jewish Funeral Guide

Jewish Cemetery

Cremation

Jewish law requires burial in the ground and prohibits cremation. Most people do not realize how the body is treated during cremation. They do not know, for example, that the skeletal frame is not burned completely. A special device — a bone crusher — is subsequently required to be able to pulverize the charred skeleton to give it the appearance of ashes. Imagine how a soul feels when it sees its body burned and crushed! This causes tremendous pain to the soul and most definitely contradicts the Jewish law requirement of Kavod HaMet / כבוד המת — dignified treatment of human remains above.
Cremation is rooted in the pagan funeral rites. It was never a Jewish practice, as testified by Tacitus, the ancient Roman historian, who remarked that Jews buried, rather than burned their dead (Tacitus, Historiae, Vol. 5). Cremation precludes atonement through disintegration of the body into the ground. In Jewish tradition, evil, harmful things are destroyed by burning, while worn out but pure and saintly things, such as a worn Torah scroll, deserve an honorable interment. The expressed will of a Jew to be cremated should be ignored. If the request to be cremated is fulfilled, the survivors are not obligated to mourn or even recite Kaddish / קדיש for the deceased. Cremated ashes may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery, unless the cremation was done against the will of the deceased, e.g., during a war. Cremation chosen out of ignorance of Jewish law may sometimes be judged as involuntary. In such cases, a competent rabbi should be consulted.

Burial of Limbs

There is a Mitzvah / מצוה to bury the dead body in its entirety including all the limbs and blood. If some of the limbs were severed and left unburied, the Mitzvah of burial is not fulfilled, as ruled in the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Nazir 33a. The bloodstained clothes of the deceased must also be buried with the body. If limbs were amputated during one's lifetime, they must be cleaned and buried. No burial rites or observance of mourning is required for the burial of limbs. However, some Sephardim have a custom to preserve an amputated limb until the time of death and then bury it with the rest of the body.