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What is the Jewish View on Cremation?

What is the Jewish View on Cremation?

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Question:

What is the Jewish view on cremation?

Answer:

Cremation has always been looked upon with horror by every sector of Jewish thought. The body is sacred, because it is the "temple of the soul" and because it is the medium by which we do goodness in this world.

Belief in the resurrection of the dead is counted by Maimonides as the thirteenth of the Thirteen Principles of the Faith. There is no rabbinic authority who does not consider this to be a fundamental belief. The Mishnah declares denial of this principle to be heresy. The reason is quite apparent: As Jews, we believe there is purpose to life, purpose to this world, purpose to the act of Creation. Therefore, anything that is used towards that purpose has a permanence -- and a sanctity.

Six million of our people were denied proper burial, most of them cremated. Should we willfully continue that which our enemies began?

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (107)
July 5, 2014
Sister's cremation
Sadly, my sister passed away in May unexpectedly. Unbeknownst to my mother my sister had arranged to be cremated, as will her non Jewish husband be when his time comes. This broke my mother's heart. She did ask my brother-in-law for some ashes so they can be put on my father's grave so she'll be able to 'visit' my sister when she goes around Rosh Hashanah. Dear brother-in law refused her, hurting mom again. What can I do to ease mom's pain? Unfortunately, I live in England and she's in the states. Any suggestions? Thanks.
Carol
England
May 19, 2014
Although many were set afire, no one can extinguish the flame that rages in the soul.
David Levant
Emerson,NJ
May 16, 2014
To Avi, from Rabbi Freeman
First of all, my sincere condolences on the loss of your dear mother. It's always a loss and a time for mourning, no matter the age. A mother leaving this world feels like something was just torn out of you and went away. But the truth is, her spirit remains with you, to help you. And your deeds can help her on her journey in the other world.

I certainly understand your concern to honour your mother's wishes. We can never do enough to honour our parents.

But I am writing out of concern. Let me ask you one simple question: Had your mother asked you, during her lifetime, to burn off one of her fingers, would you have dutifully obeyed? Perhaps she was misinformed by someone who told her it was necessary. My guess is that you would ask a few questions before proceeding.

The point is that honour is not synonymous with obedience. Honour is only achieved by doing the right thing.

Learn some more, read the other essays on our site dedicated to this topic, and then decide from there.
Tzvi Freeman
May 16, 2014
@ Yisroel -respectfully, that of course is merely your opinion. In this case I have decided to honour my mother's wishes regardless and am prepared to bear any consequences thereof. Neither you not anyone else ( including "Jewish Law" or any other similar dogma ) can impose your biases union me or my family. Her choice would not have been mine but I respect her choice nevertheless. The fact that you are so preoccupied with your interpretation of Jewish Law to the exclusion of expressing any condolence attests to the self righteous bombastic tone of your post .. I despise such efforts
Avi
California
May 16, 2014
Re:
In normal circumstances, children must respect their parents’ wishes. This important Mitzah is one of the ten commandments.

There are exceptions, however, and one of them includes going against a parent’s final wishes. If a parent instructs children that he or she wants to be cremated, Jewish law—which places huge emphasis on respecting parents’ wishes—obligates children to ignore the command and provide a traditional Jewish burial for their parents.

As for not honoring the wishes:

Judaism teaches that after one's passing, when soul is free from the influences and confusion of this world, the person knows know far more than they knew when alive. At this point, the parents’ souls are literally begging their children for a traditional Jewish burial.

Through a traditional burial, the child is listening to the parents’ wishes—their unstated, unrealized, true wishes.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
May 15, 2014
My 93 year old mother died last night. In discussions with my brother and sister it is very clear that my mother utterly rejected the idea of burial and insisted that her corpse be cremated. It would be entirely disrespectful to bury the corpse in disregard of her repeated wishes when alive. In my opinion honouring her wishes is far more important than your or others'
( Code of Jewish Law Yoreh Deah 348:3 (See Jerusalem Talmud Ketubot 11:1). opinions or interpretations. Honouring our parents takes precedence..
Avi
California
March 27, 2014
Are you all putting limitations on God? I believe that God didn't set these man set these rules. It's like getting lost àt sea and is that consider a proper burial? What if the body is never found and you place a empty casket in the ground will God not find that soul to except into his arms? God has no limitations.
kivy777
Tacoma
September 29, 2013
ashes burial
Can the ashes of a cremated Jew be buried in a Jewish cemetery (in a coffin)?
Harvey Hindin
Dix Hills, New York 11746
June 4, 2012
Maybe someone answered this, but...
I didn't read it. Please explain what to do when a Jewish person dies in a fire and is cremated by accident, such as what happened in 911. Is there still a burial? What if the person could not be identified or found?
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA
November 30, 2011
Re: What if you can't afford?
Barbara, you need to speak with your rabbi about this. Every Jewish community has a society to take care of burial of those who cannot afford--and they are supposed to do it in a discrete manner so that no one realizes or is embarrassed.

If you don't know which rabbi to turn to, please contact us through our "ask the rabbi" feature, and we'll do all we can to get you in contact with the right person.

Every Jewish body is precious to the entire Jewish People. Precious and holy, for all the mitzvahs it has done, and for the holy soul it has housed.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
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