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I just had a discussion with a friend about this organization, which proposes to inter human bodies in a giant composter (from which the family can retrieve the compost later) instead of burying them in individual graves. Would this be a kosher burial (or could it be kosher under the right circumstances)? If not, why not?

EDIT: It's been suggested that this question is a duplicate of this one. It's not. That question is about cremation. This one is not about cremation. They are both about the appropriate treatment of human corpses, but cremation and decomposition are completely different situations, and it doesn't make sense to generalize from one to the other. Thus it's not a duplicate, QED.

  • A very original question. I heard that in Chazal someone wanted to make a carpet with his father. So, i I remember, the conclusion was that there is a ban to make any use of the body after death. If I found it I will post an answer. – kouty Apr 3 '16 at 19:23
  • related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/68859/1713 – Daniel Apr 3 '16 at 19:44
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    @kouty It's Mishna that they were Gozeir Tumah on human skin even after it is processed into leather to avoid people making carpets out of relatives. – Double AA Apr 3 '16 at 22:09
  • @kouty What counts as use here? I mean, in a traditional cemetery the bodies decompose into the soil and nourish the grass & trees. How different would this be? – crmdgn Apr 3 '16 at 22:10
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    @sabbahillel It's not possible to be a duplicate when the question doesn't mention cremation. Letting bodies rot naturally before moving the remains in order to save space is actually the traditional form of Jewish burial, unlike cremation. – Double AA Apr 3 '16 at 23:24
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Make fertilizer with a deceased body...

A quick outline of answer, or rather a strong intuition. First: facultative references copied from massoret Hashass Chulin 122a (each page is for the Tosfot primarily)

  • Chulin 122a
    Mishnah:…if any of these skins was tanned or trampled upon as much as [was usual] for tanning, it becomes clean, excepting the skin of a man. R' johanan b. nuri says, the eight reptiles have [real] skins. Gemara Ulla said: According to the law of the Torah the skin of a man is clean, but for what reason did they say it was unclean? As a precautionary measure lest a man make rugs out of the skin of his father and mother.
  • Zevachim 71b
  • Nidah 55a
  • Baba-Kama 10a
  • Arachin 4a
  • Sanhedrin 48a
    Rabeynu Tam explains that despite that a dead is banned from profit, Chachomim decreed an uncleaness because people are attentive to uncleannes more than that are attentive to ban
  • See Tosfot Sanhedrin 48A, the first of the page. 1) make profit from human body is banned 2) Chachomim made a special effort to reinforce the obedience 3) The concerning with the body of deceased father for the riding , donkey is pointed by the Gemara (Ula, Chulin 122A) this is a signpost. The concerning with bodies ... does that ring a bell? ... crematory oven. My quick hunch is that they want to deny the respect of mankind. The sages of the Talmud know how to teach through clear allusions (riding, donkey) what is hidden (consciously or unconsciously) beyond human behavior, a desire to humiliate, to deny. (remember that when father and mother are alive, there is strong mitsva to honor and fear them).

    • Far be it from me to question Chazal, but why would they be worried that a man would make rugs out of the skins of his parents? That seems like a pretty unlikely scenario, to put it mildly. – crmdgn Apr 4 '16 at 12:52
    • @crmdgn I agree that this quite shocking. It's a powerful image. We are forced to make a pause for though. – kouty Apr 4 '16 at 12:58
    • That's not the point I'm making. The scenario in the mishna would never actually happen. So why is it a basis for halacha? – crmdgn Apr 4 '16 at 15:54
    • @crmdgn I am not going to pretend I know. Thats why I was talking about intuition. There is a tentation, there is a risk; I accept the idea. Chachomim prevented. More idea Chamor ~ Chomer. Parents are linked to Hashem, function of causality. Bits and pieces. no more. – kouty Apr 4 '16 at 16:58
    • Quelle tentation? Quelle risque? – crmdgn Apr 4 '16 at 17:10
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    The body must be buried without being cut up. Even an autopsy should be avoided if possible. Composting which is the treating of a body as if it is garbage to be disposed of is most similar to cremation.

    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.

    For example The Interment By Maurice Lamm

    Jewish law is unequivocal in establishing absolutely, and uncompromisingly, that the dead must be buried in the earth. Man's body returns to the earth as it was.

    The blood and limbs of an individual are considered by Jewish law to be part of the human being. As such, they require burial. If the deceased was found with severed limbs, or with blood-stained clothes, both the limbs and the clothes must be buried with him.

    If limbs were amputated during one's lifetime, they require burial in the person's future gravesite. If he does not own a plot as yet, or if he is squeamish in this regard, it should be buried in a separate plot, preferably near the graves of members of his family. The limbs are cleansed and placed in the earth. No observance of mourning is necessary.

    Donation of Limbs to Hospitals

    Jewish law generally discourages contribution of one's limbs to hospitals. If one has absolutely stipulated that a limb be donated for medical research, the question of following his will depends on many details, and requires rabbinic research. It is best, therefore, to consult an expert on Jewish law. At any rate, even if it were permitted, the limb would require burial when it is no longer in use by the medical institution.

    • PTIJ are out of season i thought... the only similarity composting shares with cremation it also shares with burial (landfills are indeed where most of our garbage goes) – Double AA Apr 3 '16 at 23:21
    • In this scenario the body is not treated as garbage, but buried as you describe; the only difference is that in this case the earth the body is buried in is inside a giant composting tower. That being case, the body is "returning to the earth," as it would otherwise. – crmdgn Apr 4 '16 at 0:21

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