When A Parent Requests Cremation


A man, who is approaching death, has instructed that his body be cremated. His children are very uncomfortable with this request. They ask whether, under Jewish tradition, they are obliged to honor it, or are they entitled to bury him intact, in contradiction to his express wishes? Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof has ruled that in such a case we apply the Talmudic dictum “it is a mitzvah to fulfill the wishes of the deceased” (B. Gitin 40a and elsewhere). I wonder, however, if a more nuanced approach is better suited to a case such as this, where the children have strong religious objections to their father’s instruction? (Rabbi David Katz, Binghamton, NY)


In the responsum that our sho’el mentions, Rabbi Freehof rules that “we should urge” the family to carry out a father’s wish to be cremated.[1] He acknowledges that the principle “it is a mitzvah to fulfill the wishes of the deceased” is not absolute; we are in fact forbidden to fulfill the wishes of the deceased if he or she instructs us to commit a transgression against Jewish law.[2] Thus, an Orthodox rabbi would surely rule against the request: “since cremation is contrary to Jewish law, the man’s wish contravenes the law and may not be carried out.” However, since the question has been posed to a Reform rabbi, “the answer cannot be so clear-cut.” For us, cremation does not necessarily “contravene the law”; the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) resolved in 1892 that “in case we should be invited to officiate” at a cremation, “we ought not to refuse on the plea that cremation be anti-Jewish or irreligious.”[3] Rabbi Freehof notes that there is no clear and obvious prohibition against cremation in the sources of Jewish law and that “the Orthodox agitation against cremation actually began about a century ago” in response to the growing movement toward cremation in Western societies. Indeed, “when one studies the (Orthodox) arguments adduced against cremation, one can see that they are forced.” On this basis, Rabbi Freehof concludes that Reform Jews can have no principled religious objections to cremation. In the instant case, unless the man’s family is Orthodox, we should counsel them to honor his instruction. “Surely, if we officiate at a cremation, we cannot refrain from fulfilling or encouraging the fulfillment of a man’s wish for this type of disposal of his body.”

We have quoted at length from Rabbi Freehof’s responsum because we do not want to minimize the challenge that faces us. Our sho’el is asking that we rule against our teacher, and we are ordinarily reluctant to do so.[4] We would argue, though, that the times demand a different response. For one thing, the situation is no longer “so clear-cut”; the Reform position on cremation is more complex today than it was when Rabbi Freehof wrote his teshuvah. We also think that our attitude toward the maintenance and encouragement of traditional forms of Jewish observance has changed quite a bit over the last several decades. For these reasons, we hold that the children in this case may well be entitled to act upon their own religious beliefs and not to fulfill their father’s request.

In order to make this argument, we shall have to consider, first of all, the attitude of Jewish law and tradition toward cremation as a means of the disposal of human remains. We shall then look at the developing Reform Jewish attitude toward cremation as expressed in the literature of the CCAR. Finally, we shall consider this particular case in the context of Jewish tradition, Reform Jewish practice, and the ethical obligations that the children may owe to their dying father.

1. Cremation in Jewish Law. There is no explicit requirement in the Biblical text that the dead be buried rather than cremated. The sources make clear that burial was the normative practice in ancient Israel,[5]  but nowhere do we find an express prohibition of the burning of the corpse. The Rabbis understand burial to be a requirement of Torah law, derived from Deuteronomy 21:23.[6] Maimonides codifies the law as follows: “If the deceased gave instructions that his body not be buried, we ignore him, inasmuch as burial is a mitzvah, as the Torah says (Deut. 21:23), ‘you shall surely bury him.’”[7] Yet like the Bible, the Talmud and the classical halakhic literature contain no explicit prohibition of cremation. The subject seems almost never to have come up, most likely because cremation was simply not practiced by the Jews and no one thought to ask whether it was permitted or forbidden.[8] The silence lasted until the nineteenth century, “when cremation became an ideal that was agitated for through many societies in the western lands.”[9] At that time, the leading halakhic authorities condemned cremation as a transgression against Jewish law, an opinion that remains the consensus viewpoint.[10] This prohibitive opinion rests primarily on two halakhic grounds. First, cremation does not fulfill the commandment to bury the dead, based as we have seen on Deuteronomy 21:23. Burial of the cremains would not rectify this, since the mitzvah of burial applies to the body itself and not to its ashes.[11] Second, Jewish tradition mandates kevod hamet, that we treat the corpse with honor and respect, and it regards the burning of a body as an act of nivul (or bizayon) hamet, contemptible treatment of a corpse.[12] Other arguments include the prohibition against imitating Gentile customs (chukot hagoyim)[13] and the contention that cremation is tantamount to an act of heresy in that it denies the belief in techiyat hametim, the physical resurrection of the dead.[14]

