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Does Jewish Law Permit Cremation?

Responsa in a Moment: Volume 2, Issue No. 3, December 2007


In July 2005, Alon Nativ opened up “Aley Shalechet”, Israel ‘s first crematorium, in Hibbat Zion, a Moshav south of Hadera. In January 2006, the Chief Rabbinate announced that the ashes of cremated Jews should be rejected by all burial societies and the relatives of those cremated should not sit Shiva, say Kaddish or observe any mourning rituals. On August 22, 2007, the crematorium at Hibbat Zion was burned down by arsonists. The residents of Hibbat Zion, both religious and secular, expressed across-the-board opposition to the crematorium. In January 2007 and August 2007, the Shas party said that it wants to pass legislation outlawing cremation in Israel.

According to Aley Shalechet, cremation is chosen in the Western World as follows:

Japan 99.9%; Switzerland 75.5%; England 73%; Sweden and Denmark 70%; Canada 45%; U.S. 32%; Spain 17.8%; Italy 16%.

A 2002 survey by Geocartographia in Israel, found that about 10% of Israeli Jews would choose cremation. Even so, only 450 people turned to Aley Shalechet, and 80% of them are alive and well.

In light of the above, it is timely to publish this heretofore unpublished responsum by Rabbi Isaac Klein z”l. It was, apparently, written for the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly in 1976. It was subsequently listed in indices of Conservative responsa. I xeroxed a copy of the responsum in 1990 from the CJLS archives in New York but could not locate the xerox in 2005, when we republished Rabbi Klein’s Responsa and Halakhic Studies. It has been edited following the format of that volume.

Because of the large amount of Hebrew found in this responsum, we have decided to create a PDF file that will allow you to read the responsum in its entirety.

All four volumes of Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin’s Responsa In A Moment – Halakhic Responses to Contemporary Issues as well as other books by the author are available for purchase from the Schocken-JTS Press Bookstore.

Prof. David Golinkin is President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate it, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.

David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.

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