Green or Natural Funerals and Burials
Jewish tradition requires a simple, plain casket to reaffirm that we are all equal in death.
Wooden dowels should be used instead of nails or screws.
If glue is used, it should be vegetable-based, not animal-based.
Jewish law requires the body be allowed to return to the earth as soon as possible. Therefore, the casket must be made entirely from wood, with several holes drilled in the bottom to hasten decomposition and the body's return to earth.
The casket cannot be manufactured on the Sabbath.
The entire casket must be biodegradable, so only natural materials are used in the interiors.
Because the casket needs to be biodegradable, the beds are not adjustable. A special type of bed, called "wood wool," is used in the manufacture of orthodox caskets. Wood wool is similar to steel wool except, as the name implies, wood wool is actually wood, and the individual strands of wool are larger than what's found in most steel wool. Wood wool beds are large mattresses that typically fill about half the casket, leaving the other half for the deceased.
written by David M. Techner
"Take Good Care of the Earth". This was the bumper sticker that found its way to the rear of many of the cars my friends and I drove in college. I would be less than honest if I did not admit that even though the message was subtle, 40 years ago my friends and I were unaware of the environmental challenges that would confront our generation as we entered the 21st century.
I can however state with pride the passion I see daily from my 3 adult children and their significant others as they confront the effects of generations whose indifference to the effects of their careless and clueless treatment of the earth that we we inhabit but claim our love for. From the current political climate, an economic crisis unseen since the Great Depression, it is impossible to watch the news, read the paper or surf the net without being confronted with talk of cleaning up the environment and teaching and learning "Green".
As I entered the funeral profession in 1974, the two big issues confronting the funeral profession were the effects of Jessica Midford's, "The American Way of Death", a book slamming the funeral industry's excess's of over priced products and services, many of which she deemed as unnecessary. The second issue was seen as the challenge to the sacred "traditional funeral" which included embalming, a day or two of visitation with elaborate metal or wood caskets, concrete burial vaults, and flowers adorning chapels and churches and an almost certain ground burial. The issue was the growing acceptance of cremation as an alternative to ground burial, sometimes with a service taking place at a funeral home, but often with a memorial service taking place with arrangements handled by family and friends absent the funeral director.
The environmentalists spoke of the wasted land occupied by the dead and cemeteries while giving little consideration for the toxic chemicals released in the cremation process. Questions were asked how long before land no longer existed for ground burial and what, if any, was our plan B.
At a recent meeting attended by funeral directors, the speaker, a PHD in Ecology stated when the concept starts with burning ANYTHING, the environment is soon to become the loser. He spoke of the concept of "Green Burial" or "Natural Burial". What is Green Burial.? Simple and natural, according to the website, greenburials.org. "Green burial, or natural burial, ensure the burial site remains as natural as possible in all respects. Interment is done in a bio-degradable casket, a shroud or a favorite blanket. No embalming fluid, no concrete vaults".
As a Jewish Funeral Director and member of the Jewish Funeral Directors of America(JFDA), I can imagine the previous paragraph included with slight variations on every JFDA member's website nationwide. A favorite blanket might accompany a shroud but not replace a shroud, and concrete vaults are often a cemetery requirement, but the intent is virtually the same . The terms "Jewish Burial", "Green Burial" and "Natural Burial" are synonymous, for essentially they all mean the same thing. What's notable is not that organizations like the Green Burial Council are relatively new, but that the sages of Judaism adopted these practices thousands of years ago.
"And thus we give back to the earth, that which was of the earth", a prayer recited at a Jewish burial was not written with the environment in mind. It was so practical and sound in its roots, it has stood the test of time-some two to three thousand years. Although a common misunderstood fact that a plain pine box is a requirement, there is nothing written about any type of box or container to be used in a Jewish burial. It could be said that many of the edicts found in the green burial movement today are the adaptations of Jewish funerals in a modern day world. In Israel today, the body, or "Met" is brought to the cemetery in a container, removed and buried in the ground with friends, family and the community completing the task of burial. No casket, no vault, only the shroud.
As the movement in the funeral industry may be debated between green burials and cremations as it relates to the environment, JFDA members can sit this debate out, knowing that the sages of our tradition were not only scholars of their time, but in their wisdom were thousands of years ahead of their time as "protectors of the earth". Their wisdom of "we come from the earth as so to the earth we shall return", is not a convenient environmental debate, but what Tevya famously declared in "Fiddler on the Roof", "TRADITION, TRADITION"!
For The Jewish Funeral Directors of America
The Ira Kaufman Chapel, Inc.
Herman Meyer & Son, PO Box 4052, Louisville, Kentucky 40204 | 502.458.9569 | firstname.lastname@example.org