These arguments may or may not be “forced,” as Rabbi Freehof describes them. Some of them may be more persuasive than others. What is certain, though, is that Orthodox authorities are united in the opinion that cremation violates traditional Jewish law, an opinion shared by Conservative[15] and Reform[16] writers.
2. Cremation in the Literature of the CCAR. Our Conference has published a number of statements with respect to cremation.

a. The 1892 resolution, referred to above, declares that “in case we should be invited to officiate as ministers of religion at the cremation of a departed co-religionist, we ought not to refuse on the plea that cremation be anti-Jewish or anti-religion.”[17] The resolution followed upon the report of a special committee, chaired by Rabbi Bernard Felsenthal, that had been appointed to study the issue. The report made two essential points. First, it demonstrated at some length that the practice of cremation was contrary to Jewish law and tradition.[18] Second, it sought to avoid the substantive issue of whether to endorse cremation as a method for disposal of human remains. “The writer of this does not wish to be understood that he pleads for cremation. He also does not oppose it.” Since a rabbi is not “a competent expert” in the matter of whether cremation is “preferable” to burial, the only motion “in order in a rabbinical conference” is one that calls upon rabbis, whatever their position concerning cremation, to provide pastoral care for those of their people who do choose the procedure.[19]

b. The 1961 Rabbi’s Manual, recounting the 1892 resolution, states: “Since that time, most Reform Jews have gone beyond this cautious tolerance and have accepted cremation as an entirely proper procedure. A number of leading Reform rabbis have requested that their bodies be cremated.”[20] In its section on funeral liturgy the Manual contains a prayer suggested for recitation when “the body is to be cremated.”[21]

c. The 1974 responsum of Rabbi Freehof discussed at the beginning of our teshuvah.

d. Gates of Mitzvah, a guide to Reform Jewish life-cycle observance published in 1979, stresses that “while both cremation and entombment in mausoleums are acceptable in Reform Judaism, burial is the normative Jewish practice.”
e. In1980 the CCAR Responsa Committee appended a comment to the 1892 resolution. It notes that the resolution “remains unchallenged policy within our Conference,” but adds: “In this generation of the Holocaust we are sensitive to terrible images associated with the burning of a body. Rabbis may, therefore, choose to discourage the option of cremation. The practice remains permissible, however, for our families.”[22]

f. The current Rabbi’s Manual, published in 1988, states: “We continue to stress that burial is the time-honored Jewish way of disposing of the dead... However, the practice of cremation has lately spread, for a number of reasons. We would reiterate that it ought to be discouraged if possible, especially in our generation which has seen the murderous dispatch of millions of our people by way of crematoria. If, however, cremation has been decided upon by the family, we should not refuse to officiate. It is suggested in such cases that the service be held at an appropriate place and not at a crematorium.”

g. A 1990 responsum notes: “Reform Jewish practice permits cremation... although... we would, after the Holocaust, generally discourage it because of the tragic overtones.”[23]

The record of these statements suggests a perceptible shift of attitude toward cremation within North American Reform Judaism during recent decades. While our earlier pronouncements accept cremation as permissible or even as “entirely proper,” the Conference since 1979 has pulled back from that affirmative stance. Although acknowledging that the 1892 resolution remains on the books and that Reform Jewish practice “permits” cremation, our more recent statements call upon rabbis to actively “discourage” the practice. This negative position is based upon two threads of argument: that burial is the normative traditional Jewish practice and that, after the Holocaust, cremation has become associated with one of the darkest periods in Jewish and human history.

