Born a Jew?
Burial takes you full circle.

No matter how “Jewishly” a person lived their life, choosing Jewish burial declares:

I am a Jew. And I choose to be buried as a Jew.

I choose this for the sake of my ancestors.
I choose this for the sake of my descendants.
I choose this for the sake of my body.
And I choose this for the sake of my soul.

See also Why Does Judaism Forbid Cremation?

Jewish burial tradition for thousands of years has considered an eventual interment in the sanctified grounds of a Jewish cemetery paragon in importance.  The Biblical Commandment, "To the ground you shall return" is one of the first directives recorded in Genesis.  Abraham the father of the Jewish people purchased what would become our forefather's ancestral burial grounds in the ancient city of Hebron in the holy land.  Later when his grandchildren dwelt in Egypt, Jacob and Joseph after him, made their progeny swear to bury their earthly remains in the ancestral land of Israel and not amongst the non-Jews.  To this day the holy burial sites of the Jewish people are visited not only in Israel but also throughout all of the lands of our exile.  One of the first communal activities of every Jewish community traditionally has been to establish a cemetery and the burial society responsible for its operation. 

The Jewish burial society, or Chevra Kadisha, was always considered one of the most important and holiest groups within any Jewish community. How is it possible that now nationally the majority of Jewish people are not only no longer being interred in accordance with Jewish traditions, but in some communities more than 50 percent are actually being cremated?

  To understand this unfortunate trend we must first view it in the framework of the larger issue of assimilation.  Quite often we find that the affected individual's subconscious desire is only to want to "go with the flow" of contemporary society.  Not sensing anything intrinsically wrong with behaving in accordance with the same customs as his fellow countrymen.  Many Jewish households place a tree up for what they refer to as, "The Holidays" each year, painting eggs in spring time or commemorating the Patron Saint of Love on Valentine's Day.  What is actually quite amazing is that the average Jewish American would totally deny that any of these observances are in anyway connected with religion.  What has developed as result of this is simply a natural progression to other more significant non-Jewish observances.
Cremation in its modern form is a relative newcomer to the American funeral industry.  Prior to World War II to a great extent the only cremation that occurred was limited to the destruction of medical waste and amputated body parts in hospital incinerators.  Cremation does have an ancient history and tradition in many religions and undoubtedly in some cultures it is considered the normal method for disposing of human remains.  In Western society however it was nearly unheard of, with the notable exception of horrendous public executions infamous for burning their victims.  It is actually quite amazing how in just one generation what was considered to be the greatest crime inflicted upon the physical bodies of the Jewish people by the Nazis should become a relatively accepted method of "burial".  

The amazing incongruence of this situation is emphasized when one realizes that the technology and method of cremation in America is basically the same as the one utilized in the concentration camps during the Holocaust.  Many of the actual engineers and their designs were imported only after World War II from Germany.        

The average person who considers cremation would be horrified to even imagine that the body of their loved one could be in any way damaged after death.  The idyllic media-influenced image of a "Gandhi Like" funeral fire blinds the American Jew to the horrific reality.   Cremation is the burning of a human being leaving only what is mostly a skeletal frame.   A device referred to as a bone crusher is then necessary to pulverize the charred skeleton into the appearance of ashes.
All of the aforementioned still does not take into consideration the importance of Jewish burial.  Both from the spiritual and heritage perspective how we honor our dead is of paramount importance. Our Torah teaches us that when G‑d created man he called him Adam, for from the Adamah, Hebrew for the Earth, G‑d made him.  Our Rabbis teach us of the spiritual importance of returning that physical part of us to its source in the Earth so that the spiritual soul can feel free to return to its source in Heaven.  It is also interesting to note that in accordance with Jewish tradition any object, which was utilized for a holy purpose, must be treated with reverence.  A Jewish person would never think, heaven forfend, of throwing a Bible, prayer shawl, or other sacred object in the trash.  These objects are ceremonially interred in what is called a Genizah at a Jewish Cemetery due to the honor that we hold them.  Surely a Jewish person whose mission is to bring a revelation of Godly light into the physical world deserves no less respect than the book or prayer shawl that he uses.
Of the Jews of Europe it is often said that in many places all that is left of them is their graves.  With assimilation, intermarriage and conversion the American Jewish population is at great risk of fading into history.  It seems, unfortunatly, that some of our brethren would not even leave a sign that we were ever here.  The time has come for us, so to speak, to make a line in the sand.  Through Jewish education, synagogue affiliation, and Jewish observance of our Mitzvot we can turn the tide against a potential national religious Holocaust.  Lets all work together to return to our beautiful Jewish Heritage in all of our ways.  The beauty of entering an eight day old baby into the covenant of Abraham, the joy that comes from raising children with the proper Jewish education, the community that comes with regular attendance in the house of worship and study, the satisfaction of charitable acts and yes, even the holy duty of guaranteeing that we don't place any more nails in the coffin of Jewish Heritage.




