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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Worship, Conversion, Intermarriage (5/12)
Section - Question 11.6.8: Death and Burial: Can Jews be cremated?

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                                  Answer:
   
   It is contrary to Jewish tradition for a Jew to be cremated.
   Traditional Jewish authorities hold that the body must interred, in
   tact, in the earth and this ruling is almost 2000 years old.
   
   In the post-holocaust generation, an additional argument against
   cremation relates to the Holocaust experience. When millions of our
   co-religionists were cremated as expedience and as a form of
   disrespect of Jewish sensitivities by the Nazis, for a Jew to wish
   such a body disposal is painful to the memory of the holocaust
   victims.
   
   However, especially among progressive Jews, cremation is becoming an
   alternative burial choice because of financial considerations. Rabban
   Gamliel II argued for simple burial (wooden caskets, plain shrouds,
   closed caskets) in order to give great equality for all Jews. Wealthy
   Jews used to have extravagant funerals while poor Jews might abandon
   their dead for public burial. Rabban Gamliel's ruling was to lessen
   the financial burden on families. A similar argument is used for
   cremation, for it makes all equal.
   
   If one chooses cremation, one should bury the cremains as opposed to
   keeping them in the closet or scattering them to the winds/seas. There
   is psychological value to having a site to focus one's mourning. This
   may ease the pain of the mourners.

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