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What is the Jewish view on cremation?

by Rabbi Maurice Lamm

The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning

  

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The Jewish way of dealing with death is part of a larger philosophy of life, which views the human body as integral to one’s Divine service, so that even a body that is no longer alive is accorded the greatest consideration and respect.

The following is an excerpt from The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Rabbi Maurice Lamm:

Cremation is never permitted. The deceased must be interred, bodily, in the earth. It is forbidden-in every and any circumstance-to reduce the dead to ash in a crematorium. It is an offensive act. It does violence to the spirit and letter of Jewish law, which never, in the long past, sanctioned the ancient pagan practice of burning on the pyre. The Jewish abhorrence of cremation has already been noted by Tacitus, the ancient historian, who remarked (upon what appeared to be a distinguishing characteristic) that Jews buried, rather than burned their dead.

Even if the deceased willed cremation, his wishes must be ignored in order to observe the will of our Father in Heaven
Even if the deceased willed cremation, his wishes must be ignored in order to observe the will of our Father in Heaven. Biblical law takes precedence over the instructions of the deceased.

Cremated ashes may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. There is no burial of ashes, and no communal responsibility to care, in any way, for the burned remains. The only exception is when the government decrees that the ashes be buried in the ground, and there is no other burial plot available to the family. For such unusual cases a portion of the Jewish cemetery must be marked off and set aside.

Jewish law requires no mourning for the cremated. Shivah is not observed and Kaddish is not recited for them. Those who are cremated are considered by tradition to have abandoned, unalterably, all of Jewish law and, therefore, to have surrendered their rights to posthumous honor.1

See also What's wrong with cremation?

Footnotes

  • 1. This is the prevailing custom. Please consult with your Rabbi to see if this is also your custom and/or if there is reason to make an exception.

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COMMENTS

Cremation

Posted by: Gary, Carlsbad, CA on Jul 06, 2009

I feel that it is appropriate to also mention the case of persons who were cremated against their will such as the case of the Holocaust victims. I am sure that G-d would not consider them to be abandoned and that they should be accorded full rights to have Kadish said.

Editor's Comment

This article addresses situations when cremation was done by choice and not as a result of martyrdom or accident.
Kaddish
A prayer sanctifying G-d's name which is sprinkled throughout the daily prayers and is recited by the leader of the services. This prayer is also recited by mourners during the first year of mourning, and on the anniversary of the death.