Many people are bothered by the idea of being buried in the ground. People don't like the idea of slowly decomposing or being "eaten by worms."

Cremation, by contrast, seems quick and clean.
The truth is, though, that cremation is neither quick nor clean.
Because the oven is closed and the process is not seen, it seems as if the horrors of open-air cremation don't exist. Perhaps we prefer not to think about it.

In the chamber, nothing has changed. Let's see what actually happens to the body.


Step 1: Checking the Body

Crematory workers poke the body to check for implants, pacemakers, hip replacements, etc. All of these can damage the oven equipment and are therefore cut out by crematory workers prior to the body being inserted into the oven.


Step 2: The Burning

The oven is heated to approximately 1,800 degrees. The body moves about (1), with expansion and contraction of muscles and sinews common due to the intense heat. After a short while, the body becomes dehydrated and bursts into flames. As described by W.E.D. Evans in The Chemistry of Death:

The coffin is introduced into the furnace where it rapidly catches fire, bulges and wraps, and the coffin sides may collapse and fall, exposing the remains to the direct effect of the flames. The skin and hair at once scorch, char and burn … the muscles slowly contract, and there may be a steady divarication of the thighs with gradually developing flexion of the limbs … Occasionally there is swelling of the abdomen before the skin and abdominal muscles char and split; the swelling is due to the formation of steam and the expansion of gases in the abdominal contents. Destruction of the soft tissues gradually exposes parts of the skeleton. The skull is soon devoid of covering, then the bones of limbs appear, commencing at the extremities of the limbs where they are relatively poorly covered by muscles or fat, and the ribs also become exposed. The small bones of the digits, wrists and ankles remain united by their ligaments for a surprising length of time, maintaining their anatomical relationship even though the hands and feet fall away from the adjacent long bones. The abdominal contents burn fairly slowly, and the lungs more slowly still … the brain is especially resistant to complete combustion during cremation of the body. Even when the vault of the skull has broken and fallen away, the brain has been seen as a dark, fused mass with rather sticky consistency, and the organ may persist in this form for most of the time required for the destruction of the remains … Eventually the spine becomes visible as the viscera disappear; the bones glow whitely [sic] in the flames, and the skeleton falls apart. Some bones fragment into pieces of various sizes while other bones remain whole. (2)

Put simply, cremation is not peaceful, quiet, or calm. It is a harsh, odorous (3), loud act of violence committed against the body of a human being, a recently deceased loved one.


Step 3: The Separation

Once the burning is complete and the remains cool down, bone fragments are separated from the rest of the remains. A simple (or blue-collar) crematory worker sifts through the remains by hand with a magnet to separate out any non-bone material such as dental fillings, bridge work, hip joints, etc.


Step 4: The Grinding

Next, the bone fragments are swept out and the crematory operator "processes them" into fine granules. Alternatively known as pulverizing or grinding, these processors use a rotating or grinding mechanism to chop the bones down to very fine powder.

Perhaps repulsed by the idea of grinding Grandma, the ancient Greeks and Romans did not pulverize bones, thus explaining why their urns were larger than modern ones. Today, grinding is standard practice in the United States and Western Europe.



Some people are squeamish about burial. Certainly, decomposition is not pretty to contemplate. However, decomposition is a natural process that occurs to all (formerly) living beings. Though not pretty, it is the natural way of the earth.

Cremation, on the other hand, is loud, violent, disgusting, and artificial.



The truth is that, in most cases, cremations are cheaper than funerals. Many American burials today can cost between $7,000 and $10,000, while the cheapest options for cremation can cost somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000.

Cremation isn't always cheaper. If mourners hold a funeral service and bury the ashes, the cost difference between cremation and burial is much smaller. In fact:

Sheri Richardson Stahl, director of Island Funeral Home in Beaufort, S.C., explained that, "Plenty of times, cremations are just as expensive as burials." (4)

Also, some people who choose cremation are relatively well-to-do and the financial advantages of choosing cremation are not a major part of their decision-making process. (5) Still, there is little doubt that one of the major factors motivating people to choose cremation in recent years is the issue of cost.

Consider the phenomenon of direct cremation. In this type of cremation, a cremation company is contacted online or by telephone. They send someone to pick up the body, bring it to the crematorium, and deliver to the bereaved family a small can (6) full of cremated remains. Costs are often between $1,000 and $2,000. While it is possible to conduct a parallel "direct burial," and doing so is easy to arrange, it is still more expensive than direct cremation.

If cremation is cheaper, why bury?

First of all, practically, there are ways of managing funeral costs:

  • By planning ahead and choosing a pre-need plan with installments, things are usually very affordable, even for families who are not particularly wealthy.

  • Relatives can be of assistance in helping loved ones achieve their final resting place.

  • Finally, if you need to make decisions in the midst of grief, talk to your local Rabbi, Jewish funeral home, and Chevra Kadisha to find out how to make it happen.

  • Money should not stop anyone from receiving a proper Jewish burial, and rarely does.

At a deeper level, burial is worth the extra money.