Cremation or Burial

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About the Author

Doron Kornbluth is the best-selling author of Why Be Jewish? Knowledge and Inspiration for Jews of Today and RaisingKids to LOVE Being Jewish (both published by Mosaica Press). A world-renowned speaker, his interactive and engaging talks are popular around the world, and he lectures in over fifty cities a year. Doron is also a popular tour guide in Israel, inspiring first-time and veteran visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Contact him through his Website, www.doronkornbluth.com

About the Book

More and more Jews are choosing cremation rather than burial. Some of the reasons cited include environmentalism, discomfort with decomposition, and finances. Interestingly, aside from allegiance to tradition, the reasons to choose burial are not well-known. Bestselling author Doron Kornbluth spent over three years studying the subject, speaking with experts, consulting with environmentalists, reading industry reports and academic studies, and examining both the realities on the ground and the philosophies behind burial and cremation choices. With a wealth of research and many practical insights, Cremation or Burial? A Jewish View analyzes the reasons people choose cremation, pointing out many myths and misconceptions along the way, and explains why throughout history Judaism and Jews have insisted on burial.

Deciding what to do with our bodies and those of our loved ones is both personal and meaningful. In a sense, it is the last decision we ever make — and one that cannot be undone. Sadly, these decisions are often made in the midst of grieving, with virtually no time to research or think through the issues. In this quick, easy-to-read, and informative book, readers will gain insight, knowledge, and understanding of this all-important issue.

Frequently Asked Questions

Burial seems to waste land. Is that true?
Actually, burial uses very little land, and there is a surprising amount of land available. If ALL Americans were buried, it would take 10,000 years to use up just 1% of America’s land, and presumably few cemeteries would exist that long, anyway. Furthermore, Jews constitute only 1.5% of the population! The point is that there is PLENTY of land available, most of it within 1-2 hours of urban centers.

Doesn’t burial pollute the environment?
While ash scattering seems like a beautiful eco-friendly alternative, in truth, environmentalists worldwide choose ‘green burial’ (with no embalming or metal caskets - both in line with Jewish tradition) because cremation causes pollution, releases mercury and other toxins into the air and uses an enormous amount of fossil fuels. Cremation is not the choice of environmentalists.

No one will visit the gravesite – we live far away. Shouldn’t we cremate and keep the ashes?
In the long term, people don’t retain ashes. Will you take them with you when you retire? Will the grandkids keep them? Our homes and our lives simply aren’t designed for long term respectful storage of cremated remains. In many families, sometime down the line, a child or grandchild will find comfort in visiting the gravesite of their family members. With burial, this is possible. The soul has found a permanent resting place and the family has a permanent memorial of the deceased.

Decomposition scares me. Isn’t cremation quicker and cleaner? While it seems quick and clean to push button, the truth is otherwise. A typical body burns for approximately two hours, with larger bodies taking even longer. Body fluids bubble, muscles expand and contract, and the brain sizzles. What is left is not yet ashes: the bones are removed by a lowly-paid crematory worker – and then ground up to fit neatly into an urn. While decomposition isn’t pretty, it is the way of all living things. Burial respects the cycle of nature, and our bodies give back, in some small way, to the Earth that gave so much to us.

Isn’t cremation cheaper?
Cremation seems cheaper but when all the hidden side costs are added in, it is often the same cost as burial. Even when cremation does cost less, we shouldn’t let finances alone dictate our choices. While times are difficult and everyone needs to save money, important life events, milestones, and remembrances are not the time to think only of finding the cheapest solution possible. Burial is worth it.

What do burial and cremation symbolize?
Burial represents a calm acceptance of death, replete with the symbolism of an eventual rebirth. Cremation ends our time on the planet with an act expressing human control and power. At a deep level, burial provides comfort for the soul. Cremation causes anguish and great pain for the soul and hinders its return to G-d.

Have Jews always buried?
For more than 3000 years, Jews and Judaism have avoided cremation – and chosen burial – although both options (and many others) existed. When Roman historian Tacitus described the Jews, he noted that we “bury rather than burn” the dead. Historically, monotheists choose burial while polytheists and atheists choose cremation. The Bible itself talks about burial often, including that of the patriarchs and matriarchs. G-d himself buried Moshe. Burial respects and honors the body which housed the soul. The body is considered holy and created in the image of G-d. For this reason, Jews go to great lengths to bury soldiers’ remains, Torah scrolls, and other holy objects. The holiest of all is the person. Burial itself is a commandment while cremation is a severe Jewish transgression. No matter how religious you were or weren’t, choosing burial means I want to be remembered as a Jew.

My family has requested cremation in their will. I don’t want to, but what should I do?
The will is almost never probated (or even looked at) when decisions for disposition are made. Furthermore, the designated agent or closest family member (where there is no agent designated) may override the will. At a deeper level, cremation is usually chosen due to misconceptions. For instance, the person does not want to be a burden - but children often come to regret cremating their parents, and making the wrong choice is the biggest burden of all! When a soul departs from ‘its’ body, it gets a little closer to the Source of knowledge, and thus has much greater understanding of the spiritual implications of cremation. Looking ‘down’ at its body, there is nothing the soul wants more than a proper Jewish burial. For this reason, although Jewish law is very stringent about following the wishes of the deceased (especially parents), this is an exception and the body should NOT be cremated.


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