There are a number of types of Jewish burials offered by cemeteries. A burial is a unique and personal experience that addresses the traditions of Jewish religious practices and personal requirements of an individual decedent and their family. Each cemetery provides different types of burials based upon a number of factors, including, but not limited to the size of the cemetery, the types of memorialization, level of religious observance / rabbinic influence, socioeconomics of community, location, climate, and topography.

To accommodate the different needs of a local Jewish community, a cemetery may offer more than one type of burial option. Typically, a cemetery is separated into Sections or Areas each of which offers a specifically designated type of burial. For example, a cemetery may offer traditional monumental in-ground burial plots in one section and may have a mausoleum building providing above ground entombment on another part of the cemetery grounds. Additionally, a cemetery may be entirely a Jewish cemetery or it may allow for interfaith burials.

Understanding the differences between the types of available burial options, both within a cemetery and between different cemeteries, may help individuals and families to balance value and cost when selecting the most appropriate final resting place.

Purpose and Characteristics of Burial Options

Each type of burial option is designed to reflect the culture, traditions, and habits of the individuals and of the local Jewish community. The evolution of religious burial practices has matched and mirrored evolution in the community at-large. This has led to a proliferation of different burial options. Common types of cemetery burial options include variations of: in-ground burial, above ground entombment, natural burial / green burial, specialized burial options for cremated remains.

Common Burial Option Types

  • In Ground Burial represents the majority of traditional Jewish burial options offered by cemeteries. In-ground burial may be for either a traditional casketed burial or, in some circumstance, the burial of cremated remains. In-ground burial sites may be marked by a permanent memorial to memorialize the individual(s) at rest within the specific resting place. Memorials may be made of granite, stone, or bronze. In-ground burial options allowing for upright headstones, monuments or memorials are referred to as monument burial spaces or sections. In-ground burial spaces that are restricted to flat bronze or granite memorials are referred to as lawn-level or memorial park burial spaces or sections.

    The majority of in-ground burial spaces are designed to accommodate a single individual burial. Individual in-ground burial spaces, for a traditional casket burial, range in size from 8 x 3" to 10 x 4" and can customarily accommodate a 30” burial vault or outer burial container. For larger burial vaults, cemeteries may offer oversize plots arranged to accommodate a 32”+ burial vault or outer burial container.

    A companion in-ground burial space is a singular in-ground burial space that is designed for the interment of multiple individuals together. It is common for companion in-ground burial spaces to serve as the final resting place for 2-3 individuals. Select cemeteries will allow for more than three interments in the same burial plot, but this is not commonplace. Jewish law requires a measure of earth to separate multiple depth burials, approximately six techafim (or ‘handbreaths’).

    A special type of in-ground burial option is the Family Garden or Family Memorial Garden. A Family Memorial Garden is a specially designated area of the cemetery exclusively reserved for members of a specific family. Family Memorial Gardens are frequently marked by a family memorial that is either cast or engraved with the family’s surname. Some family memorial gardens are physically separated from the rest of the cemetery with a fence, hedge, or wall.
  • Above Ground Entombment is a burial option wherein an individual is placed into a crypts or niche. The process of placing an individual into a crypt or niche is referred to as ‘entombment’. Above ground entombments may be made within a: community mausoleum, private family mausoleum, columbarium, or sarcophagus. Above ground entombments may be made for either casketed remains or for cremated remains placed in urns. The primary advantages of above-ground entombment are the assurance that the casket or urn is kept secure, clean, and dry. Additionally, visitation may be easier if the crypt or niche is within the interior of a mausoleum building. There is debate amongst Jewish scholars as to the acceptance and use of above ground mausoleums. While some orthodox and conservative Rabbis may not agree to officiate at a mausoleum entombment, other Rabbis point to the use of the Cave of Makhpela as the final resting place for Abraham and Sara as a sign of the halacha of entombment.

