The Ecologically Correct Funeral

Westerners are increasingly becoming aware of how ecologically wasteful – and toxic – the standard funeral is. Embalming, hardwood coffins, varnishes to prevent coffins from disintegrating in the ground, steel and concrete liners and large grave monuments all dump large amounts of resources into the ground – and they are costly, too. Even cremation is ecologically wasteful. As the video below argues, increasingly, Westerners are waking up to that fact and are choosing simpler burials.

In the process, they are (mostly unwittingly) adopting long standing Jewish funerary practices. Simple caskets and simple shrouds, no embalming, no open casket and no cremation are the hallmarks of traditional Jewish funerals.

The opposition to embalming and cremation is closely related to the respect for the body as the previous dwelling of the person’s soul, and also because not only the soul, but the body, too, is understood to have been created “in the image of G”d.” The soul is created in the image of G”d in that it is endowed with some highly developed, quasi divine faculties. The soul endows man with the faculties of free choice and moral action. And while the body does not resemble G”d – Who is wholly incorporeal – G”d was more personally and intensely engaged in its creation than in the creation of anything else; it was moulded, so to speak, by His metaphorical hands, and bears the imprint of the Divine minting stamp. (cf. Rashi to Genesis 1:25)

Opposition to elaborate funerary accoutrements, on the other hand, are rooted in a desire to respect all equally, whether they died rich or poor, healthy or very ill. Rabban Gamliel greatly strengthened these decrees when he, despite his great wealth and status, chose to lead by example and instructed his heirs to bury him in simple shrouds, as can be gleaned from the following passage in the Babylonian Talmud (Mo’ed Qatan 27a), and such has been the Jewish practice ever since:

תנו רבנן בראשונה היו מוליכין בבית האבל עשירים בקלתות של כסף ושל זהב, ועניים בסלי נצרים של ערבה קלופה, והיו עניים מתביישים התקינו שיהו הכל מביאין בסלי נצרים של ערבה קלופה מפני כבודן של עניים.

תנו רבנן בראשונה היו משקין בבית האבל עשירים בזכוכית לבנה ועניים בזכוכית צבועה, והיו עניים מתביישין, התקינו שיהו הכל משקין בזכוכית צבועה מפני כבודן של עניים.

בראשונה היו מגלין פני עשירים ומכסין פני עניים, מפני שהיו מושחרין פניהן מפני בצורת והיו עניים, מתביישין התקינו שיהו מכסין פני הכל מפני כבודן של עניים.

בראשונה היו מוציאין עשירים בדרגש ועניים בכליכה בכליכה והיו עניים מתביישין התקינו שיהו הכל מוציאין בכליכה מפני כבודן של עניים.

בראשונה היו מניחין את המוגמר תחת חולי מעים מתים, והיו חולי מעים חיים מתביישין התקינו שיהו מניחין תחת הכל מפני כבודן של חולי מעים חיים.

… בראשונה היתה הוצאת המת קשה לקרוביו יותר ממיתתו, עד שהיו קרוביו מניחין אותו ובורחין, עד שבא רבן גמליאל ונהג קלות ראש בעצמו ויצא בכלי פשתן ונהגו העם אחריו לצאת בכלי פשתן.

אמר רב פפא והאידנא נהוג עלמא אפילו בצרדא בר זוזא:

Our Rabbis taught: Formerly they were wont to convey [victuals] to the house of mourning, the rich in silver and gold baskets and the poor in osier baskets of peeled willow twigs, and the poor felt shamed: they therefore instituted that all should convey [victuals] in osier baskets of peeled willow twigs out of deference to the poor.

Our Rabbis taught: Formerly, they were wont to serve drinks in a house of mourning, the rich in white glass vessels and the poor in coloured glass, and the poor felt shamed: they instituted therefore that all should serve drinks in coloured glass, out of deference to the poor.

Formerly they were wont to uncover the face of the rich and cover the face of the poor, because their faces turned livid in
years of drought and the poor felt shamed; they therefore instituted that everybody’s face should be covered, out of deference for the poor.

Formerly. they were wont to bring out the rich [for burial]
on a stately bed and the poor on a plain bier, and the poor felt shamed: they instituted therefore that all should be brought out on a plain bier, out of deference for the poor.

Formerly they were wont to set a perfuming-pan under [the bed of] those that died of intestinal disorders, and the living suffering from intestinal disorders
felt shamed: they instituted therefore that it should be set under all [alike], out of deference to the living that suffer from intestinal disorders.

… Formerly the [expense of] taking the dead out [to his burial] fell harder on his near-of-kin than his death so that the dead man’s near-of-kin abandoned him and fled, until at last Rabban Gamaliel came [forward] and, disregarding his own dignity, came out [to his burial] in flaxen vestments and thereafter the people followed his lead to come out [to burial]
in flaxen vestments.

Said R. Papa: And nowadays all the world follow the practice of [coming out] even in a paltry [shroud] that costs but a zuz.

As can be seen in the video below, some of those ideas are increasingly finding favour with Westerners of all religions and creeds, and one wonders whether the time won’t soon come that additional Jewish funerary rites will be incorporated in the wider culture, too. We will be better off increasing equality and respect for all, all the more so when the urge to do so comes out of individual initiative.

2 Responses to The Ecologically Correct Funeral

  1. […] ist die Einascherung nicht mehr so cool, wie ich vor Kurz dokumentierte. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  2. In the video it looks just like our traditional “tachrichim” & coffins… 🙂

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