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Emergency Cremation

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Emergency Cremation

Name@Withheld from Baltimore, MD wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

A while ago, I was talking with my children about the terrifying earthquakes that had then strucIndia & El Salvador. We were discussing the very unpleasant topic of why all the dead must be disposed of quickly (spreading of disease), and the children found a photo of a funeral pyre fully engaged. So here's the question: How does the halacha deal with this very serious and sensitive issue of "disposing of the remains of the dead?" We are taught that the Torah eschews cremation as a choice under ordinary circumstances. Does the Torah specifically mention a situation such as the one that was dealt with recently in India?


Dear Name@Withheld,

Honor for the dead is an important mitzvah, sometimes even superceding other mitzvot. But saving a life is even more important. You are not required to risk your life for the honor of the dead.

So, if avoiding an epidemic required cremation -- even if a single soul was in danger -- then the obligation would be to perform the cremation rather than risk a single life.

I don't know of any examples dealing with cremation specifically, but we know that Judaism allows organ transplants from the dead where the organ will save a life. This, despite that otherwise taking an organ from a dead body is a desecration. The above answer presents only the most general information. In an actual situation, a question should be asked to a halachic authority (except in a case of immediate danger).


 
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