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Do Jewish funeral homes embalm the dead?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » Life Cycle » Death » Burial/Cemetery | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Jewish law does not allow embalming.

According to Jewish tradition, the body, having contained a G-dly soul, is sacred and should not be tampered with in any way. Instead, we are commanded to return it to its creator as is (and as quickly as possible).

Embalming is a very intrusive process which involves removing and the disposal (!) of the blood and other bodily fluids.

Take note that the primary reason for embalming is for the body to be presentable at the wake and for the "viewing session" which normally occur several days after death.

However, Jewish law: a) doesn’t allow for viewings. As mentioned earlier, the body is sacred and isn't an artifact which we ogle; and b) doesn't allow a delay of more than 24 hours before burial (unless there are extenuating circumstances).

According to Jewish tradition, the body, having contained a G-dly soul, is sacred and should not be tampered with in any way. We are commanded to return it to its creator as is (and as quickly as possible)
Additionally, embalming hinders the body's natural decomposition process. After death, the soul returns to G-d -- its source, and the body must return to its source -- "for dust you are and to dust you will return."1 


The following paragraphs are from http://www.funerals.org/faq/embalm.htm (a website with no connection to any religion):

"Embalming provides no public health benefit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Canadian health authorities. Hawaii and Ontario forbid embalming if the person died of certain contagious diseases. Many morticians have been taught, however, that embalming protects the public health, and they continue to perpetrate this myth."

"Embalming gives funeral homes a sales opportunity to increase consumer spending (by as much as $3,000 or more) for additional body preparation, a more expensive casket with "protective" features perhaps, a more expensive outer burial container, and a more elaborate series of ceremonies."

"I think the elaborate expensive display of an open casket with all the makeup in the slumber room enforces the belief that the person is only asleep, and in my personal opinion would only help to prolong the stage of denial" -- Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in Questions and Answers on Death and Dying.

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 3:19.
TAGS: embalm, embalming

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COMMENTS

But...

Posted by: Mikhail Bodeau, Paso Robles, CA on Feb 05, 2005

Wasn't Joseph embalmed in Egypt? Granted, it was done by Egyptians and not Israelites. But still.

Editor's Comment

According to Jewish tradition, Joseph's (and Jacob's) embalming only involved applying various ointments and cosmetics to the body. It wasn't the traditional embalming which included the removal of inner organs, etc.

Embalming

Posted by: Anonymous, Mountain Home, AR on Jun 28, 2005

Embalming provides a disease free status for the family...the Gentile family that believes in having one more time to see their loved one at peace and bid them a fond farewell. Knowing that we will see them again in heaven gives great hope to us. Embalming offers that chance without having to worry about the diseases that are allowed to run rampant throughout the dead human body with no immune system to shut them down. When death occurrs, the temperature of the body goes up (Post mortem caloricity)this enables whatever diseases that thrive on heat and moisture to run amuck thru your loved one. The embalming process merely disinfects that individual and allows them to be seen and touched without fear of contracting anything. We believe in the afterlife and heaven and having hope of seeing them again. However, Once this earthly temple is dead, we merely want to honor it in a fitting goodbye ceremony. "To be absent from the flesh is to be present with the Lord"...Bible

Editor's Comment

Remember, according to Jewish belief, the body, too, will be resurrected.

Embalming

Posted by: John Fairlamb, Howick, South Africa on May 04, 2006

I came to this website to find out a bit more about the Jewish Faith's view on death and grieving and beliefs about the Afterlife. I did not know that it was against Jewish tradition to embalm a dead body. I found that very interesting. It makes complete sense what the Rabbi wrote about in this article because there is no need for embalment if the body is going to be buried within a 24 hour period. The rabbi's comment in response to Anonymous that Jews believe in the resurrection of the body. As a Christian, I affirm the same belief. Thank you for the interesting articles.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.