear from the strict interpretation of the Shulchan Aruch that one can delay a burial as long as is necessary for relatives to arrive. However, numerous poskim qualify the words of the Shulchan Aruch.
The Sheivet HaLevi (4:154) cites the Divrei Malkiel (2:95) who holds that even though Maseches Sofrim implies that one may l’chatchilah leave a person unburied overnight in order to await the arrival of relatives, this is not the implication of the Gemara. The Gemara employs the language of “eino oveir,” which implies that ideally one should NOT wait for relatives. The Divrei Malkiel concludes by ruling like the Gemara, and adds that the Zohar agrees with this ruling.
The Sheivet HaLevi, however, disagrees and notes that even though there is no mitzvah to delay for the relatives, it is certainly fine even l’chatchilah to wait for them, as the strict language of the Maseches Sofrim and the Shulchan Aruch imply. Indeed, the fact that the Gemara employs the language “eino oveir” does not mean that the Gemara feels that waiting is not ideal, as the Gemara also uses the same language when discussing waiting for shrouds, and such waiting is certainly ideal.
The Sheivet HaLevi further discusses whether it is proper to wait for additional relatives where the deceased already has some local relatives who would attend an immediate burial. The Divrei Malkiel thought it was improper to wait for additional relatives, while the Gesher HaChaim ruled that one can even delay for additional friends to attend. The Sheivet HaLevi himself took a middle approach. While we should not delay for additional friends, delaying for additional relatives is fine, as this is truly kavod ha’meis. However, he adds an important caveat. When the additional relatives are coming from abroad, and will likely take a longer time to arrive and are “likely not shomer Torah u’mitzvos,” the burial should not be delayed, as this is not kavod for the deceased.
The Nit’ei Gavriel (129:6-7) notes that many opinions do not permit delaying the burial for any additional relatives other than a child. Indeed, he adds that certainly the burial should not be delayed more than 24 hours because of waiting for any relative.
This author would like to add his own thought based on the Taz (Yoreh Dei’ah 357:1) who comments on the Shulchan Aruch who allows delaying a burial in order to wait for relatives. The Taz adds that you may also delay the burial to wait for relatives to arrive. The N’kudas HaKesef thus asks: What is the Taz adding? The Shulchan Aruch just said the same thing? The N’kudas HaKesef does not offer an answer. Perhaps the Taz is adding that one can wait even longer than 24 hours, as his language of “l’hamtin” is broader than the Shulchan Aruch’s language of “k’dei she’yavo.”
V. Waiting for Financial Reasons
A final common reason to delay is for financial reasons, such as over a legal holiday where the cemetery workers may need to be paid overtime. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Yoreh Dei’ah 3:139) rules on this exact issue, and holds that this is an unacceptable reason to delay. There is no exception for financial reasons.
Next Week’s Topic: Should the b’rachah upon seeing Jewish graves be recited by relatives and friends of the deceased who attend the burial?