Book sets out the case for burial instead of cremation

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Cremation or Burial?  A Jewish View by Doron Kornbluth, Mosaica Press, 2012, 192 pages including appendices, ISBN 978-1-937887-01-8, No retail price listed.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO — Doron Kornbluth is a prolific writer, having fairly recently published two books: Raising Kids To Love Being Jewish  and  Why Be Jewish? ,both of which have been reviewed by San Diego Jewish World.

While these previous books consisted primarily of anecdotes, this book, while readable, is far more scholarly, addressing the issue of burial versus cremation from various standpoints, including Jewish tradition, cost, impact on the environment, effect on families, and spirituality.  In nearly every category of consideration, except cost where he finds the differential not of great consequence, Kornbluth strongly advocates for  burial and against cremation.

Let’s skim some of the points he makes concerning these various issues.

Tradition:  The Torah and other Jewish holy writings tell us that our patriarchs and matriarchs were buried, mentioning specifically the burials of Abraham, Sarah, Rachel, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Elazar, Samuel and King David.  As for Moses, according to tradition, God himself buried him in the land of Moab.

Environment: Cemeteries take up relatively small amounts of land, compared to Walmarts or other big box stores, and their parking lots;  golf courses; amusement parks; and automobile race tracks.  Crematoria use energy to destroy human bodies, then emit toxins into the air.  Decomposition in a grave replenishes and nourishes the earth.

Effect on Families — Graves provide family members a place to go to remember their loved ones; urns of ashes often get lost, forgotten, or treated with disrespect.

Spirituality –Jewish belief considers the body and the souls partners; without a body, a soul could not express itself.  Without hands it could not give charity, without a mouth it could not pray aloud, without legs it could not help an elderly person across the street.  Having been created “in the image of God,” a body should be treated with respect, not incinerated like yesterday’s trash.  Jews believe the soul stays with the body for a period after death, needing time to adjust to its new situation.  Burial provides a more considerate way  than incineration to show regard for the soul.

Kornbluth makes other points, to be sure, but those above are some of the most compelling.  In choosing burial, he says, a person makes a final statement that he or she is proud to be a Jew.  Because some people fail to make advance arrangements for their burial, Kornbluth urges them to write letters to family members with explicit instructions detailing their wishes.   The book includes a sample letter making such a request.  It also includes a child’s letter to an elderly parent, pleading that he consider a Jewish burial when the time comes.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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