Orthodox prohibition against cremation?

My mom’s dying. An Orhodox rabbi has told my poor father to disregard her wishes to be creamated on the grounds that she will go to hell if she does. What is the Reform / Conservative position on creamation? I admit I’m furious here. What kind of human being gives a poor man grief over following his wife’s wishes for her death? She left instructions IN WRITING that she wanted to be creamated. And this asshole rabbi is my brother’s rabbi and telling my dad to ignore them. My mom was culturally Jewish but did not keep kosher or adhere to any other strictures of orthodoxy.

Find another rabbi. My grandfather and grandmother were cremated. The only thing the rabbi insisted upon was that it be done after the services (which had coffins).

You misunderstood something. He couldn’t have said that cremation would send her to hell, there really is no concept of hell in Judaism. The prohibition on cremation is because if you’re cremated, there is no possibility of resurrection after the Mashiach comes.

I agree, find another rabbi. The only things that matter are your mother’s wishes and the family’s peace of mind.


This explains the prohibition on cremation in Judaism in depth.

Chabad does NOT speak for all Jews. They are Orthodox. My mother was not. Her wishes should not go ignored.

I’ll have to call my own rabbi tomorrow. I spoke to the orthodox rabbi tonight. He’s a jackass who told me that we should ignore my mom’s wishes on the grounds that she was ignorant of judaism. Bastard. My mom was raised Orthodox. She had friends who were Orthodox her whole life. She knew Orthodoxy and she hated Orthodoxy. I told the idiot rabbi you might as well baptise her as ask her to follow the strictures of a religious sect she loathed. He told me he forgives me for being married to a non-Jew.

Ugh. What a fucking asshole! How dare he put my father in the position of ignoring my mother’s expressed wishes or feeling guilty about not being a good enough Jew! He said that I didn’t really know what my mother wanted. Yeah. She put it in writing but none of us know.


Seriously, find another rabbi. Even if the Orthodox rabbi disagrees with you, he could at least be a teeny bit sensitive.

First of all, my condolences on your impending loss. I wish you comfort.

The rabbi in question might have been a jerk, but he’s right that cremation is not permitted according to Torah law. Terr is correct about the issue being future resurrection rather than Hell (though the concept of punishment for sins after death does exist in Judaism, even if the “Hell” of Milton and Dante don’t - heck how much of that is actually valid Christian theology is questionable as well).

If your family is not Orthodox, I don’t know why an Orthodox rabbi would have been the one advising you in the first place. If your mother’s written wishes are more important to you than religious tradition, then you were going to obey them anyway, so why do you need to shop for an agreeable clergy-person? Conversely, if the reason you spoke to an Orthodox rabbi is because you’re concerned about the state of her soul after death despite not being religious, then what do you gain by getting a hand-picked rabbi to rubber-stamp the decision you wanted, rather than actually listening to the rabbi’s information on religious doctrine, even if it’s not what you wanted to hear?

I did not consult the rabbi in question. My brother did. We were raised Reform but my brother has decided that Orthodoxy is his path. The problem is that is it HIS path not my mom’s. To specifically attempt to convince my father to ignore my mom’s written wishes is ethically and morally wrong.

I want another rabbi to talk to my father and let him know that his wife’s wishes should be obeyed and that it is okay to do so Jewishly.This rabbi is being a jerk. I don’t know what happens to the soul after death. But I don’t want my father to ignore his wife’s written wishes and feel horribly guilty afterwards.

If by “Jewishly” you mean Reform Judaism then yes, barely. But if not, then no, it is not okay to do so “Jewishly”. So when you rabbi-shop, make sure to find a Reform one.

I never understood this. Is this a limit on god’s power? Or is he offended, and just not want to?

Holy moley. Just goes to show there’s no monopoly on the attitude of who cares if people suffer pain as long as I Know I Speak for God. But the big issue seems to be more with your brother, who has decided he needs to “save” the rest of his family by following strict orthodoxy. No objective answers to THAT so I’ll leave it at this.

From Terr’s link:

Judaism says honor thy father and mother. I am trying to do that by making sure that her wishes in regards to her death are carried out. I am not a halackic scholar. But I think asking an old man mourning his wife to ignore his wife’s wishes is simply disgusting and not exactly in the spirit of Judaism.

Well, I want that. A taller one, without the acid reflux, allergies, or tendency to gain weight, would sure be nice. Maybe I will plan to be cremated after all :wink:

I’m pretty sure that doing this is a much worse sin than being cremated.

He could have said that. He could be ignorant as well as being a jerk.

You can’t justify following one halacha (honor thy father and mother) by breaking another halacha (no cremations). I believe the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, (the greatest halachic expert of the past generation) once specifically ruled on a case where someone who was dying asked to be buried upside down. Rabbi Feinsten said we don’t follow last wishes if they are against halacha.

There’s a concept in Judaism of kavod hamayt, or respecting the body of the person who died. The body is prepared by ritually bathing it and then wrapping it in a specific manner in shrouds. It is then buried as quickly as possible. The group of people who perform these tasks is called the chevra kadisha.

Cremating the body (or altering it in any way) is not considered kavod hamayt, which is one reason why observant Jews won’t do it. The main reason is as Terr stated.

He could not have received his smicha (the rabbi “diploma”) being ignorant on religious matters.


I’m sorry to hear your brother is being pushy like this. But do remember that his loss is the same as your loss, and that his religion - specifically, the belief that he might be re-united with your mother in the resurrection future - offers him comfort at this time, as much as obeying your mother’s wishes might be to you and your father.

You profess to not know what the ultimate fate of the soul is after death, but your brother clearly feels he does (to some degree). Perhaps before going ahead with the cremation you should be thinking about a quasi-Pascal’s wager here:

  1. There’s certainly no religious imperative TO cremate (unless your mother, after rejecting Orthodox Judaism, took up Hindu or ancient Viking)
  2. If your brother and the Orthodox Rabbi are right, then after death, she’d learn the truth and be regretting a cremation and be happy to have been buried intact
  3. If they’re wrong, then either
    a) The soul has no further awareness of Earthly existence after death in which case, the port-mortem disposition of her body is purely for the comfort of the living, and your brother is also one of the affected mourners, or
    b) The soul maintains some degree of awareness of what happened on Earth, in which case, she’d know that your brother’s insistence on burial was made out of genuine concern (however misplaced) for her ultimate fate.

Unless the relationship between your brother (granted, he’s been a dick about how he handled this particular matter, but maybe in general you guys get along) and the rest of your family is particularly acrimonious and spiteful, I’d suggest that there is more to be gained from maintaining a harmonious relationship with, and comfort in mourning for, a living brother than from honoring the wishes of a dead mother. Perhaps your father would agree with that. And who knows, if his religious views are correct, you’ve done her a favor as well.

What about people who die in fires?

From the Chabad page that I cited above:

It is important to note that according to Jewish law, a person is only held accountable for his/her actions when they are done willingly, and with full cognizance of their implications.

Therefore, all the above does not apply to an individual who was cremated against his will.