How we choose to be buried is a symbolic act that reflects our deepest understanding of life and death, and has serious implications for family members who mourn our loss and remember us. Therefore, it is worthwhile to study discuss and study the question of cremation with your loved one and a local rabbi.
In short, however, the Jewish tradition strongly discourages cremation on spiritual, ethical, historical, and psychological grounds. Our lives are deemed as absolutely holy because we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Moreover, the Talmud declares that both our souls and our bodies are integrated aspects of such holiness, as it states: “The Holy Blessed One brings the soul and throws it into the body and judges them as one” (B. Sanhedrin 91b). Therefore, how we treat the body, even after death, must be with dignity and respect. Furthermore, the return of the body to the earth is intended to be a natural and gradual process rather than a rushed, artificial act of burning and destruction. A modest burial affirms the eternal value of life and fulfills the sacred cycle of life from birth to death expressed in the Torah, “By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground – for from it you were taken” (Gen. 3:19).
It is also important to note that since the Holocaust, during which Nazis burned Jewish bodies en masse as a deliberate statement of the worthlessness of Jewish life, many Jews find voluntary cremation abhorrent and offensive.
Finally, Judaism considers the psychological condition of the mourners in addition to the deceased. The tradition of burying a loved one and shoveling dirt onto the casket in a final resting place, helps the mourners to accept the permanence of death, which is an important first step of grieving.
With its position on the practice of burial, Judaism affirms that even though our time on earth may be short, the value of our lives does not dissipate into the atmosphere. Rather, we are forever embedded within the heart and mind of our loved ones, God, and the universe itself.