More Jews Opt for Cremation

Numbers Rise Despite Religious Edicts Requiring Burial

Different Choice: Jews still choose to be buried at higher rates than the general public. But cremation is increasingly popular, despite religious edicts and tradition.
thinkstock
Different Choice: Jews still choose to be buried at higher rates than the general public. But cremation is increasingly popular, despite religious edicts and tradition.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published June 27, 2012, issue of June 29, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Jews are increasingly choosing to be cremated, funeral professionals say, despite Jewish law and thousands of years of tradition.

The numbers are still small, relative to the non-Jewish community. But they bring with them considerable angst. According to Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, a prominent Conservative rabbi in New York City, family members increasingly struggle with the wrenching question of whether to go against the wishes of dead Jews who have asked to be cremated.

“I personally think that as a matter of Jewish law and tradition, that while it is good to honor the request of your dying loved ones, that it is forbidden to cremate a body, and that people are not obliged to follow those requests,” said Kalmanofsky, who leads Congregation Ansche Chesed in Manhattan.

Some congregants follow Kalmanofsky’s advice and betray their parent’s wishes, burying them instead of cremating them. Others feel they can’t.

“I try not to push this button in a manipulative way, but after the Shoah, I think the thought of burning bodies is just unbearable — unbearable to me, at any rate,” Kalmanofsky said.

It’s a conundrum that promises to grow increasingly common as Jewish cremation rates rise.

“I think it’s become a more accepted, preferred form of disposition,” said Mindy Botbol, president of the Jewish Funeral Directors of America and a funeral director at Arlington Heights, Ill.’s Shalom Memorial Park and Funeral Home.

Cremation remains taboo among most Jews, even in the non-Orthodox denominations. No hard numbers on the practice exist. And conversations with Jewish funeral professionals from across the country suggest that the proportion of Jews who choose cremation varies widely by city. But almost all reached by the Forward agree the general trend is up.

Both Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbinical authorities frown on cremation. Jewish law bans the practice. Still, both the Conservative and Reform movements within Judaism let their rabbis officiate at the funerals of people who will be cremated. Orthodox groups don’t allow any such leeway.

Among non-Jews, the popularity of the practice has skyrocketed in recent decades. In 2009, 38% of deaths in North America were cremated — up from just 15% in 1985, according to a report published by the Cremation Association of North America, a trade group.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.