According to Jewish law, Jewish bodies are buried, not cremated. Traditional branches of the religion, such as the Orthodox and the Chassidim, regard this requirement as permanent and unbreachable; some less traditional groups, such as the Reform movement, sometimes accept cremation. In general, though, the Jewish funeral rules are ancient and specific, and they do not permit cremation.
Sanctity of the Body
Jews believe that their bodies are not actually theirs; rather, they are on loan from God. They must be returned in roughly the same condition as they were received. As a result, Jews traditionally don't get tattoos or piercings or make other lasting changes to their bodies, nor do they cremate bodies after death. This is also one of the reasons Jewish tradition doesn't usually allow autopsies. Most Jewish cemeteries won't inter cremated bodies, so cremation effectively forecloses a proper Jewish burial.
Biblical Injunctions and the Resurrection
In Deuteronomy, the Jews are commanded to bury their deceased as soon as possible after death. Ancient Jewish lawmakers added to this that the entire body must be buried, not just parts of it. Because cremation destroys the body, Jewish tradition states that cremation makes it impossible to bury the whole body and therefore impossible to observe the law. Some Orthodox and mystical Jewish traditions also believe in a physical resurrection to come when the Messiah arrives; members of those traditions feel that burning a body denies this belief and condemns the person to resurrection in another body instead of his own.
Many modern Jews who might not otherwise be so attached to the idea of traditional burial are offended by the idea of cremation because of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, many of whom were mass-cremated. The efficiency of cremation -- one of the reasons people choose it -- was also one of the reasons the Nazis selected it, along with its totality. Modern Jews often don't want those associations tainting their own burials or those of their loved ones.
Exceptions and Other Perspectives
Jewish law and tradition do not hold Jews accountable for actions they commit unknowingly or unwillingly. This includes cremation: If a person is cremated against his will or without knowing that it is against Jewish law, he is not considered responsible, and most Jewish cemeteries will accept his remains. Some less traditional Jews, particularly from denominations that don't believe in a literal resurrection, allow cremation on the grounds that it is cost-effective and uses less Earth space than burial. Some people also have an opposite reaction to the Holocaust cremations and wish to be cremated in solidarity with the victims.
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