Amy Winehouse, cremation and the traditional Jewish funeral
Menu JTA Search

Amy Winehouse, cremation and the traditional Jewish funeral

I couldn’t help notice various headlines like this one "Amy Winehouse cremated after traditional Jewish funeral service."

CNN’s Belief blog tackled the question of whether cremation is kosher:

Traditionally Jews do not cremate their dead because of the belief they will be resurrected when the messiah comes, said Nikki Saunders, a spokeswoman for Britain’s mainstream Orthodox movement, the United Synagogue.

"That can only happen if your body is intact," Saunders said.

More liberal Jews don’t have that concern, though, explained Ben Rich of the Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK.

"Physical resurrection isn’t something that progressive Jews believe in, so that isn’t a concern," he said. Progressive Jews also don’t accept the Orthodox belief that cremation is the mutilation of a corpse, he said, since it is done respectfully, not maliciously.

"We have therefore been happy to allow cremation for those who want it," he said, calling it "extremely common. It wouldn’t be anything to raise an eyebrow about in the progressive movement."

In fact, he argued, there is Biblical precedent for cremation.

Tradition is one thing, what Jews are actually doing is often another. Check out Sue Fishkoff’s JTA story from 2009 titled "National Jewish burial society tries to stem increased cremation":

With cremation on the rise and more Jewish cemeteries accepting ashes for burial, a national organization of Jewish burial societies is trying to promote traditional in-ground burial among liberal Jews. …

Rabbi Stephen Pearce of San Francisco’s Reform Congregation Emanu-El said more than 50 percent of the funerals in his congregation involve cremation — a number other participants found extremely high, although they all acknowledged that cremation was on the rise in their communities.

Dan Brodsky of the New Mount Sinai Cemetery in St. Louis said 19 percent of the burials in his cemetery involve cremains, whereas three years ago the number was in the single digits.

Nationally, Rabbi Richard Address, director of Jewish family concerns for the Union for Reform Judaism, said he has noticed “a slight” increase in cremation among the Reform communities he visits.

As for the service:

A rabbi led the Jewish service, which included prayers in English and Hebrew and ended with Carole King’s "So Far Away," one of Winehouse’s favorite songs.