    Most modern-day entombments are made within public mausoleums, also known as community mausoleums. A mausoleum is a free-standing building housing the individual crypts and niches within which individuals are entombed. Mausoleums can be either 'indoor mausoleums' or 'outdoor mausoleums. Within the mausoleum building itself, crypts serve as the final resting place for casketed remains and niches serve as the final resting place for cremated remains. Various sizes and configurations of crypts and niches are available to accommodate individual entombments, the entombment of couples, or the entombment of entire families together. A public, or community, mausoleum serves as the resting place for many un-related individuals, whereas a private mausoleum, or a family mausoleum, is exclusively for the entombment of a members of a specific family.
  • Above Ground Entombment for Cremated Remains may be made within cremation niches. While not explicitly disallowed in the Torah, cremation is not a practice generally accepted by most Orthodox and Conservative Rabbis. Reform Rabbis vary in their acceptance of the practice. Cremation niches are burial chambers approximately 12x12x12” and may be integrated parts of larger mausoleums or freestanding structures. A collection of cremation niches is collectively referred to as a columbarium. A cremation niche may be for an individual or for companions and are typically made from marble, granite, or glass. Glass front niches allow the urn and personal effects to be displayed. To learn more, you can read the Cremation Niche article here. If the crypt or niche is made of granite or marble, it may be marked with an individual’s biographical information and epitaph. The stone face of the crypt or niche may either be carved or a bronze plaque may be affixed to the exterior face of the burial chamber. Modern engraving and casting techniques allow for pictures to be included alongside the memorial text.
  • Natural Burial Options are a relatively new sub-set of in-ground burial and are particularly in keeping with the Jewish burial ideals of simple burial with a natural return to the earth. Natural burial options seek to minimize the environmental impact and footprint of the burial and memorialization. The use of the term, natural burial, is generally unregulated and may either indicate the cemetery’s intention to minimize resource utilization or it may refer to a natural and serene setting and surrounding. The characteristics of available natural burial options vary regionally and are strongly influenced by topography and climate.

Burial Option Costs

Burial option costs depend on the cemetery chosen, type of burial, the location of plot within the cemetery, memorialization options allowed, and perpetual care funding. Jewish cemeteries may have sections for different levels of observance, or may have interfaith sections. Religious restrictions may impact the burial plot cost. Monumental sections are typically more expensive than are lawn-level sections because of the greater cost of on-going care and maintenance. Family memorial gardens are generally more expensive than regular burial plots because of the larger space needed on a per burial basis. Indoor mausoleum crypts are typically more expensive than outdoor crypts.

Within a specific cemetery, the location of the burial space may greatly affect the burial cost. Burial options near water features, artistic landmarks, or in special sections are frequently priced at a premium. While on its face, the cost for a mausoleum crypt may be higher than the cost for a comparable in-ground burial space, mausoleum entombment typically features lower cost for the: cemetery labor services, permanent memorialization. Further, mausoleum entombment eliminates the need for a burial vault. The total out of pocket cost of mausoleum entombment is generally fairly comparable to the cost of in-ground interment.

Cost differences within and between cemeteries may be substantial. The best-practice when searching for a burial option is to first identify the potential cemetery(s) and then to compare burial types within each cemetery.

Additional Information About Burial Options

Each type of burial option will have a different associated cemetery labor service cost. The labor service cost is typically not included in the cost of the burial site and must be paid for separately. The labor service fee, also referred to as the committal service or entombment service, must necessarily be paid for in order to have a burial made. The cemetery labor service charge tends to be highest for a traditional in-ground burial due to the amount of labor required. The labor service fee to entomb a casket within a mausoleum would be less costly because it does not require reconditioning of the gravesite. The interment, or entombment, of cremated remain requires the least labor and will be the least costly. At most Jewish cemeteries, the cemetery labor service cost will include the option for the community of mourners to hand fill the grave as part of the traditional religious practice.