Cremation in the Jewish Tradition
A Jewish cremation is unequivocally not allowed by Jewish law under traditional interpretation. There are multiple explanations, biblical citations, and interpretations that are found to explain this taboo. The most commonly accepted reason cremation and Jewish law are not compatible is that Halacha, Jewish law, says the deceased flesh must be buried in the ground. When a person is cremated there is no flesh left on the body. According to Jewish law, bodies of the deceased must be treated with the greatest respect.
Reform Jews and Cremation
Reform Jews have a different perspective on Jewish cremation. Other Biblical passages and interpretations of non-Biblical writings argue that Jewish cremation may not conflict with Jewish law. Reform Jews see burial as more of a custom then a mandatory practice.
Since Jewish cremation is taboo in the traditional Jewish culture, choosing cremation in spite of Jewish law places some restrictions on the memorial service and burial. However, there are special circumstances that can be considered on a case by case basis. Jewish people not raised in the faith, but with family members buried in a Jewish cemetery, may be eligible to have their ashes buried in a Jewish cemetery. They cannot be held responsible for their ignorance of cremation Jewish law. No mourning is required for the deceased who do not have special circumstances if they go against Jewish law and have a Jewish cremation. Shiva is not observed and there is no reading of the Kaddish.
For those choosing a Jewish cremation, they must understand the restrictions on the memorial service and interment if they do not make their wishes clear. Handling also depends on whether a Rabbi follows traditional Jewish law or reformed Jewish law.
Reform Jews feel that if there is a dignified ceremony of committal following cremation, the burial follows Jewish law. Funeral homes can accommodate Jewish cremation services despite the traditional objection to cremation. A person who chooses cremation despite the traditional objection needs to plan before their death. According to traditional Jewish law, one's personal wishes do not factor into funeral services. Reform Jews who choose cremation make arrangements in their will and leave it to their families to fulfill their requests.
Traditional Jewish law expects personal wishes to be set aside and Biblical law to take precedence. However, there are exceptions and Rabbis make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Any Jewish person choosing cremation instead of burial is thought to have abandoned his or her faith under traditional Jewish laws. Reform Jews, however, accept Jewish cremation services as a proper tradition.