Using our Teachable Moments
Every Jewish cremation is a tragedy. However, what is truly heartbreaking is the fact that a very significant number could have been prevented.
There are many different reasons people choose cremation over burial. Sometimes people think cremation is better for the environment. Sometimes there are financial considerations. Sometimes it’s just what’s culturally in vogue. But in every case that NASCK has dealt with, the parties involved did not understand the deeper meaning and the incredible value of traditional Jewish burial.
The reason for this oversight is simple and understandable. The message of traditional Jewish burial has not been properly conveyed to the broader Jewish community. The opportunities for such messaging are limited, and the message itself can be awkward. However, there are occasions where a discussion about the meaning and beauty of burial is not only acceptable, but very appropriate. With that in mind, NASCK has identified a few events when one really must grab the moment and discuss traditional Jewish burial.
Funerals and unveilings – a funeral or unveiling is the most obvious instance where traditional burial can and therefore should be discussed, even for just a minute or two. Even in the most Orthodox circles, there are occasions when large numbers of less learned or unaffiliated Jews are present at a funeral. For some, this may well be the only opportunity for them to hear about burial vs cremation, to have a seed planted, and it can make all the difference. It may be wise in some Orthodox circles to explain this to a family in advance of the eulogy to make sure they understand why this is being said and are okay with it. By doing so, they can also follow up at the Shivah with the same people if the opportunity presents itself.
People generally avoid talking about death and its accoutrements. At a funeral, though, people are ready to hear about the subject. It is therefore fully appropriate and even obligatory to use this “teachable moment.” Mention the Zechus this Niftar has to be able to be buried, next to family, in a family plot, etc. Focus on what it says about the respect every person deserves, what it means for family, at the funeral or unveiling in terms of closure; and in the future as a message to children and grandchildren; the concern for the environment in natural burial; etc. It is for each Rabbi and concerned Jew to decide what is most appropriate for this family and in this situation. In some instances a Shivah visit can be appropriately utilized to transmit this message to the broader family or even visitors. Using any and all of these opportunities can alter a person’s perspective about the perceived advantages of cremation. If every Rabbi and/or learned Jew used every such opportunity, the impact could be extraordinary.
NASCK offers books, brochures, and other paraphernalia that educate and inform the broader Jewish populace about the terrible repercussions of choosing cremation, and the advantages of burial. In addition, NASCK hosts peacefulreturn.org, a website dedicated to sharing information about the importance and beauty of burial. Please contact us with any questions or comments. We are also willing to encourage and assist in making traditional Jewish burial a reality by direct discussion and intervention with family and by offering guidance and assistance of all kinds.