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Harriet Berkal: What to do when your number is up?

March 28, 2023

 

Sadly, like all living things, we too have expiration dates.

 

For many Jews the decision for burial is based on tradition and ritual. You perish and are picked up by the Chesed Shel Emes and your body is always watched over, with great respect before the funeral. Then the ritual of Tahara is performed with such dignity. The body is treated carefully as each step is executed with tremendous care from: washing it clean, placing the shroud on it, to tying knots with the string forming the letter “shin” for Shaddai - meaning the “Almighty”.

 

Every measure is taken to handle the deceased with the utmost of regard and honour before they are laid to rest. A group of male volunteers trained in the practise look after the male bodies and only women handle any female who has passed away.

 

This custom and observance, has taken place for centuries and most of us don’t either know about it or don’t give it much  thought.

 

Traditional Jewish burial has meant that children and grandchildren of the deceased can visit a tombstone and lay a stone marking their presence there, which for many is a comforting thought.

 

But in 2023,  some Jews are not choosing  the traditional Tahara (cleansing of the body) and Jewish burial, but instead are choosing to be cremated, even though cremation is not endorsed by most Rabbis.


Recently, I have been invited to two funerals where Jews have been cremated, and I am wondering if I may be invited to more in the future. As  intermarriage in the Jewish community is on the rise, I have wondered whether it’s possible that we may see more Jews consider the possibility of cremation, rather than committing to traditional Jewish burial. Some may decide to consider cremation  for financial reasons since it is a cheaper option, although I still think most Jews I know will not make this decision simply based on finances. 

 

 

Some Jews are quite frankly not religious, see themselves as on the whole secular, nor are they aware of what is involved in the beautiful and sacred ritual of Taharah (At the bottom of this article I’ve attached a link to Saul Henteleff’s educational film called “My Jewish Death" which examines the the ritual of  Tahara, which refers to the actual cleaning of the body and preparation for a Jewish burial- or in other words, making one pure for burial.) Many aren’t aware what occurs exactly to their parents and loved one before they are laid to rest. I strongly encourage all to watch this tremendous film, which is so informative plus emotional to take in. You may have no idea how the body is prepared.

 

There may be some Jews who are swayed by environmental issues, who do not wish to use land for burial and so cremation resolves that factor. Still others may consider the "green option" of composting a body or  donating  for medical education or scientific research. 

 

Both cremation funerals I was at were facilitated by Temple Shalom. At both there were prayers for the deceased said and there was a eulogy and the Kaddish was recited.  

 

Donating organs has traditionally not been allowed under Judaism, but if you donate organs you are still allowed to undergo Tahara. Those who donate organs may feel they are helping to potentially save another life. 

 

There is no Tahara with cremation. Jews in the Holocaust who  were murdered and  cremated were denied the  

their sacred right to Tahara.
 

May all of us be a blessed memory for our loved ones when the time arrives. 

 

While most of this article has dealt with the subject of death, we must remember that Judaism is a religion that focuses on Life-Le Chayim.! Enjoy your time and journey on earth as it doesn’t last forever. Don’t waste a minute living your life to the fullest.


The link to Saul Henteleff’s enlightening film is below: 

https://nsi-canada.ca/film/my-jewish-death/

 

 

 

 
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