The Jewish Prohibition on Cremation and Cryonics Reflects a Deeply Held Belief about Human Nature

As the ancient Roman historian Tacitus noted, Jewish custom mandates burial in the earth, an obligation treated with gravity by the Hebrew Bible and even more so by the rabbinic tradition. Thus cremation, not to mention recent techniques like cryonics, are forbidden by halakhah. Shlomo Brody explains that these attitudes stem from the biblical idea that the divine image inheres in every human being:

Humans, according to the Bible, were created from the earth, and in death we return to our source. This reminds us during our lifetime of our modest origins, while further encouraging us to utilize our time on earth to merit eternal life in the world to come alongside the resurrection of the dead, which will be granted only through God’s grace.

It was precisely out of a rejection of these notions that many Westerners favored cremation, when new technologies developed for efficient incineration in the 1870s. In modern cremations, bodies are incinerated at four-digit temperatures for two to three hours. Bone fragments and other residue are further pulverized before they are collected and returned. . . .

Interestingly, in some Eastern religions, cremation is utilized precisely because of a belief in the continued (and primary) existence of the soul, with the body’s destruction indicating its inconsequence. [But] Jewish law rejects this attitude toward the physical body. While the soul and its eternal life may have primary importance, the body is still seen as a holy vessel that allows us to manifest our inner spirit. [Likewise], a Torah scroll that has become blemished must still be treated with sanctity and properly interred. All the more so with the human body, which was created in God’s image and allows us to bring the divine word into the world.

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More about: Death, Halakhah, Judaism, Religion & Holidays

 

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria