Embalming, Organ Donation, Cremation,
Suicide, Interfaith Considerations

Kol Ami's guide to death and mourning - Support-2

Organ Donation
Organ donation was once prohibited by Jewish law and tradition. Today, Judaism sanctions and encourages organ donation in order to save lives (pikuach nefesh). Register as an organ donor.

Embalming and Open Caskets
Embalming is strongly discouraged so that the process of decomposition can take place in a natural fashion. Open caskets are not customary at Jewish funerals.

Cremation
It is considered a mitzvah to bury the dead with all proper respect. Jewish tradition defines this mitzvah as the burial of the body in the earth. Some Reform Jews have adopted the practice of cremation. While this method is generally contrary to Jewish tradition, there is no clear-cut prohibition of cremation in Jewish law.

If a person chooses to be cremated, most Reform Jewish cemeteries today will allow their remains to be buried in Jewish cemeteries, although often they stipulate that the cremains must be buried in a coffin.

Suicide
A person who has died by suicide can be buried in a Jewish cemetary.

The ancient prohibition against doing so is based upon the concept of suicide as the conscious and willful taking of one’s life. Over time, however, Jewish tradition has come to view suicide as the result of mental and emotional desperation and an irrational, non-willful act. Therefore, even if all evidence points to suicide and even if that evidence satisfies the investigative authorities as the cause of death, Jewish custom is to bury these individuals, to engage in mourning rituals for them, and to eulogize them appropriately.

Interfaith Considerations
It is accepted practice to bury a non-Jewish family member in a Jewish cemetery. However, please speak with the cemetery in advance as there may be limitations of the symbols and language on headstones as well as who may officiate at the gravesite.

Tattoos
While the Jewish community might still be divided over tattoos, the prohibition against burying a tattooed person in a Jewish cemetery is a myth. Caring for the body after death is a mitzvah, and we don’t exclude people in our communities from that care simply because of markings on the skin.