The recent controversy over arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea has piqued an interest in eco-funerals here at Green Prophet.
It can hardly get more friendly to the environment than a biodegradable cloth shroud in which to wrap the corpse, plus weights to ballast – then a rapid descent to the fishes’ dining hall. See our post about Bin Laden’s demise and the environment here. (As our grandparents ironically say, With “friends” like him, who needs enemies?)
Another green way to view the inevitable has long existed in Judaism’s traditional burial rites. (See our posts about innovative ways to green Jewish life, like building a sukkah with hybrid bamboo and celebrating Tu B’Shvat, or Jewish Earth Day.) Among eco-friendly Jewish burial laws are:
- No wake or viewing of the corpse; burial must take place as soon as possible. This practice acknowledges the simple fact of bodily decomposition and is considered respectful to the dead, as opposed to prolonging the time the person must suffer separation from the spiritual realm.
- Embalming is not an option. The desired effect is the rapid disintegration of the material in order to free the spirit. And on the green side, no toxic embalming fluids seeping into the ground.
- Bodies must be buried, not cremated. Cremation, always forbidden in Jewish law, has become especially abhorrent in Judaism after the Holocaust. Apart from which, fires are responsible for a large part of worldwide air pollution.
- A plain shroud suffices to contain the deceased in Israel. No chemically-treated or metal container to prevent the contact of the body with the earth. Jews are pretty matter-of-fact about what happens to the body when the soul leaves it behind. (In countries where law mandates coffin burial, Jews choose wooden ones.)
- While not forbidden, big flower arrangements and wreathes are not a traditional feature of a Jewish funeral. As a mark of respect, bereaved and visitors place stones on the grave.
Many traditional funeral customs exist mostly to comfort the bereaved, and this is natural and honorable. Yet in reducing funeral practices to basics, Judaism respects the dead – while doing nothing to upset the balance of the planet’s health.
More on the Jewish way of living green from Green Prophet:
- Go off-line on Yom Kippur
- Avoid food waste on Passover (good advice anytime)
- Have a sweet and green Rosh HaShanah