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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. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Anonymous July 14, 2017

SSI recipient focused on improving Jewish life while on disability realizes that cheaper cremation is not an option but he would need financial help to get a Jewish burial plan in order This topic has recently emerged for me as I am currently disabled U.S. Jew. I'm finding it hard to believe that the financial restrictions to stay on the program that I do in fact currently need could be so insane because they don't leave options to bury a person. A relative has chosen cremation and I was told this was in conflict with Jewish law. You and my best current personal friend, who would both be considered Orthodox, have convinced me that cremation is not a choice for me. The problem is the lack of income and the inability to raise income: for disability insurance reasons. I'm not sure what I'm going to do but I'm certain that I cannot just die without a way to pay for my basic wish of being buried in a box in the ground in a respectful fashion. As of this second I am quite grateful that I was able to post a comment: semi-anonymously. I'm not with Chabad and I am currently even awaiting an answer on membership where I have been going. In short, I feel insecure. Reply

Editor August 1, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Most Jewish communities in large cities have a burial fund. Why don't you call your local Chabad rabbi and ask what is available? Reply

Anonymous Atlanta August 1, 2017
in response to Editor:

I am in certain how qualifying for an Orthodox burial fund would work given my documents situation but think I definitely need the help and security of being enrolled in some kind of plan I guess I'm going to have to. I was born into a foreign-born Jewish population that often does not have intact documents in Hebrew. Currently I am with the Reform Jews, and I have my own reasons for this. I'm usually only one who can talk to people who are not native English speakers and I've applied for formal membership but there's no sign it's actually been processed. The last time I went to a synagogue service with a member of this ethnic group of mine (native speaker who is actively Jewish) was with Chabad and it was kind of out of my league. Regardless, something has to be done. Not being able to afford a burial plot is out of the question. I spoke to a Jewish funeral care service of unknown sect affiliation and they failed to call me back. I feel I have difficulties because while Israeli people walk up thinking I'm Israeli, I don't have any documents in Hebrew for the Orthodoxy. A Reform rabbi stated that Chabad converts nobody: I have no documents. Concerned; will call. Reply

Stuart Fox Bondi Beach, Australia May 1, 2016

Condolences to Avi and others - wishing you a long life.
When my great aunt a holocaust survivor, passed away my mother honouring Jewish law, arranged her funeral and burial (next to her sister, my grandmother, in Sydney, Australia, contrary to her wishes for cremation. Her remaining sister (and brother in law in the US who fancied himself as an advocate) the main beneficiary, then argued about the additional cost + other aspects of the will which was 'strangely' written in English and German a day prior to her passing. The sisters actions required expensive interpretation / opinion of the will by a court appointed bilingual barrister who confirmed other lawyers interpretations and absolved my mother of the burial / cremation cost differential. The irony is this increased the costs and retarded the probate (legal approval of the will / distribution) for several years during which time US currency fell severely in relation to Australian currency while the beneficiary aged.
Stuart Fox Reply

MJG66 San Antonio April 24, 2016

Embalming Dave--many Jewish sects do not allow embalming--one reason burial is as soon as possible. Reply

Dave Bondi Beach Australia February 3, 2016

Ashes Makes no sense to me. Surely what is of importance is what you do in your life, not the state of yur body after you die. I would rather be ashes kept in my family home or cast into the sea, than have my body pumped with chemicals and then buried in a box to be eaten by ants, which cant be a good look anyways. Reply

Barbara S.Florida September 20, 2017
in response to Dave:

I agree with this comment! Reply

Tzvi Freeman September 10, 2014

For Barbara Most Jewish communities have a burial fund for those who cannot afford. Talk with your local Chabad rabbi. I'm sure he will be sympathetic to your situation and do whatever he can to help. Reply

Barbara Haywood Michigan September 9, 2014

But what if you can not afford it ? What does a Jew do then? I so want to do right and be with my parents again. Reply

Sam Leon Dumfries September 8, 2014

What if it's the wish of the deceased? My grandfather (of blessed memory) was cremated according to his own wishes. Surely G-d would understand adhering to the wish of the deceased? Reply

Carol England 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. Reply

David Levant Emerson,NJ May 19, 2014

Although many were set afire, no one can extinguish the flame that rages in the soul. Reply

Tzvi Freeman 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. Reply

Avi California 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 Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC 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. Reply

Avi California 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.. Reply

kivy777 Tacoma 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. Reply

Harvey Hindin Dix Hills, New York 11746 September 29, 2013

ashes burial Can the ashes of a cremated Jew be buried in a Jewish cemetery (in a coffin)? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA 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? Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman 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. Reply

barbara haywood muskegon, mi November 27, 2011

creamation of a jewish woman What if you can't afford to be buried and don't want to burden your children with the thought of not having enough money to cover the cost of burial. Reply

Caitlin Camarillo October 27, 2011

At Stephen Weinstein You say all that matters is that it does not say smoke. But while it does not say you should cremate, it also does not say you shouldn't be cremated. But even if the body does become mostly smoke, and even if that smoke remains in the atmosphere for a while before finally coming back down to earth (gravity!) it will eventually become part of the earth again. Perhaps even faster than if a person was buried, especially in a coffin, as it wouldn't take the body as long to break down and become part of the earth again. We would all become part of the earth sooner or later, cremated or buried. So what is the problem with cremation? Reply

Michael Dineen Ridgefield, WA/USA October 24, 2010

Ball in my court In the case of a house fire or drowning in the ocean- we have no choice...
We do have a choice otherwise.... may it be God's way... Reply

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