These threads of argument, in turn, reflect two important transformations in the way that many Reform Jews have come to think about their religious lives and decisions. The first has to do with the positive reevaluation of “tradition.” In the past, the fact that a particular observance was “traditional” or accepted Jewish practice did not in and of itself recommend that observance to Reform Jews. Indeed, we were quite ready to dispense with any such practices that were “not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization” and that “fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness.”[24] It is for this reason that Rabbi Felsenthal could argue both that cremation was a transgression against traditional Jewish law and that this fact was irrelevant to Reform Jewish thinking on the subject:

Joseph Qaro’s Code is of no obligatory authority to you. The Talmud is of no obligatory authority to you. Even the laws of the Bible as such are of no obligatory authority to you... Shall we for the sake of the living inquire of the dead? Shall we for the sake of the living open the old folios, and submit to what they have said hundreds of years ago under quite different conditions of life? Shall we learn there whether or not cremation is in accord with the spirit of Judaism?[25]

Rabbi Felsenthal’s words remain an eloquent expression of a central article of Reform Jewish faith. To this day, we affirm our right to define the “spirit of Judaism” and to abandon, alter, or replace old practices that we no longer find religiously meaningful. In this view, we cannot declare to Reform Jews that cremation ought to be forbidden solely because it runs counter to the halakhah or to the customs of our ancestors.

In recent decades, however, a new attitude has taken hold within our community. We have described it as follows:

(M)any of us have reclaimed ritual observances abandoned by previous generations of Reform Jews, from the generous use of Hebrew in the liturgy, to the wearing of kipah, talit and tefilin, to the dietary laws (kashrut), to the ceremonies surrounding marriage and conversion. These examples - and more could be cited - testify that our approach to traditional ritual practice differs significantly from that of our predecessors. This difference stems, no doubt, from the divergent religious agenda that we have set for ourselves. If our predecessors regarded their acculturation into the surrounding society as a predominant objective, we who benefit from the social and political gains that they achieved are more concerned with taking active measures to preserve our distinctive Jewishness. Thus, where they may have viewed many ritual observances as barriers to social integration and as obstructions to “modern spiritual elevation,” we may find them an appropriate and desirable expression of our Jewish consciousness.[26]

This is what we mean by the positive reevaluation of “tradition.” The point is not that traditional practices exert, to use Rabbi Felsenthal’s words, “obligatory authority” upon us. The point, rather, is that we take the Bible, the Talmud, and even “Joseph Qaro’s Code” more seriously than we did in his day as positive influences upon our own religious behavior. We are now more inclined than ever before to adopt or to preserve a ritual observance precisely because it is “Jewish.” We are more likely to regard a practice’s traditional pedigree as a reason for maintaining it, especially when there are no compelling moral or aesthetic arguments against that practice. We are therefore today more likely – though not obligated – to oppose cremation on the grounds that burial is a mitzvah, the “normative” Jewish way of disposing of human remains.

We might in a similar way explain our differences over whether cremation constitutes an act of nivul hamet (contemptible treatment of a corpse). A Reform Jew is certainly entitled to define this term in a way that is “adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.” Cremation is widely accepted in Western culture as an honorable way of treating human remains. We are therefore under no obligation to regard it as an act of nivul hamet solely because some rabbinic texts portray it as such. Yet to say that we are not obligated to adopt the traditional definition does not entail that we are forbidden to do so. It is true that concepts such as “honor” and “disgrace” do not admit of objective definition. All this means, however, is that such terms can only be defined from within a particular social context; to reach these definitions, we must choose to work within a particular culture’s set of values and affirmations. The particular culture that is Jewish tradition declares the burning of the corpse to be an act of nivul or bizayon. A Reform Jew today who finds special and satisfying meaning in the values and affirmations of Jewish tradition is thus entitled – though, again, not obligated – to adopt this definition precisely because it flows from the religious and cultural heritage of our people.

