Jews, Muslims Face Challenges in Military Burials

June 16, 2008

Author: Jonathan D. Rubin

Source: Religion News Service/Beliefnet

There seems to be a striking symmetry on the rolling green hills of Arlington National Cemetery -- rows upon rows of identical white limestone markers, perfectly spaced in every direction.

But underground, Muslims are laid to rest on their right side, facing Mecca, according to custom.

A Jewish Marine, meanwhile, might be buried in a traditional wooden coffin with wooden nails, which can be quickly absorbed into the earth according to Jewish tradition.

For the families of Jewish and Muslim members of the armed forces, challenges often arise when religious tradition conflicts with explicit rules that govern U.S. military cemeteries. Sometimes, an individual or family must choose one over the other.

For example, Muslims and Jews generally are not buried alongside members of other faiths. At military cemeteries, however, servicemen are not segregated by religion.

But a desire to be buried with their units sometimes trumps religious tradition. Many Jews are regularly buried in places like Arlington. Observant Jews, however, "would tend not to be buried there," said Col. Ira Kronenberg, an Orthodox rabbi and chairman of the military chaplains' committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.