This article answers the question of whether cemetery graves are really six feet deep, and explores the possible origins of this widespread belief. Many theories and explanations exist about why people commonly assume graves are always 6 feet deep, but one idea surely wins the "Most Believable But Probably Not True" Award. Many sources point to a series of orders issued in London to halt another outbreak of the plague or " Black Death " in to explain why we still use "6 feet under" today.
Londoners still didn't realize that they had more to fear from the fleas living on the rats thriving in their filthy city streets and less to fear from plague victims. While it's possible that London's plague orders created the lasting impression that graves are always 6 feet deep, it's not likely. These orders weren't in force very long because the plague outbreak dissipated in after the Great London Fire. Moreover, in order to dispose of the estimated , victims who died from the plague in , officials resorted to mass burials in dozens of "plague pits" throughout London, which could reach depths of 20 feet or more, just to keep up with the quantity of plague victims needing burial.
Thus, it's hardly likely that the "6-foot requirement" had enough time or adherents to become a tradition followed by later generations of gravediggers. While soil conditions vary greatly around the world, some have suggested that, given the dimensions of the gravesite opening, 6 feet is the maximum depth someone can safely dig a grave before the sides start caving in without some form of bracing, particularly in sandy soil. Another explanation suggests that 6 feet was the maximum depth at which an average gravedigger could stand and still manage to toss dirt out of the grave using a shovel or get in or out of the grave without needing a ladder.
Incredibly, grave robbery or "body snatching" proved a serious problem in the early s—particularly in England and Scotland.
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Because medical schools at the time actually purchased cadavers for anatomical study and dissection, some people supplied the demand by exhuming fresh corpses. While cemeteries resorted to many elaborate techniques to thwart grave robbing—including the use of heavy stone slabs, stone boxes, locked above-ground vaults, and mortsafes—it's possible that burying a body at a depth of 6 feet was viewed as a theft deterrent.
In addition, many people commonly believed that burying bodies at greater depths, such as 6 feet, helped contain decomposition odors that might otherwise attract the unwanted attention of animals. Finally, some theorize that gravesites reaching 6 feet deep helped prevent farmers from digging up bodies when plowing their fields in rural areas.
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Finally, like so many superstitions surrounding death, there's an old "rule of thumb" of unknown origin stating that graves should be as deep as the deceased is long. Since the average male in the 17th and 18th centuries stood just 1.
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The title of the popular HBO television show Six Feet Under , which focused on the fictional Fisher family's funeral home in Los Angeles, California, drew upon the fact that most people think a grave is always dug 6 feet 1. There is no federally mandated requirement or nationwide standard concerning the depth of gravesites in the United States; instead, each individual state governs grave depths within its borders, or leaves the matter up to cities, local municipalities, or even to the cemeteries.
While the state of New York, for example, lacks a statewide grave-depth requirement, New York City requires that "'when human remains are buried in the ground, without a concrete vault, the top of the coffin or casket shall be at least 3' below the level of the ground. In neighboring Pennsylvania, however, gravesite burials involving a concrete vault or grave liner must be deep enough so that the "distance from parts of the top of the outer case containing the casket may not be less than 1.
In general, most graves dug today are not 6 feet deep. According to Nancy Faulk, director of Prairie Home Cemetery in Waukesha, Wisconsin, "Many states simply require a minimum of 18 inches of soil on top of the casket or burial vault or two feet of soil if the body is not enclosed in anything.
In the case of a non-Orthodox Jew, or someone who is not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law, this can occasionally present an obstacle to Jewish burial in Israel, though in practice this situation is said to arise only rarely. Civil cemeteries, a recent development in Israel, offer alternatives to individuals who for whatever reason are unable to secure burial in a religious cemetery. ITIM , a religious pluralism organization in Israel, offers assistance in navigating the religious bureaucracy surrounding burial.
Israel has numerous Christian and Muslim cemeteries, which serve the local Muslim and Christian populations, but it is rare for people from overseas to request burial in them and we were unable to identify any organizations or businesses that assist in this process. Pronounced: tah-HAH-ruh, Origin: Hebrew for purity, the ritual cleansing of a dead body in preparation for burial.
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For some Jews, being buried in Israel is considered a symbolic statement of eternal attachment to the Jewish homeland.
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According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, 1, people who died abroad were buried in Israel in , a figure that includes Israeli citizens who died while they were out of the country. Some 4, Americans were buried in Israel between , and even more 5, from France.
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How To Arrange for Burial in Israel Burial in Israel requires both the purchase of a burial plot as well as the logistical arrangements necessary to prepare, transport and inter the body. Some Jewish funeral homes in the United States offer the following services to those wishing to be buried in Israel: Ritual preparation of the body for burial, known as tahara usually done before the body is transported to Israel.
Arranging the necessary legal paperwork, including death certificates and authorization from the local Israeli consulate. Transport of the remains to an air cargo facility.