Cremation, long taboo among all Jewish denominations, is becoming more common among U.S. Jews, reports Moment magazine (August).
Jewish law and tradition stipulates that a body is to be honored by being buried rather than destroyed. The holocaust, with its use of gas chambers and crematoriums, is another reason for the Jewish aversion to cremation. But slowly both Jewish organizations and individuals are accepting the practice. The Cremation Association of North America estimates that three percent of all cremations are performed on Jewish people, even though Jews represent 2.3 percent of the U.S. population.
Jewish funeral homes see a lower percentage of Jewish cremations than nonsectarian funeral homes, but Jews who choose the procedure are also less likely to go to Jewish funeral parlors, says Mark Weissman of the Jewish Funeral Directors of America. The greatest increase in the number of cremations is in the Sun Belt states, particularly Florida and California, the same areas to which a larger number of Jews have retired.
Orthodox and most Conservative rabbis still frown on cremation, but Reform and Reconstructionists will usually officiate at funerals with cremation. Reform rabbi Mark Kaiserman ventures that “As cremation increases, individual rabbis will move to positions [accommodating] what the majority wants. New lifestyles are leading to new kinds of funerals.”
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