As Available Land Dwindles, Israel's Religious Services Ministry Pushes Multilevel Burials

Israel Land Administration allots some 40 acres a year to bury 33,000 to 35,000 Israelis.

The Religious Services Ministry is launching a PR campaign later this month to try to convince Israelis to bury their dead in stacks - sometimes aboveground. For around 20 years, the government has warned about a decrease in available land for traditional burials.

On December 19, Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi will discuss the methods of so-called dense burial with reporters, heads of religious councils and representatives of burial societies. This effort will be accompanied by advertisements in the media.

Notched burial plots in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul cemetery.
Emil Salman

The ministry will also enlist rabbis to spread the message that Jewish law has no problem with multilevel burials.

The Israel Land Administration allots around 40 acres a year to bury 33,000 to 35,000 Israelis of all religions.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who devoted a chapter to this issue in his 2008 report, wrote that a lack of burial land is especially acute in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

He quoted officials of the local Jewish burial society, who said cemetery land would only suffice for "a few months to a year."

Lindenstrauss noted the limited effect of government resolutions on this issue, including economic incentives to burial societies to build facilities for dense burial. Burial societies have also received a permit to demand more money for burials belowground.

Currently, dense burials only take place in municipal cemeteries in Petah Tikva, Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv. Construction of facilities for multilevel burial is soon to be completed at the Ganei Ad Cemetery in Bareket, a moshav where most of the deceased from the center of the country are to be laid to rest.

The three methods for dense burial in Jewish cemeteries are a "Sanhedrin burial" in alcoves dug in a wall, with up to three levels in each column; a "multilevel burial" in structures at least four stories tall, with burial space on each floor; and a "family burial" in which the grave is twice the usual depth, allowing for family members to be buried one above the other.