Picnics in cemeteries
Leaving a cemetery after a burialon Friday (nisht da gedacht) I got caught behind a slew of parked cars. It turns out that the attendees atanother funeral and burial had chosen to picnic afterwards right in the cemetery. While I know that many cultures do this (Islamic, Mexican) it struck me as not very Jewish. Doesn't contact with the dead or presence in a cemetery render you extremely impure (to the extent that only the ashes of a red cow can really make you pure)? Most homes that I have been to after Jewish funerals put out a pitcher of water for ablutions upon returning from the grave. In Safed there is even a mikvah (ritual bath) by the cemetery for those who wish to use it when leaving.
I remarked how strange the picnic seemed to me to my father, who told me that when he was young they used to picnic in cemeteries all the time. They were much more observant than I am, but I think thatthey did this partly for logistical reasons. They didn't have cars, it was a long trip, and you had to eat somewhere.
What gives? Does anyone know the consequences for ritual purity of dining in a graveyard? Cross cultural comparisons are welcome, though perhaps on another board.
I don't know the ritualistic reasons or prohibitions from doing this, but, like your father, I remember this happening when I was little. I'm not that old now (31), but I asked my mother about this last year and she cited similar reasons - that people were coming from all over to go to the cemetary, that cemetaries were harder to get to, and you had to have something to eat somewhere.
The food was usually not right at graveside, but at an area near the entrance to your family's plot which had yet to be used for graves. Since the highway systems are better and most people have cars now, this is a rare occurance and hasn't been done in my family for at least 20 years. Instead, there is usually lunch at the shiva house.
re: Rachel Perlow
This sounds like a great idea to me. What could be better than hanging out with your dearly departed on a nice spring day while having a picnic lunch at the same time? In fact, there is someone I'm planning on visiting, and the idea of sharing some turkey-on-rye and green grapes (the only thing I ever "cooked" for him)with him would make the experience that much easier to bear.