Why Cemeteries Matter https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/religion-holidays/2021/10/why-cemeteries-matter/

October 28, 2021 | Rachel K. Alexander
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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.

Read more on Tablet: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/community/articles/why-cemeteries-matter