The second transformation in our religious thinking concerns our sensitivity to the experience of the Shoah (Holocaust). There is, to be sure, all the difference in the world between the Nazi crematoria and the freely-made choice of cremation for ourselves and our loved ones. We should, moreover, be wary of invoking the memory of the Shoah as a facile justification for decisions concerning religious practice.[27] Yet for all that, the Jewish world is a different place now, “after Auschwitz,” than it was before. Neither we nor our religious consciousness has emerged unchanged from our confrontation with that event. And one such change, as the recent statements of our Conference affirm, has to do with our attitude toward the machinery of cremation. The images of fire, ovens, and smokestacks, which we recall so vividly when we contemplate the mass murder of our people, can and do persuade many liberal Jews that today, after Auschwitz, the consigning of our dead to the flames is not the proper Jewish way to honor them.[28]

We emphasize that we are dealing here with general trends. To speak of transformations in our religious thinking is to describe what is happening within large segments of the Reform Jewish community rather than to prescribe a correct course of action in a specific instance. Not all Reform Jews are affected in the same way by these trends, and not every Reform Jew will draw from them the same conclusions concerning his or her religious observance. As a noted jurist once remarked, “General propositions do not decide concrete cases.”[29] Yet in this particular concrete case, the Conference has moved decisively away from its previous acceptance of cremation. The members of this Committee reiterate this stance. Although we, like our more recent predecessors, continue to acknowledge that the 1892 resolution remains the formal policy of the CCAR, we would continue to call upon our rabbis to discourage the practice of cremation among our people. We do so for three primary reasons. First, burial is the normative traditional Jewish practice; as such, it is a mitzvah that exerts a strong persuasive force upon us. Second, we note the absence of convincing moral or aesthetic objections to the practice of traditional burial that would move us to abandon it.[30] Finally, we concur with our predecessors that today, after the Shoah, the symbolism of cremation is profoundly disturbing to us as Jews.

3. The Question Before Us. How should the children of whom our she’elah speaks respond to their father’s request? Considering all the above, we would counsel the following.

a. The North American Reform movement does not regard cremation as a “sin.” The 1892 resolution of the CCAR calls upon rabbis to officiate at cremation services, and despite our reservations concerning cremation, we hold that the procedure does not “contravene the law.” Therefore, the children are not forbidden to honor this request, and they may arrange for cremation in response to the mitzvah to honor our parents and to the dictum that we should seek to fulfill the wishes of the deceased.

b. Nonetheless, the children are not obligated to honor their father’s request. The CCAR discourages the choice of cremation; it supports the choice of traditional burial; and Reform thought today recognizes the right of our people to adopt traditional standards of religious practice that previous generations of Reform Jews may have abandoned. The commandment to honor one’s parents does not apply in such a case, for a parent is not entitled to compel his or her children to violate their sincerely held Judaic religious principles.[31] Thus, when a Reform Jew has serious and substantive religious objections to cremation, he or she may refuse a loved one’s request for it.

c. By “traditional burial,” we do not mean to endorse many of the practices that, although associated with burial in the public mind, would be deemed as excessive or inappropriate by many of us. Among these are such elaborate and unnecessary steps as embalming, expensive caskets, and the like. Jewish tradition emphasizes simplicity and modesty in burial practices; individuals should not feel driven to choose cremation in order to avoid the expense and elaborate display that all too often accompany contemporary burial.[32]

d. It is essential that families speak about such matters openly, honestly, and before the approach of death. When the child fails explicitly to say “no” to a parent’s request for cremation, the parent will justifiably think that the child has agreed to carry out that instruction. In such a case, the child quite likely has made an implied promise to the parent and thus bears an ethical responsibility to keep it. Therefore, if the children have objections to cremation, they should make their feelings known to their parents sooner – much sooner – rather than later.


