Cremation And The Wandering Jews

Dr. Mel Glazer

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As every Jew knows, cremation is a no-no. That having been said, lots and lots of Jews are requesting that they be cremated. Why all of a sudden? What happened to the post-Holocaust cringe when thinking about yet another burned Jewish body? As a Conservative Rabbi, I will not officiate at the funeral of a congregant which is followed with cremation. I will, however, officiate at such a funeral for a non-congregant.

It's tough out there in the vineyards of the Lord, and difficult to be either consistent or resistant to the growing wishes of the hordes when they insist on cremation. Most Reform Rabbis will officiate without condition at funerals followed by cremation.

I firmly believe that the cemetery is the place where Jewish bodies should be buried, and not so much for halachic reasons, but for grief recovery reasons. You see, when someone dies, we are left with all sorts of emotions-grief, sadness, incompleteness, shock, disjointedness, numbness, blame and even anger.

And it hurts so much. We need to complete our relationship with those who have died, so that our relationship with them can “rest in peace. " So often the cemetery serves as the healing venue. When we can go spend private time next to Momma's grave and apologize to her for whatever we might have done to hurt her, and forgive her for whatever she might have done to hurt us, the cemetery becomes a holy place for us. What do we do if there is no burial in a cemetery, or if the ashes are scattered to the winds? In that case, healing is much more difficult, since there is no physical place to assist us in our efforts. For this reason, halacha supports emotional truth, as it usually does. We need to “lay them gently down, " and we can do that best in the cemetery by their grave.


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