The Relationship Between Judaism and Cremation
It's no secret that Judaism has a complicated relationship with cremation. You may have heard about how the Jewish faith views such services or want to know more about specific practices. Maybe you or someone you know is Jewish but wants to be cremated and needs to find any information available. At OneWorld Memorials, we're here to help you learn about cremation in Judaism: is it acceptable, can a Jewish person be cremated and how are the cremated remains of Jewish individuals handled.
How Does Judaism View Cremation?
So how exactly does Judaism view the act of cremation? Unlike other religions, many of the Jewish faith view cremation as something potentially blasphemous, though it is not directly prohibited by the Torah. For a long time, cremation was associated with pagan rituals and practices as well. All of this is due to the Jewish belief that the body should not be defiled following death - that the body is the property of God and it is forbidden to defile it in any way, and cremation may be considered defilement.
Similarly, there is the belief that the soul does not immediately depart the body after death, and that the gradual process of the body's decay in the earth allows for a more natural and gradual separation. Many Rabbis prohibit cremation and believe that the traditional burial method should be the only method for the recently departed.
However, cremation in Judaism has recently grown as a trend due to the relative popularity of the service and more lax ideas throughout the religion. Many members of the Jewish faith opt to be cremated instead of buried, which can be met with either acceptance or disapproval. But this begs the question: can people of the Jewish faith be cremated?
Can Jewish Individuals be Cremated?
The answer to this question is complex and requires many unique considerations. First, a Jewish person must ask themselves how involved they require their faith to be following their passing, and whether or not a Rabbi or the synagogue will be involved. For many Jewish people with more lax views, this may not be a necessity and these individuals will opt for cremation instead. This, however, may be met with some outcry from friends, family or members of the synagogue.
If an individual insists that a Rabbi or the synagogue be involved following their passing, it is recommended to consult with the Rabbit about cremation and the desire to receive one. Many synagogues are becoming more open to cremation, but many still will outright prohibit it. If one is unsure whether or not cremation is the right choice, discussing with friends, family and the synagogue is recommended.
Why Would Someone Choose to be Cremated?
Why would someone want to be cremated anyways? There are many reasons outside of religious beliefs for the practice. Cremation is more affordable than a traditional burial, while allowing for a wake, a visitation or a ceremony. Cremation can be much more flexible than a burial as well, which generally needs to occur within ten days after passing. With cremation, there is less urgency for the process to occur. Cremation is also considered better for the environment - burials require more than just land and a casket; they also require embalming fluid and the energy required to transport and bury the body.
Beyond these reasons, many choose cremation because of the freedom that it can afford. Cremation allows for a range of options following death, including the scattering of ashes, the preservation of ashes in an urn and the burial of ashes, to name a few. Some may view it as a way to free the soul, or simply to be closer to family members following death.
Whatever someone's reasons, post-death rituals and ceremonies are often very personal - someone's reasoning for choosing cremation may not be obvious or easily determined by benefits and can be as simple as being the option that feels right. This extends to individuals of all faiths, including Judaism.
Will Jewish Cemeteries Bury Cremated Remains?
Beyond having a Rabbi or synagogue involved in post-death ceremonies, it's worth knowing how Jewish cemeteries will handle cremated remains - should an individual choose to have their cremains buried. Generally speaking, the burial of cremated remains is not prohibited - even Jewish people who may not have totally adhered to Jewish law in their lives are not restricted from being buried in Jewish cemeteries, and this extends to cremation.
While most Jewish cemeteries will have no issue with the burial of cremains, this is not true for all of them. Specific Jewish cemeteries or burial societies may prohibit the burial of cremated remains, so it's always worth checking beforehand to see if it will be allowed.
Cremation in Judaism in Summary
With all this considered, is cremation the right move for someone of the Jewish faith? The answer depends highly upon personal preferences, one's own relationship to their faith, how connected to they are to their synagogue and what they desire to have done with their cremains following cremation. Cremation in Judaism has been a contentious subject since cremation's introduction into popular culture. While there is still no definitive answer to whether or not a Jewish individual can be cremated or not, the adherence to these ideas has become more relaxed over time. In today's day and age, cremation in Judaism is generally discouraged, but is not considered sinful.
If you or someone you know plans to be cremated, regardless of your religion, make sure you're prepared for how this decision may interact with your faith and family. Be sure to research how your faith views cremation and whether or not your place of worship will assist you throughout the cremation process. Also, remember to be prepared following cremation with urns designed for keeping cremains within the home or burying them in a cemetery.