1.         “Family Disagreement Over Cremation,” Contemporary Reform Responsa (1974), no. 51.

2.         See the midrash cited in  B. Yevamot 5b. Leviticus 19:3 says: “Each of you shall revere his mother and father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths.” The midrash explains that the second clause comes to limit the scope of the first: we “revere” our parents (i.e., we fulfill their wishes) so long as they do not instruct us to contravene the laws of the Torah, of which Shabbat is an example. See also Yad, Mamrim 6:12 and Shulchan Arukh Yoreh De`ah 240:15.

3.         American Reform Responsa (ARR), no. 100 ( A much more complete version of the debate that led to the adoption of this resolution can be found in CCAR Yearbook 3 (1893), 53-68.

4.         We have on occasion differed with Rabbi Freehof. Often, this is due to transformations in the religious outlook of Reform Jews from his day to ours. Such changes are inevitable over the course of time, so that by responding to them we do not believe that we do any dishonor to Rabbi Freehof’s teachings or to his accomplishments in the field of Reform responsa, a genre he did so much to develop. In fact, we think he would be pleased that we, his successors, continue his work in the spirit of free and critical inquiry, an ideal which he always championed and to which our movement has long pledged loyalty. On the other hand, we are aware that were he with us Rabbi Freehof would no doubt offer cogent responses to our objections. We don’t do this lightly; after all, as the Talmud cautions, “do not contradict the lion after his death” (B. Gitin 83a-b).

5.         “There is no evidence that corpses were cremated in Palestine, except in days long before the coming of the Israelites, or among groups of foreigners; the Israelites never practiced it”; Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), volume 1, 57. See also Encyclopedia Mikra’it, v. 7, 4-5: “it is clear that (cremation) was not generally practiced.” This doesn’t mean that it never happened. Amos 6:10 speaks of the mesaref who comes to the house during time of plague to collect the bones of the dead, presumably for burning (s-r-f). Scholars, however, are unsure of the precise explanation of the term; see F. I. Anderson and D. N. Freeman, The Anchor Bible: Amos (New York: Doubleday, 1989), 572, 574. Then there is the burning of the corpses of Saul and his sons by the men of Yavesh-Gilead (I Samuel 31:12-13). This detail causes some obvious perplexity and embarrassment to later writers; the Chronicler (I Chron. 10:12) omits it entirely, and the traditional Jewish commentators are at pains to explain it away. From this, we can learn two important points: first, that cremation was not unheard of in ancient Israel, and second, that later Jewish tradition did not derive any positive support for the practice of cremation from these isolated references.

6.         Although that verse speaks of the body of an executed offender, its requirement of burial is interpreted to apply to all the dead. See B. Sanhedrin 46b, which cites the verse as a remez (a hint; an indication) to the fact that burial is a Toraitic obligation.

7.         Yad, Avel 12:1. See also Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot, pos. comm. no. 231. In the Talmud (B. Sanhedrin 46b) we find a dispute over whether the purpose of burial is to safeguard the corpse from contemptible treatment (mishum bizyona) or to effect atonement (kaparah) for the deceased. If the latter is the case, the Talmud suggests that the deceased would be within his rights to instruct his heirs not to bury him, since he is entitled to refuse atonement for himself. The dispute is not firmly resolved (Hilkhot Harosh, Sanhedrin 6:2); therefore, say some authorities, we ought to rule strictly and require burial, inasmuch as the Torah mentions it (Sefer Or Zaru`a, Hilkhot Avelut, ch. 422). R. Yosef Karo (Kesef Mishneh, Hilkhot Avel 12:1 and Beit Yosef, Yoreh De`ah 348) arrives at a similar conclusion, which he attributes to Nachmanides. The Lechem Mishneh (Yad, Avel 12:1) argues that this dispute is relevant only for those who hold that the mitzvah of burial is of Rabbinic origin. Maimonides, quite clearly, holds that it is a Toraitic commandment. In any event, we find no evidence in the traditional halakhah that one is in fact entitled to instruct his heirs not to bury him.

