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In the event that a deceased individual is willfully cremated, a common p'sak I have heard many times is that the relatives do not sit Shiva as one normally does for the deceased. In particular, practices like having a minyan in the house are not followed, but other expressions of grief are allowed (aninus is in the lev). Conversely, if we find out after the fact that a relative died (drowned at sea or died in the wilderness, for instance) one would presumably engage in the normative processes of mourning.

What is the source for this differentiation in the halachos of mourning for those who chose cremation?

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    If you could add a source reference, online or otherwise, to substantiate your claim that this happens (aside from "I have heard many times") that would improve your question seeking an explanation for that practice. – Double AA Sep 20 '16 at 16:23
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It has nothing to do with whether the person had a Jewish burial. As you said, we find plenty of cases in halacha of a person who drowned or was killed in some fashion that a Jewish burial was not available; we still sit shiva. If a Jew slipped and fell into a furnace, God forbid; the family would absolutely sit shiva, even if the body was completely burned up.

I've never heard of such a practice concerning cremation, but if so, it would be based on how someone applied Shulchan Aruch YD345:5:

Those who deviate from the ways of the community, i.e. people who have thrown off the responsibility of mitzvoth from their shoulders, and are not included in the Jewish people concerning rituals, holidays, synagogues, or schools -- rather, they choose to be "their own free people, like all the non-Jewish nations" ... we do not exercise mourning rituals for them.

Some could read that if a Jew ordered that his remains be cremated, he would fall in this category. As sabaHillel quoted, the Munkatcher Rebbe (early 1900s, Minchas Elazar 2:34) has a fiery diatribe against cremation. And it is obvious to anyone who's studied a day that such people have deviated from the ways of the community and don't believe in the resurrection of the dead and any such thing, and should obviously not be mourned! I would point out that a hundred years ago, it was a very harsh, shockingly-deviant-from-the-normal statement for a Jew to sign up for cremation.

Obviously different communities and rabbis will have different readings of who fits the above category. In my humble opinion, someone who went to synagogue on High Holidays; had a Passover seder every year; gave some charity through the Federation; gave their kids a bar/bat mitzvah lessons; and then elected cremation because half the Jews they knew got it? I don't think YD345:5 was talking about them.

  • +1 It's not unreasonable to further suspect extra emphasis was being placed on that Halakha by cremation LiMigdar Milta, to try and encourage people not to do it by emphasizing strong language and consequences. – Double AA Sep 20 '16 at 17:22
  • @DoubleAA agreed; sadly, that horse is out of the barn. – Shalom Sep 20 '16 at 17:31
  • Yes I found a reference to a tinok shenishba. However, Ohr Sameach seems to say that even in that case someone should not sit shivah though the ashes may be buried. See the difference in wording between should not sit shivah and nor is one obliged to bury their ashes. The question as asked does seem to imply that the mother could be a tinok shenishba. – sabbahillel Sep 20 '16 at 18:14
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The source for this difference is that a person has deliberately transgressed the Will of his creator. We are commanded to treat the body with respect and to bury it in the Earth because it was created from the Earth in order to house the soul. Note that this is only when this horrible act is done of the person's own free will (at the request of the person before he died). If it was done through malice (by others) then the ashes can be reburied in a Jewish cemetery as an act of respect towards the mais.

In the past, cremation was regarded as a deliberate attempt to deny resurrection of the dead and the coming of the mashiach, if not denial of the very existence of Hashem.

There are references that a "tinok shenishba" (ignorant through lack of education) can have the ashes reburied. However, the Ohr Sameach "Ask the Rabbi" seems to say that even nowadays, one should not sit shiva for anyone who requests cremation. Note that the answer below does not differentiate between cases.

As a result, we see from a number of sources.

Cremation, Consequences

according to Jewish law, one should not "sit shiva" (observe Jewish mourning rites) for someone who was cremated voluntarily, nor is one obliged to bury their ashes. You will not be able to properly mourn for her, and no kaddish will be said for her. This may have an impact. In addition, the body of a voluntarily cremated person is not liable for resurrection; this is not so much because of the physical impediment, but rather in line with the concept that one who doesn't believe in resurrection will not experience it.

