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Why Does Judaism Not Allow Cremations?

Why Does Judaism Not Allow Cremations?

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Question:

My grandmother recently announced that she intends to be cremated. This disturbed me, as I know Judaism doesn't allow cremations. She grew up in communist Russia and doesn't believe in anything spiritual. She says there's no difference between burial and cremation, the result is the same. What should I tell her?

Answer:

I recently spoke to someone who attended a friend's cremation. I was struck by her reaction to the funeral. She said that the atmosphere could only be described as awkward. Here was a group of people coming to pay their respects to a loved one. At the front of the room stood an urn. Try as she might, she was unable to make the association between her friend and the urn. There was no sense that honor was being paid to the departed -- her presence was no longer felt.

Being cremated is unfair to the mourners. They cannot be expected to say farewell to an urn. They have no gravesite to visit. The soul has no resting place in this world. If your grandmother is willing to forgo the spiritual benefits that a Jewish burial gives her, at least she should consider the comfort a Jewish burial will give her family.

And as for the claim that the result will be the same whether she is buried or cremated, it is not true.

When cremated, the body becomes ash. When buried, the body returns to dust, and becomes one with the soil. There is a big difference between the two. Soil is fertile, ash is not. The soil allows new growth and further life. Ash is barren and lifeless.

Turning the body to ash is unnatural. But the gradual process of returning to the soil is true to the inner meaning of death. The passing of one generation allows the sprouting of another, and the living are nourished and inspired by the legacy of the dead. Our forebears are the soil from which we sprout. Even in their death, they are a source of life.

I have never met a family who regretted giving their loved one a proper Jewish burial. But I have seen the regret and pain caused by a misinformed decision to cremate. Think long and hard before making such an irreversible choice.

Your grandmother is a special lady. May she see many more years of good health, and may she always be treated with the dignity that she deserves.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Ralph Arizona July 20, 2016

I am saddened by the loss of both of my parents, but I believe that no matter how they are buried it is their belief in G-d that determines where their soul rest and not where their body ends up. We will never have a fleshly body again so there is no need to preserve the remains either we return to dust or ash both become earth again. Earth is a combination of many different elements and G-d took this combination and breathed the breath of life into it. Reply

TOC Texas May 10, 2014

TOC Introduction I wanted to introduce myself before I address certain issues raised in the comments. I am posting semi-anonymously for professional reasons. I am a licensed funeral director. I have been in the funeral business for over 26 years. I want to help inform you to be able to make the best decisions on how to walk out your faith in this time.

I am not Jewish. Nor do I practice in an area where there are many Jews. I have never served a Jewish family. I am what I, TOC, will self describe as a Torah Observant Christian. At least that is what I attempt. In my journey toward a more Torah observant faith I have been reading chabad.org regularly for the last two years to inform myself and family on how to walk this out. I want to hear from those who have done this for thousands of years. I have been blessed and have learned much from this website.

Life is a journey. I have much learning to do. I wanted to do this introduction as a full disclosure of who I am and where I am coming from.

I am a funeral director in Texas. I don't know the state laws of every state. But I do not know of any state that requires an outer burial container. One comment below from Florida says that they do. They do not.

It is my understanding that every state probably has a consumer brochure or FAQ which answers many of the common questions. Most of these answers for particular state laws are probably online for most states. Look for yours be informed before you meet with the funeral director. Especially if your funeral director is not Jewish and may not understand your faith. If you live near a funeral home which serves the Jewish community. Visit them and ask them questions. They will be better informed as to help you in this time and honor your faith and wishes.

So please be informed about your legal rights. Talk to a licensed funeral director. Ask important questions. They should be able to help you. If possible consider a visit before the need, so you can be informed when necessary.

I know of no states which require an outer burial container. However, many cemeteries do. An outer burial container can be a vault or a box/graveliner. It can be made of concrete, steel, fiberglas, etc.

A box protects the grave from the weight of the earth and heavy equipment. In addition a vault protects the grave from the entrance of water to protect the casket.

The reasons most city or corporate cemeteries have these requirements is maintenance. When a grave collapses, it requires resources to fill in and make the cemetery look nice again.
In my area most of the country (outside the city) cemeteries have no outer burial requirements. I imagine that is common. Should that be your desire. You might look for one of these cemeteries. They are often quite a bit less expensive.

From the values of this article you will most likely want a box. Or a (bell style) vault without its base, this would allow direct contact with the soil. Though I have never seen one used this way. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC May 7, 2014

- The Torah tells us the importance of an in-ground burial. And while certainly, the ability to visit the loved one is one of the "reasons" we can appreciate in this tradition, the mitzvah itself goes way beyond any "reasons" or "perks" we can appreciate. Rather, it is our holy Torah, our manual in life, telling us what is best for us physically and spiritually and this applies in all situations.
- That is correct. An above-ground mausoleums should not be used.
- When law requires that a ciment liner is used, it should be open at the bottom and filled with dirt. Reply

Richard Florida April 9, 2014

The code that Orthodox Judaism follows for burial being returning to dust is beautiful. However, my wife, of blessed memory, my daughter and I discussed this issue. Our daughter's profession takes her to many places for long periods of time. She feels that if she had to move across the country or to another continent, she and my two grandkids would feel terrible leaving our remains in the current location. The local Jewish cemetery has mausoleums and such which certainly don't allow the dust to mingle with the earth and sprout new life, and state law requires that caskets be placed within cement enclosures which also inhibit dust and earth to mix. The Catholic faith also recommends burial for the same reason as Judaism. Though beautiful, it doesn't seem to be logical any longer. Reply

