Jewish Views on Cremation

Judaism is a deeply rooted faith established thousands of years ago. Within this faith community, there are sometimes differences of opinion. Traditional burial is a time-honored practice in Judaism, but the number of Jews choosing cremation is growing.

A family may choose cremation because it's seen as a more affordable option. Others appreciate the flexibility it allows for busy, modern lives. It's certainly not the best choice for all families, especially those who prefer to be closely aligned to their faith traditions.

The decision to cremate or not to cremate is a personal one—to be made thoughtfully by your family. Those of the Jewish faith should also seek the advice of a rabbi.

Can Jewish people be cremated?

The answer to this question is complex and varies depending on whom you ask. There are rabbis from every denomination who do not accept cremation. Many Reform rabbis, most Conservative rabbis and virtually all Orthodox rabbis oppose cremation. Orthodox Jews believe in the physical resurrection of the body when the Messiah comes. This can happen only if the body is whole. In the event of cremation, it is no longer intact.

Opinions within the different Jewish communities are often based on the scripture found in the Book of Genesis (3:19), in which God says to Adam, “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Orthodox Jews oppose cremation, strongly believing that bodies should return to the earth. Many believe that the act of cremation dishonors the body. Some in other sects believe that as long as a loved one’s ashes are buried, they have been properly returned to the earth.

Do rabbis believe in cremation?

Though there may be no Jewish laws specifically prohibiting cremation, many rabbis believe that cremation is forbidden. They feel that Jewish Law requires the burial of your loved one, and that God does not approve of cremation. And while some rabbis may not consider cremation a serious violation, they may advise families to follow the tradition of burial set forth by the Bible.

In Jewish communities with strict observance, the rabbi may forbid the burial of a loved one’s ashes in the Jewish cemetery. Orthodox rabbis may also refuse to participate in the ceremony and assume a family is forgoing the traditional laws of mourning. If a loved one wanted to be cremated, you may not be obligated to honor their wishes.

In Conservative communities, the rabbi may counsel a family to avoid cremation. However, if the family chooses to go against the rabbi's advice, the rabbi might still officiate the ceremony but elect not to be present during the interment of the ashes.

Rabbis in Reform congregations may be more involved in your family’s mourning if you decide to honor your loved one’s wish to be cremated. Some Reform rabbis believe that the body isn’t literally resurrected and that cremation hasn’t been forbidden by the Torah or Jewish Law. As a result, a growing number of Reform Jews are choosing to be cremated.

Can Kaddish be said for a loved one who was cremated?

Kaddish is a prayer traditionally recited to honor a loved one who has died. Because some rabbis will refuse to hold a funeral for someone who has been cremated, reciting the Kaddish may also be discouraged. The first Kaddish is publicly said in the synagogue by those in mourning—as defined by the Jewish tradition.

In Reform congregations, the entire congregation may recite Kaddish together, whether the loved one has been buried or cremated. Again, if you are unsure if you should say Kaddish for a loved one who chose to be cremated, talk with your rabbi.

Plan a Jewish service

The decision to bury or cremate will be one of the more important decisions you make, whether for yourself or a loved one. Seek the advice of a trusted rabbi who shares your level of observance. Once you've decided, your funeral director will make the planning process as easy as possible.