You would think that Judaism represents a bulwark against the increasing practice of cremation... but you would be wrong. Cremation remains a taboo
among most Jews, especially in Orthodox Judaism but also in the more liberal groups. No one has any hard numbers on how prevalent the practice of cremation is among Jews. Conversations
with Jewish funeral professionals from across the country suggest that
the proportion of Jews who choose cremation varies widely by geography but they do agree the numbers are increasing.
Though both Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbinical authorities frown on cremation, Jewish law is not unclear about it and directly bans the practice. It is common to have both Conservative
rabbis officiate at the funerals of
people who will be cremated but Orthodox groups allow no such
leeway to their rabbis.
According to figures from the Cremation Association of North America, cremations have risen nearly three-fold since the mid-1980s to about 40% of all funerals. Depending upon the place, the rate for Jews may vary between 3% to as high as 15% in some cities. Interestingly, the Jews have the same issues with the ashes as others -- many of them refuse to claim the ashes and the remains then are left unburied. This is even more troubling to Jewish religious leaders.
“Jews have always had the tradition, going back to biblical times, to
create a space on earth to mourn the dead,” said Rabbi Andy Bachman,
spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Elohim, a Reform synagogue in
Brooklyn. “The simplest way to put it is, if you go all the way back to
Abraham’s first act after Sarah died, it was to secure a plot of land in
order to bury her.”
Apparently, Christians, Jews, and non-Christians share an inclination to cremation for the same reasons -- it is cheap, it is quick, and it is easy. I am not at all sure these are the most important criteria for deciding what to do with the remains of a loved one, but this is the direction we see -- even among those with the strongest historical precedents against cremation.
It also appears that cremation seems to be losing its stigma for both Christians and Jews, well on its way to becoming the most predominant funeral practice. What is the common lament among Christians and Jews is that our burial practices are further and further removed from the context of what we believe, confess, and teach and more and more tied to a pragmatic view of the minimum that needs to be done. It appears that for all religions, the almighty dollar trumps the Almighty Word and its tradition. If it can happen so easily and so quickly for burial practices, who is to say what else cannot be changed?!
"What is the common lament among Christians and Jews is that our burial practices are further and further removed from the context of what we believe, confess, and teach and more and more tied to a pragmatic view of the minimum that needs to be done."
Claiming that burial practices such as cremation "are further and further removed from the context of what we believe, confess, and teach" implies that such practices (e.g., cremation, donating one's body to medical science) are sinful and are a violation of confessional Lutheran teachings. This is not the position of the LCMS as pointed out at the beginning of February in Pastoral Meanderings.
It appears that for all religions, the almighty dollar trumps the Almighty Word and its tradition."
All false religions, by definition, attempt to trump the Almighty Word. Within the true religion of Christianity, to claim that "the almighty dollar trumps the Almighty Word" implies a claim to speak for God what, in fact, God has not spoken. As noted on the LCMS FAQ: "In itself, the practice [of cremation] has no theological significance and may be used in good conscience."
"If one's body is cremated, how can he/she rise from the dead?"
Rev. Peters, have you ever heard of such nonsense? What is the basis for this concern?
I prefer burial to cremation myself; however, I cannot help but wonder if the extent to which we seek to "preserve" the remains today (embalming, vaults, etc.) is any better of a witness to our belief that "dust you are and to dust you shall return." Without seeking to wax political, I wonder if the newer "green funerals" aren't closer to the mark.
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