Sunday, September 19, 2004

Images of cremation evoke Holocaust memories for Jews

By Ari Bloomekatz
Enquirer staff writer

Memories of the Holocaust make it difficult for most Jews to practice cremation.

"For many people, the imagery of cremation evokes the horrible images of the Holocaust," said Mark Washofsky, a professor of Rabbinics at Hebrew Union College in Clifton.

"That's not an official Jewish reason for the prohibition," Washofsky said. "(But) it's a very powerful factor that weighs on Jewish thinking."

While some religions have relaxed burial philosophies in recent years and have joined the cremation boom, Judaism has not.

Jewish law requires bodies to be buried traditionally, but since the Holocaust, many Jews, even those who are non-observant, consider the idea of cremation as disrespectful.

Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler killed 6 million Jews during World War II, often disposing bodies by burning them in ovens.

Orthodox Rabbi Hanan Balk, at Golf Manor Synagogue, said thoughts of the Holocaust lead even non-practicing Jews to avoid cremation.

"The Holocaust is a drama that most Jews identify with, even if they don't identify with Jewish observance," Balk said.

Most Orthodox and Conservative rabbis, who follow more traditional paths of Judaism, refuse to preside over cremation burials. Even Reform Rabbi Sandford Kopnick, who leads the more liberal Valley Temple in Wyoming, said he does not encourage the practice.

"Judaism isn't bucking the trend, we're just not participating in it," Kopnick said.



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