Contemporary Issues in Death, Burial, and Mourning

Multifaith Families

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Cemeteries or special parts of cemeteries owned by non-Orthodox congregations often allow somewhat more latitude in determining "who is a Jew" and/or who may be buried where; some have special sections in which Jews and non-Jewish spouses may be buried together.

Surprisingly, one of the most common "Jewish trivia" questions asked of rabbis is whether it's true that people with tattoos or body piercings cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery. While Jewish tradition frowns on things which can be construed as mutilation of one's body, none of these things represent a barrier to burial in even the most traditionally-run cemetery.

Neonatal Loss

Jewish law does not prescribe any rites of mourning for a child less than 30 days old--but many people find it meaningful and important to have some kind of mourning rite, even a funeral, for the loss of a late-term fetus, a stillbirth, and certainly a neonatal death, and rabbis are increasingly facilitating such processes. All of the liberal movements have produced extensive writings applying Jewish burial and mourning traditions to these tragic situations and articulating rituals of burial, mourning, and comfort for individuals, families, and communities to use.

Cremation, Autopsies, and Organ Donation

Jewish tradition may be "known" to be opposed to cremation, autopsies, and organ donation--but in two of these three cases, popular knowledge is partially or entirely incorrect. The principle of kevod ha-met  (treating the dead, and dead bodies, with honor and respect) is applied to all three of these issues, in different ways.

contemporary issues in mourningCremation is traditionally forbidden, on the grounds that it violates the requirement to bury the body as it is in the earth. Some authorities go so far as to forbid funeral rites for one who was cremated and prohibit family members from observing any of the rites of mourning, including the recitation of the Kaddish. Others permit a rabbi to officiate at the funeral but not the burial of ashes. Many liberal rabbis will officiate at a funeral for someone who was cremated. Some Jews argue that to practice cremation after millions of Jewish bodies were cremated in the Nazi death camps is sim­ply unthinkable.

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