8.         In the 13th century, R. Shelomo ben Adret permitted mourners, who wanted to transport their father to a family plot, to put quicklime on the corpse in order that the flesh be consumed rapidly and to spare it the dishonor (bizayon) of rotting (Resp. Rashba 1:369; see Isserles, Yoreh De`ah 363:2). Does this serve as a precedent to allow cremation? Most likely, the answer is no. For one thing, not everyone would be persuaded that fire is analogous to quicklime. For another, subsequent interpreters have limited Rashba’s decision to precisely this sort of case: the exhumation and transport of a corpse for permanent burial. See the 18th-century R. Ya`akov Reischer (Resp. Shevut Ya`akov 2:97), who permits quicklime in a case where the alternative to transporting the corpse would be to bury it in a place where it could not be protected and would necessarily suffer bizayon. See also Arukh Hashulchan, Yoreh De`ah 363, par. 2. This line of thinking, in other words, deals with exceptional circumstances and not to the use of cremation as a regular means of disposing of human remains.

9.         Freehof (see note 1), at 230. Does this mean, as Rabbi Freehof suggests, that cremation is considered a transgression only because of the 19th-century Orthodox “agitation” against it? Not necessarily. It is just as likely that cremation would have been explicitly prohibited had the question been raised during the 17th century, or the 13th, or earlier. The question was not considered until the practice became widespread in the West.

10.       R. Yitzchak Shmelkes, Resp. Beit Yitzchak, Yoreh De`ah 2:155; R. David Zvi Hoffmann, Resp. Melamed Leho`il, 2:113-114; R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, Resp. Achiezer 3:72; R. Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook, Resp. Da`at Kohen, no. 197; R. Ya`akov Breisch, Resp. Chelkat Ya`akov, Yoreh De`ah, no. 203; R. Yekutiel Greenwald, Kol Bo `al Avelut, 53-54; R. Yechiel M. Tykocinski, Gesher Hachayim 16:9.

11.       Hoffman (see note 10) learns this from Y. Nazir 7:1 (55d): Deuteronomy’s commandment to “bury him”applies to the entire body (kulo, or at least to the major part of the body) and not to a small portion of it (miktzato). He points as well to the fact that the ashes of a burnt human corpse, unlike the corpse itself, are not a source of ritual impurity (M. Ohalot 2:2; Yad, Tumat Met 3:9-10). In other words, burnt remains are not a “body” such as requires burial under the law. Grodzinsky (note 10) notes simply that ashes are not the “body” of the dead person. Although it may be proper (rau’i) to bury the ashes of those who have been accidentally burned in a Jewish cemetery, he concludes, no actual obligation is fulfilled thereby.

12.       Among other prooftexts, the authorities point to the law that permits the removal of a corpse on Shabbat from a courtyard in which a fire has broken out. Transferring the corpse under normal conditions would violate the rules concerning the moving of objects on Shabbat, but it is permitted in this case because it would be a disgrace (bizayon) to the body were it consumed in the fire. See Shulchan Arukh Orach Chayim 311:1 and commentaries (the latter make it clear that the permit to remove the body extends to transferring it to another reshut.). Although the Magen Avraham commentary to that passage (no. 3) suggests that burning would not be a case of bizayon hamet (or, at least, not enough of a bizayon to warrant setting aside the restrictions of Shabbat), his opinion is rejected by virtually all other commentators.

