In Parashat Vayechi, Genesis 47:29-31, Jacob implores his son Joseph, the second most powerful man in the world, to grant him just one request: “Swear to me,” Jacob beseeches, “that you will perform chesed shel emet—true kindness— and bury me.” Two chapters later, in Genesis 49:29-32 after Jacob blesses each of his 12 sons, Jacob gives them all a final instruction—to bury him.

Rabbis, rebbetzins, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters call me desperate for assistance to give their departed loved one the respect of a Jewish burial. 

For this week’s Torah portion, more than 600 synagogues across the country are focusing on the importance of burial and not cremation for the Jewish people.

Last week I helped to bury a Jewish man that died in November. He had to wait a whole month because he was abandoned by family and was not brought to my attention till much later. But he was not abandoned by the Jewish community and he got the respect he deserved as a Jew.

Sometimes the deceased person died alone and is abandoned by all family members. 

Sometimes there is no family.

It doesn’t matter. If you were born a Jew than you deserve to be buried as a Jew. 

We bury our treasure.

We burn garbage. 

Jews for 3500 years have always buried their loved ones. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, honest or a criminal. If you are a Jew you deserved to be buried. 

Cremation and burning bodies was done to Jews against our will on purpose by our enemies to obliterate the Jewish people by the crusaders, inquisition and Nazis.

Horrifically, due to misinformation and a lack of education the cremation rate on the west coast today is 75 percent for Jews. That’s a Jew burnt every 16 minutes. 

Cremation pollutes our environment. During COVID crematoriums in California were shut down due to the pollution they spewed into the air. Green environmentalists love Jewish burial because there is no embalming and just a simple plain pine casket.

The Torah instructs us to bury our loved ones and to not burn them. 

Cremation burns the body, obliterating all DNA. That’s not mom in the urn. It’s just ash. 

When a Torah scroll becomes unusable, we gently bury it in the ground. We don’t burn it or flush it down the toilet. We certainly don’t turn it into ash.

Jewish burial is called chesed shel emet, literally, “kindness of truth,” because it is the greatest kindness we can perform. 

Robin Meyerson is the volunteer West Coast Director of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha, member of the local Jewish Burial society and the director of an online resource dedicated to educating everyone on the facts and myths of Jewish burial vs cremation. She can be reached at 602-469-1606.

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