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Oct 19, 2010

Green/Jewish Burial

"Green burials" are becoming popular in the US.

The explanation of what a green burial is actually sounds just like Jewish burial.

From Green Chip Stocks:
While there are varying degrees of green burials, the general rule is that there is no use of concrete, metal, or chemicals in the burial process.
This means bodies are not embalmed, and are either wrapped in a linen or cotton shroud, or are laid to rest in a box made of pine, wicker, cardboard, or bamboo.
The GBC requires that, for the container to be considered green, it must be nontoxic and biodegradable — as well as made from materials sourced in a way that does not destroy habitats.
Embalming fluid, made with the chemical formaldehyde, has been proven to pose health risks, particularly among funeral directors.
Many countries throughout the world have banned it, and Jewish law prohibits it.
One thing to consider, though, that is if a body is not embalmed, it must be buried within a short period of time — usually within 48 hours. This can pose problems for loved ones needing to travel in order to attend a funeral.
If this is a concern, there are several formaldehyde-free embalming fluids available now, including one approved by the GBC made entirely of nontoxic and biodegradable essential oils.
Even if you're not an environmentalist or a lover of the outdoors, you might consider cost as a factor.
The average funeral in the United States costs $6,500, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
The casket alone can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 — and no casket, regardless of its qualities, will preserve a body forever...
While cremation is a less expensive way of interment (usually around $1,500) and is lower impact environmentally, it is not considered green.
Cremation burns a lot of fossil fuels and can pump mercury or other chemicals into the air if a person has dental amalgam fillings or other surgical items inside them.
Rest assured, even if you aren't very green in life, it turns out that in death you are.

(HatTip to Commenter Abbi)


  1. (Rafi not G)
    Two ungreen points about Jewish burial though.

    Firstly, burial uses a lot of land which is covered with hard impervious pavement and tombstones, especially in Israel where graves are covered with slabs. This landscape is not exactly green. Also, at some point we are going to run out of space to bury people. In Jerusalem they have started multi-storey burial but these concrete monstrosities are anything but green and one day they will deteriorate and imagine what a balagan there will be trying to move the graves. My personal view is that after a certain amount of time the cemetery should be covered in dirt and we should start burying a second layer on top.

    Secondly, Jewish tradition does not permit planting of vegetation on a grave. This would probably be the greenest way to go. Be buried in the ground and plant a tree on top of the grave to return the materials to the ecosystem.

  2. Rafi (not G)
    1. Going green has nothing to do with the color of a landscape. It's a life (or death) style. Buying a fuel efficient car, recycling and eating organic are all forms of green living.
    2. Where do you get that from? Jewish cemeteries throughout the US have bushes/shrubbery planted on top of graves. Please provide sources.

  3. Jewish tradition does not permit planting of vegetation on a grave.

    Really? I've seen it done a lot in the US.

  4. Agree with anon and yoni. My great grandmother is buried in a nice Jewish cemetery on LI and there's a nice green shrub where the slab would be in Israel. My grandmother is buried in a chassidish cemetary in NJ and she has grass over her kever, with a headstone. Where do you get the idea that vegetation isn't allowed?

  5. On the first point, I am well aware that "green" is not to do with the color of the earth covering... My comments were about the concrete paved expanse of the cemeteries which are a non-eco-friendly environment and using valuable land which is in short supply in eretz hakodesh. Paved expanses destroy habitats for wildlife and disrupt water flow into the ground. It also means that that land is forever locked up in its current use and can never be reused for any other purpose.

    As for the issue of planting trees on graves we first need to differentiate between shallow rooted flowers and trees. Flowers can be planted though not by all opinions (see for example here)as there is a problem of hanaah from the grave and it is considered by some as hukot hagoyim.

    The same issur hanaah applies to trees so you can't use their fruit or wood. You probably can't use their shade either. I remember reading (and I just spent over an hour looking for it) that deep rooted trees are forbidden because of kvod hamet, but I couldn't find that.

  6. Jewish cemeteries could adopt takkanot limiting gravestones in size. Certainly there is no prohibition against letting native grasses grow. The cemetery in Prague where the Maharal is buried had bodies buried over other bodies.


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