In Judaism, respectful care of human remains entails burial of the whole body – discussed in our previous post. Islam’s funeral requirements are almost identical. (See Zaufishan’s post on Moslem conventional and sea burial.) Use of land resources for cemeteries is indeed diminishing everywhere, and in Israel, a tiny country that could comfortably fit into the dimensions of New Jersey, the problem is becoming acute. Maurice discussed the advantages of burial at sea, but we agree it’s unlikely to become fashionable in Israel. And without efficient burial methods, cemeteries will soon crowd living people out, especially in big cities like Tel Aviv.
Commenter Esther Hecht pointed us in the direction of innovative Israeli solutions in the quest for sustainable burials. The concept is called dense burials, and is the project of architects Uri Ponger and Tuvia Sagiv.
Dense burials include multi-level graves like the one pictured above; apartment-style buildings where each floor contains many graves; terraced graveyards and use of abandoned quarries for hillside burials. All have been sanctioned by the Israeli Rabbinate and are regularly used.
In an interview with Green Prophet, Ponger said,
“In 1968, I was finishing my architectural studies in Germany. My professor, Egond Eirman, discussed the problem of space for burials with the class. He told us that corpses would lie in morgues for weeks sometimes, until space was found or made to bury them.”
Returning to Israel, Ponger teamed up with Sagiv to specialize in dense burial. Old graves carved into hillsides, and remains of crypts, show that the ancients appreciated land as a resource to sustain. Taking inspiration from them to a modern level, Ponger and Sagiv created a system of niche graves built into hillsides in multiple tiers. This video clip (narration in Hebrew) shows a typical burial using this concept. An interesting feature is the re-usable coffin.
“Each ethic group has its own way of conducting a burial,” says Ponger. “In Jerusalem, there are 11 different burial societies – one for Persian Jews, one for a certain chassidic group, one for Modern Orthodox people, etc., – but all agree that, halachic requirements being met, dense burial is permitted.
Re-cycling graves, where the bones are gathered a year after burial and placed in crypts, is not permitted at this time. I believe, however, that in future generations this will be the only solution to space-efficient burials.”
The dense burial idea has impressive results. Conventional “field” burial acomodates 250 graves per dunam. With dense burial, as many as 1000 graves can fit on (or in) the same space. Ponger and Sagiv also say that dense burial sites cost the government more to develop initially, but in the end cost less to operate and maintain.
Niche tombs in Jerusalem.
More cheerful news on death and dying on Green Prophet:
- Facebook’s “If I Die” video clips
- The Oldest Iranian Is Dying
- Why air pollution kills 27 people daily in Teheran
Photo of multi-level tomb by hoyasmeg via Flickr.
:: Esther Hecht