13.       Leviticus 18:3 and 20:23. On the issue, see our responsum “Blessing the Fleet,” Teshuvot for the Nineties, no. 5751.3, pp. 159-164 (

14.       See Freehof (note 1, above) at 230. This point does appear in the writings of some of the authorities cited in note 10. It is, however, a somewhat tangential argument. The poskim do not spend much time developing it, nor do they present it as the major focus of their objection to cremation. It is unfortunate, therefore, that Rabbi Freehof cites this contention as his only example of the “arguments adduced (in the last century) against cremation,” which he describes as “forced.” This might give the reader the erroneous impression that Orthodox opposition to cremation is founded mainly upon a doctrine that we Reform Jews have long since rejected, at least in its literal form. In fact, the Orthodox writers invest a great deal more intellectual effort into the halakhic arguments that we have noted, namely that cremation does not fulfill the mitzvah of burial and that it constitutes an act of bizayon hamet.

15.       See the responsum authored by Rabbi Morris N. Shapiro, “Cremation in the Jewish Tradition,” issued in 1986 by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly ( .

16.       See at notes 18 and 19, below.

17.       See note 3, above.

18.       This was in response to a paper delivered at a previous conference by Rabbi Max Schlesinger (CCAR Yearbook 2 (1892-1893), 33-40. Schlesinger’s argument, namely that cremation was “the primitive custom among the Hebrews” (p. 36), was thoroughly refuted by Felsenthal and his committee.

19.       CCAR Yearbook 3 (1893), 67-68.

20.       Rabbi’s Manual (New York: CCAR, 1961), 140.

21.       Ibid., 90.

22.       Found at the conclusion of ARR, no. 100 (

23.       Questions and Reform Jewish Answers (QRJA), no. 191; ( ).

24.       The “Pittsburgh Platform” of 1885, paragraphs 4 and 5. A text is available at

25.       CCAR Yearbook 3 (1893), 66.

26.       Responsa Committee, no. 5759.7, “The Second Festival Day and Reform Judaism” (notes omitted) (

27.       An argument in this vein can be found in our responsum “A Defective ‘Holocaust’ Torah Scroll,” no. 5760.3 (

28.       The above paragraph reflects the ways in which the CCAR, through the publications we have cited, has described this particular “transformation in our religious thinking.” Rabbi David Lilienthal, a corresponding member of our Committee, notes that the reaction of survivors of the Shoah may be quite different. His work in Europe with many survivors and children of survivors indicates that some may be inclined to choose cremation for themselves as a sign of solidarity with murdered family members. Other members of our Committee report that they have detected no such tendency among survivors and descendants. In any event, we stress again that we are referring here to general trends and that, when it comes to the perception of the symbolic meaning of particular ritual acts, one community may well differ from another.

29.       Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., dissenting in the case of Lochner v. New York (198 U.S. 45, 76). He continues: “The decision will depend on a judgment or intuition more subtle than any articulate major premise.”

30.       This is not to say that such objections cannot be raised but rather that they do not persuade us that there is a compelling reason to adopt cremation as the standard procedure for the disposal of human remains. Individuals, of course, may be impressed by arguments to this effect, but we as a Committee are not. Although this is not the place for a lengthy discussion of specific issues, we think that the ecological and economic criticisms that are raised from time to time against traditional burial can be addressed in ways that do not entail the choice of cremation. See the article by our colleague Daniel Schiff, “Cremation: Considering Contemporary Concerns,” Journal of Reform Judaism 34:2 (Spring, 1987), 37-48, and see below in the text at note 32.

31.       See our responsum no. 5766.1, “When A Parent Instructs A Child Not to Say Kaddish.”

32.       See Gates of Mitzvah, 55. We should follow the example of Rabban Gamliel, who instructed that he be buried in simple linen shrouds rather than expensive ones to demonstrate that burial need not impose a crushing financial burden upon the mourners; B. Mo`ed Katan 27b.

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.