• Rabbi Anthony Knopf

From The Desk - What's the Deal with Jews and Cremation?


Shalom Friends! I hope that wherever you are in the world you are enjoying a great week and that, if you are with us in Canada, you are managing to stay warm. Here at Beth Ora, we are looking forward to our main Chanukah event - My Big Fat Greek Chanukah Dinner - which will be held at Beth Ora on Friday night, December 30th - deadline for booking through the office is tomorrow! We also invite you to join us for a Havdalah/Chanukah Lighting Extravaganza at Beth Ora, this Saturday evening at 5:30pm. Please join us for this indoor community Havdalah candle lighting ceremony which will be followed by a special lighting of our outdoor chanukiah. Refreshments will be served. In addition to the articles we linked to in our Chanukah e-newsletter, you can find some great articles on Chanukah here. Last Shabbat, I spoke in synagogue about how our matriarch Rachel represents the quintessential Jewish mother showing love for her descendants and how this carries a message for all of us as to our responsibility to pass on Judaism to the next generation. You can see more on this idea on our website, here. Wishing you a warm and peaceful Shabbat and a Happy Chanukah, Rabbi Anthony and Carly Knopf Dovid, Rachelli, Yehuda and Avrami

What's the Deal with....Jews and Cremation Burial of the dead is considered a very important mitzvah. Deuteronomy 21:23 mentions a case in which an evil criminal is put to death and stipulates that, even under those circumstances, 'you shall surely bury him.' Even the High Priest who generally avoided contact with all forms of death, was obligated to give the dead a proper burial if there was no one else to do so. This commandment to bury the dead is codified in the Jewish legal texts. Throughout our history, Jews have been particular to bury their dead rather than cremating. About 2,000 years ago, the Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote that 'the Jews bury rather than burn their dead.' To this day, the Israel Defense Forces spend a great deal of time, energy, money and resources trying to ensure proper Jewish burial for its fallen soldiers. In the 19th century, a major debate erupted between rabbinic scholars following the emergence of new cremation methods. A few Italian scholars argued that cremation did not violate Jewish law as long as the ashes were properly buried. However, the nearly unanimous consensus of scholars firmly banned the practice. Arguing that cremation is a desecration of the body, these writers referred to the Talmudic story that viewed the burning of King Jehoiakim's remains as the ultimate punishment. Many scholars also refer to Kaballistic ideas that hold that the soul is still concerned with the body after death. In mainstream Jewish thought, the body and soul are seen as partners as it is the body that enables the soul to dwell in the world and fulfil its mission. This is a very important consideration because, as the Talmud emphasizes, 'burial is not for the sake of the living, but rather for the dead.' Opposition to cremation became so intense that many scholars in Germany and elsewhere declared that cremated bodies were not entitled to burial in Jewish cemeteries as cremation is the ultimate rejection of Jewish beliefs and practices. Several scholars responded, however, that cremation is no worse than Shabbat desecration or many other transgressions. According to them, burial in the cemetery should be allowed, albeit in a separate section. In 2005, the first cremation society was formed in Israel. Many Israelis believed that, in addition to the religious arguments mentioned above, that this practice was insensitive in light of the Holocaust and this sentiment has reduced the popularity of cremation in Israel.

#Chanukah #havdalah #Rachel #cremation #burial

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