Cremation declares that this world is the beginning and end of Man. A basis of Jewish faith is that this is not true. The body is held on deposit, and together with the soul, it really belongs to G-d. G-d decides when and where a person should die, and what should be done with the body once it has fulfilled its "this-worldly" purpose.

Here are some of the reasons cremation is forbidden with the footnotes pointing to the Halachos involved. These help explain why someone should not sit shivah as explained in footnote 4

Why Does Jewish Law Forbid Cremation?

Jewish law ("Halachah") is unequivocal that the dead must be buried in the earth.1

As a deterrent measure,2 cremated remains are not interred in a Jewish cemetery.3 Furthermore, we are told that many of the traditional laws of mourning are not observed after the passing of an individual whose body was cremated.4 Kaddish, however, is recited for such individuals, and it is certainly appropriate to give charity and do mitzvot in memory of their souls.5

  1. Code of Jewish Law, Yorah Deah 348:3; 362:1.

  2. The rabbinic responsibility to institute ordinances to deter people from violating Biblical commands is referenced in Mishna, Avot 1:1; Talmud Yevamot 21a, based on Leviticus 18:30.

  3. Melamed L'hoil Vol 2 #114 (Responsa of Rabbi David Hoffman, 1843-1921, noted German authority on Jewish law.) Whether or not there is an obligation to bury the ashes elsewhere, in order to prevent further disgrace, is the subject of dispute between halachic authorities.

  4. This is based on the principle (quoted in the Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh De'ah 345:5) that we do not mourn after individuals who have "strayed from the ways of the community" (Responsa Minchat Elazar vol. 2 ch. 34).

  5. Chatam Sofer Responsa (by Rabbi Moses Sofer, 1762-1839, famed rabbi of Pressburg, Slovakia), vol. 3 (Even Ha'ezer 1) ch. 69.

Note the seriousness of this:

Our Sages teach that those who deny the notion of the resurrection will not merit to be resurrected45 within their own bodies, rather their souls will be enclothed in different bodies when that awaited day arrives.46

Based on this idea, many authorities conclude that a person who opts for cremation is subject to this consequence as well.47

(However, this applies only to such instances where the cremation was done at the behest of the deceased; only in such instances can it be said that the person rejected the notion of the resurrection, etc. Not too long ago six million of our people were denied proper burial, most of them cremated. Without a doubt these holy martyrs will be at the forefront of those who will return during the Messianic Redemption.)

45. Mishna, tractate Sanhedrin 10:1.

  1. See Igrot Kodesh by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 1 p.142-153.

  2. See Minchat Elazar responsa cited above in footnote 3.

He then summarizes the entire discussion and gives a number of reasons why cremation is wrong. The list is too long to put here, but can be found at the linked page.

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    95% of this post is just a rant about cremation, not answering the question. – Double AA Sep 20 '16 at 15:42
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    The only line here that is possibly relevant is "that we do not mourn after individuals who have 'strayed from the ways of the community'" which seems to include all non-religious Jews. Nothing specific to cremation. – Double AA Sep 20 '16 at 15:45
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    Regarding your summary - You quote YD, but say it's biblical? The article doesn't quote a possuk, only a rabbinic employment of uvechukosayhem, which you include later in the list. Technically, an ossuary would be the traditional method of burial. And none of this address the question itself of the practices of shiva, especially in the present day where those who are likely to request cremation are probably tinok shenishba. – Isaac Kotlicky Sep 20 '16 at 16:46
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    But having a false belief, however mistaken or misshapen, cannot be conflated with a failure to believe in resurrection or the soul. And if that belief is held independently from a system of worship (such as with general "spiritualism") then it's hard to see how that would even be avodah zarah, rather than a bitul aseh of Anochi Hashem! – Isaac Kotlicky Sep 20 '16 at 18:46
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    @IsaacKotlicky Plus we all know God is fully capable of reincarnating your body even if is burned/disintegrated/annihilated. The people who believe otherwise are the ones who are really being Kofeir in God's ability. Most people who cremate themselves today have none of the "lofty" intentions outlined in this answer. They just think it's nice/simple/ecological/etc. All we have left is they grama helped negate a Mitzva of Kevura. Of course, they also probably ate Treif their whole life. Seems like they have much bigger things to worry about. – Double AA Sep 20 '16 at 19:47

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