Why Cemeteries Matter

Oct. 28 2021

Increasingly, Americans are choosing post-mortem options other than traditional burial, including cremation and “body composting.” While, in 2010, 53 percent of the dead were interred, by 2015 the number was 45 percent, and is expected to be a mere 37 percent in 2021. Judaism is particularly insistent on burial in the earth as the sole correct way to honor the dead—this week’s Torah reading begins with a description of Abraham purchasing the plot in which to bury his wife Sarah—and both Christianity and Islam have traditionally preferred burial as well. Rachel K. Alexander describes what can be lost as a secularizing society abandons the practice:

For religious Jews, cemeteries evince respect for the human body. Burial rituals are, therefore, essential; they involve keeping watch over the body until burial, purifying the body, dressing it in a shroud and placing it in a casket, and reciting the kaddish—first at the gravesite, then daily for an eleven-month period, the end of which is marked by a return to the grave for the unveiling of a tombstone. Visits to the graves of loved ones are especially important in anticipation of the High Holy Days, and cemeteries bear further significance for Jews as historical memorials. When Nazis during the Holocaust, Arab armies after 1948, and anti-Semites in America and elsewhere today desecrate Jewish graves and cemeteries, they attempt to erase the history of an entire people.

A walk through the graves of our forebears not only reminds us that we will die (and should therefore use our limited time and resources well), but it also reminds us that the buried once lived. They worked and married and raised children and spent their lives on or nearby the very land where they now lie. To the extent that they lived well, they gave their lives to that land, and we benefit from that gift. As James Madison famously explained in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, “the improvements made by the dead form a charge against the living who take the benefit of them.” Burial grounds serve this purpose, too: to remind us to be good stewards of the benefits we’ve inherited, and to make gifts of our own lives, in turn.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: American society, Death, James Madison, Jewish cemeteries, Judaism

 

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at FDD

More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy