Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar| 5765
Money Promised for an Honorable Plot in the Cemetery - Excerpts from Piskei Din Rabbaniim- vol. III, pp. 235-247)
Case: A wealthy man was buried in one of the most honorable plots in a cemetery. The chevra kadisha demanded that his son pay 500 lira for the special plot as was agreed upon before the burial by them and the deceased’s brother-in-law, who served as the son’s representative (the brother-in-law concurs). The son denies authorizing his uncle or ever agreeing to the price of 500 lira and says that he need not pay for more than the price of a regular plot. He says that, in any case, the chevra kadisha, which is supposed to serve the community of which he is a part, has no right to charge more for one plot than another. He continues that, in any case, any obligation that he made was under duress, as halacha recognizes the pressures on a bereaved family before burial, as we see from their exemption from mitzvot at that point.
Ruling: The chevra kadisha’s practiceto charge a price it considers fair for a cemetery plot is confirmed by the Chatam Sofer (Shut, Yoreh Deah 330). He says that not only is it proper to take some money for the plot in order that the deceased will be considered buried in his own plot, but there is also a concept of a family agreeing to pay more in order for their relative to be buried in a particularly desirable location. In general, there is no ona’ah (claim of mispricing) on fields. But beyond that, since it is customary to have different prices for different areas, the fact that one pays more for a certain plot is logical and does not normally leave room for complaints at a later time. The chevra kadisha is the representative of the community not only to do the burial but also to ensure that there is enough income from those who use their services and buy the land that the community set aside for burial to ensure that they can continue functioning without dipping further into public funds. In this case, the rabbi of the municipality testified before beit din that the deceased was indeed buried in the most respected location possible, and the price of 500 lira does not seem exorbitant.
It is not possible to claim that obligations accepted before a funeral are not binding. We do find that relatives are exempt from mitzvot at that time, because they are too busy with their grief and arrangements to enable them to involve themselves in mitzvot. But as far as the obligations of the burial, there is no reason to consider them incapable of making binding decisions. If we were to say as the defendant suggests, then no burial arrangements (which are almost always done after death) could ever be done in a reliable fashion.
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