Unusual Issues Concerning Jewish Burial

From time to time, some uncommon issues surrounding the deceased’s circumstances arise, presenting questions and/or conflicts with traditional Jewish funeral customs. Sometimes the concern regards the wishes of the family and other times the actual cause of death.

One such situation concerns cremation. Cremation is a bit of a subjective area in most Jewish communities. There is no specific law or mandate against cremation in Judaism; however, there are specific procedures for handling a deceased body which, when followed, would all but rule out cremation. That being said, more and more Jewish people are opting for cremation these days. Those unfamiliar with Jewish burial customs may be surprised to learn autopsies are also considered to be forbidden in Judaism in many orthodox circles, unless there is some sort of extenuating circumstance. However, organ donation is permissible when done to save another person – not for scientific study purposes. You can see that most of these issues today are not so black and white as they once were.

One subject that was traditionally definitive is suicide. Any person whose death is caused by suicide cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery, according to Jewish law. However, today, if the person was considered mentally ill, an exception can be made in certain cases. There are also instances when individuals bearing tattoos and body piercings were normally discouraged in Jewish tradition (not law), because the markings are considered body mutilation, but that never actually bars anyone from being buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Another area where there has been some inconsistency over the years is with non-Jewish spouses of deceased Jewish people. It has long been of question whether they could be buried alongside their spouses in a Jewish cemetery. In the past, this was not allowed in many cemeteries, as no non-Jew could be buried in an orthodox Jewish cemetery under any circumstances. However, many modern day Jewish cemeteries will allow this today.