Shabbos 151a: Burial by a Non-Jew on Shabbos

Shabbos 151a: If non-Jews built a coffin or dug a grave for another non-Jew or for commercial purposes, a Jew may be buried in it. But if they did it for the Jew, he may never be buried in it.

[If one may not even use the grave dug by a non-Jew on Shabbos, certainly one may not hire the non-Jew directly to dig the grave. Why not? On Yom Tov we find that it is permitted (Beitzah 6a). Why should Shabbos be different? Furthermore, we find that Rabbinic prohibitions are permitted for the sake of a dead body on Shabbos: for example, one can carry the body by placing a loaf of bread on top; one may even carry the body out of the house to a Rabbinically prohibited area. Asking a non-Jew to do something is also a Rabbinic prohibition, so why isn’t that allowed too? The answer is provided by the Magen Avraham, and, earlier, by the Rishonim quoted by the Gra:]

Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 526:3: On Shabbos and Yom Kippur they should not bury the dead at all, even through a non-Jew. One may not even ask the non-Jew to carry the body out and place it in a grave that was dug yesterday. Magen Avraham: Because of respect for the deceased, so that people should not say that Shabbos was desecrated because of him. Tosafos Bava Kama 81a, quoted by the Gra: Because it is unseemly and disgraceful and embarrassing for a person to be buried on Shabbos, even by non-Jews.

שבת קנא ע”א: עשו לו ארון וחפרו לו קבר יקבר בו ישראל ואם בשביל ישראל לא יקבר בו עולמית.

שו”ע או”ח תקכ”ו ס”ג: בשבת וביום הכיפורים לא יתעסקו בו כלל אפילו ע”י עממין אפילו להוציאו על ידיהם ולהניחו בכוך העשויה מאתמול. מגן אברהם: משום כבוד המת שלא יאמרו שנתחלל שבת על ידו.

ביאור הגר”א: כן משמע בראש השנה שם (כ ע”א) שהקשו [הרמב”ן והריב”ש] אמאי אסרו [קבורה בשבת] בעממין הא התירו שבות משום מעשה טלטול ע”י ככר ותינוק ולהוציאו לכרמלית אפילו לר’ יהודה [דס”ל מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה חייב] כמ”ש בפרק המצניע ותירצו דהכא משום כבודו שלא יאמרו נתחלל עליו שבת או יום הכיפורים וכמ”ש בפרק כ”ג [ממסכת שבת] עשו לו ארון ותכריכין כו’ בעומד באסרטיא כו’ ולפיכך להוציאו כו’ ועיין תוס’ דב”ק פ”א א’ בד”ה אומר כו’.

תוס’ ב”ק פא ע”א: דמן הדין הוה ליה למישרי לקבור מת בשבת אלא לפי שהוא מכוער ומגונה ומתבייש שנקבר בשבת שנעשה באיסור שבת אפילו ע”י נכרי.

On Friday, March 29, 2020, an urgent halacha question arose in the Jewish community of Bucharest, Romania after government authorities instructed that corona virus victims must be buried on the same day they died, or else be cremated.

The community asked Rav Yaakov Rojah, a Zaka rav, what to do if a Jew dies from the corona virus on Shabbos. Should they allow the Jew to be cremated or is there a halachic allowance to bury the body on Shabbos through a nachri?

Rav Rojah found precedent for a heter in an incident that happened many years ago in Jerusalem, published in a monthly journal called Toras Eretz Yisrael. There was a terrible stench due to a meis in Yerushalayim to the point where no one could bear to be in the same building. The Rav of Yerushalayim at the time, Harav Shmuel Salant, z’tl, allowed the meis to be buried on Shabbos by a nachri to avoid bizayon ha’meis.

Rav Meir Acker, the secretary of the Va’ad Rabbanei Zaka urgently brought the shaila to Harav Avigdor Nebenzahl, the Rav of the Old City of Jerusalem and the Nasi of the Va’ad Rabbanei Zaka. Rav Nebenzahl ruled that the Bucharest community was permitted to bury a corona virus victim who dies on Shabbos through a nachri to prevent the body from being cremated.

[It would seem that here, there is no need to base the heter on the precedent of R’ Shmuel Salant’s story. If the reason for not burying the dead on Shabbos were because amirah l’akum, asking a non-Jew, is forbidden for this purpose, then we could weigh the options: cremation which involves no amirah l’akum, but does involve bizayon, or burial through a non-Jew, which involves amirah l’akum but saves bizayon.

But in fact, the Rishonim say that the reason is not because of amirah l’akum, but because of respect for the deceased, so that people should not say that Shabbos was desecrated because of him. If so, whether the non-Jews do cremation on Shabbos or burial on Shabbos, either way Shabbos will have been desecrated because of him. Therefore it would seem obviously preferable to opt for burial so that at least the bizayon of cremation will be avoided.]


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