Roger SoCal March 8, 2014

How do I get to heaven ? What must I do ? Or not do ? Reply

Anonymous September 30, 2013

As usual, the questions are way better than the answers, which are all whimsical conjecture anyway. We believe what soothes us most at sad times, and just hope that maybe it's true. But no-one truly knows if they're honest. Reply

Anonymous CA January 14, 2013

God is Almighty! I believe that he is able to bring us back alive either through the tiniest atom of ash or through the soil. Reply

chaim south africa January 10, 2013

cremation i am a jew and cremation is wrong. the reason is that the moshiach can come now or in the year 6000. i think he will only come in the year 6000. the reason is that with sceince and technology they will be able to take your bones and make a new one of you. if i told you 200 years ago they could put a heart or kidney in you you would have said never. they will be able to work with dna and will make a new body of you with the same thoughts you had, so you will never die,..that will be the age of moshiach. Reply

Mary November 10, 2012

Cremation What about the precious lives of those taken in the ovens of the concentration camps? What about those whose bodies were burned in the buildings of the 911 tragedy and other such incidents? Is G-d not able to give another body? Reply

Steve Baldel Apple Valley, CA February 14, 2012

Cremation Appreciate the response, but this does not answer the question as stated. Does anyone know whether or not the Five Books were written by Moses or, dictated by
G-d to Moses. If not specifically noted anywheres, then what is the Jewish belief? Reply

Anonymous rockville, MD February 13, 2012

Steve this is an unrelated question whether or not you believe in the 5 books being dictated by god. To answer that question, you have to look within yourself. There's a certain something in all of us that tells us there is a greater entity than the ones among our 5 sense. Look within yourself, and see what you feel, is all I can say. Reply

Steve Baldel Apple Valley, CA February 12, 2012

Cremation I asked the Rabbi a simple question after he told me about cremation being prohibited "...as stated in the five books of Moses". I asked him if these five books were written by Moses himself as laws to be followed by the Jews or, were they 'dictated' to Moses directly from G-d. His response was that they were dictated to Moses directly from G-d. If this is true, then prohibition of cremation is a mandate from G-d. Can anyone else verify this written mandate? Thankyou. Reply

Sara-Leah February 10, 2012

Creamation I believe that when the Messiah comes we would be unable to join in the celebration on a physical level if our remains are not intact. Reply

Sam Klein Boca raton, Fl August 5, 2011

Actual cremation It is assumed that the body is put in an oven
And then comes out ash. This is not so.
It is the most disgusting and awful process
If you have a loved one and attend the actual cremation, that is the burning of the body, you would never would wish it on your own worst enemy. Putting the religious or spiritual aspect aside consider the impersonal aspect of burning a body of someone you loved . Even prehistoric men burried their dead and conducted ceremonies thousands of years before
organized religion.
God spoke to humanity one time 3400 years ago through Moses on Mt Sinai.
The body goes back to the earth. The soul goes back to the one who gave it. Reply

Eliezer ben oca Beach July 29, 2011

The writer quotes,"When buried, the body returns to dust, and becomes one with the soil. There is a big difference between the two. Soil is fertile, ash is not. The soil allows new growth and further life.

The body does not go into the soil since it is encased in a coffin and then a cement box. Reply

Nevo Rockville, MD October 21, 2010

some of the body does return to ash, but most of it returns to air, which does harbor life. why not cremation? your actual body may change form,but what it consists of is the same. Reply

Susan in PR NY, NY October 19, 2010

my plan. At present I live in Puerto Rico. My children are very much against me being buried here. I have thought carefully about this and decided to allow my body to be buried here as long as my husband is alive. When he passes we will be cremated and moved to a cemetery in NY so that we will be closer to our children should they wish to visit. And no, unfortunately we won't be buried in a Jewish cemetery as this is not permitted. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman July 23, 2009

For Anonymous in Apple Valley I think you are misreading Rabbi Moss' response. When he writes, "Without a body, a soul cannot complete its mission, to turn a material world into a spiritual haven," he is speaking of the soul as it dwells within a body in its lifetime on this earth. His point is that the body has a value of its own that the soul alone does not.

I also need to point out that Jewish belief and wisdom goes far beyond that which can be found by reading the Bible. We have a rich tradition described in the Talmud, the Zohar, and many thousands of other works. All is based upon the scriptures and the traditional interpretations, but goes far beyond what you can find there. Reply

Anonymous Apple Valley, CA USA July 22, 2009

Cremation The above comment by Rabbi Moss posted 04/12/07 appears to be rationalization; or in other words, his opinion. I thought that Jewish belief is the soul is transferred upon death, regardless of the status of the body unless the Scriptures state otherwise. Therefore, I would like to know specifically in the old scriptures where the prerequisite for soul transferrence is a buried whole body. Reply

Anonymous December 15, 2008

a single childless person How could one explain this concept to a lonely childless, single person who is presently not so connected outwardly to Judaism? Or is connected to other religions?
Thanks. Reply

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