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?


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.