Volume 12 Number 33
                       Produced: Thu Mar 31  8:25:24 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Discussion on Cremation:  Review
         [Steven Edell]
Holocaust Museum and Kohanim
         [Uri Meth]


From: Steven Edell <edell@...>
Date: Tue, 15 Mar 1994 21:01:26 +0200 (IST)
Subject: Discussion on Cremation:  Review

Hello, all,

There were several different themes/reasoning that I received from many of
you.  I will try to summerize them all & only share with you what I feel is

As it would happen, the first post I saw, the woman described very closely
what happened to me:

From: Ruth Neal <rln@...>
     G-d willing, this will be something that will bring you and your mother
     closer together at a very important time of passage.  (I sat with my
     father, a"h, throughout his last three weeks of brain cancer, and it was
     a time I can't even describe...I realized that when we talk about
     someone being "nifter", the word also means "opened" -- along with the
     incredible pain of leaving/losing someone it is an amazing privilege to
     accompany someone on the first stages of their journey into olam haba.)

When I asked her about the word 'nifter' being related to 'opened', she

     I was thinking of the aspect of peter (as in peter rechem) which Alcalay
     translates as "opening".  Obviously this is not the main translation of
     the shoresh, but it seems to me that the concepts of free/exempt
     (patur), or his translation of "peter" meaning to dismiss, free,
     discharge, let out, etc. have somewhat that same idea -- of a transition
     from a state of being bound, obligated, etc. to one of freedom, breadth,

I also received from her, as well as from several other people, a warning
about one funeral home in the SF area that routinely embalms (which is
against Jewish law & not required by ANY state law).  If anyone needs to know
details, "Chas V'Halilah", contact me privately.

     I also heard from several individuals whose parents were cremated as
well, without their being able to prevent it.

     Several people felt I not only should do all I could in order to stop
her from that decision, but some went so far as to say I had to stop her

From: Stephen Phillips <stephenp@...>

     So, if the arrangements for burial are to be in your hands or in the
     hands of some member of your family who can be persuaded that cremation
     is wrong, then you could legally ignore your mother's wishes, but
     without of course telling her this during her lifetime. This should,
     however, be discussed with a competent Rabbi who should be asked whether
     or not such a deception would be permitted (I feel that it probably
     would be). You may also need to consult a lawyer as to the legailities
     under Californian law. 

>From Anonymous2:

     I <would be> prepared to tell her that what she was doing was wrong and
     comparable to eating chazer or eating chometz on pesach, or even that
     she might have to suffer the shame of not being buried in the cemetery.
     Also, she might get punished in the heavenly court. IF I were in your
     shoes, I would do everything to prevent your mom from following thru
     with this terrible aveira. Tell her she should not make the last act of
     her life a sin. I assume she is not frum, but she probably fasts on Y'K.
     Tell her doing this is like eating on Y'K- a terrible sin. In addition,
     even lie if need be to prevent this aveira.  

     Does she have this written in a will? If she doesn't, just act like you
     didn't know these were her wishes. Even if she does have it in a will,
     who says you have to carry out her wishes? If you have other siblings,
     just tell them what a great sin it is, and that you should all refuse to
     carry out the instructions.  

However, there were others who mentioned that as well, but then expressed the
'other side of the coin':

From: <GERVER@...>

     If, rachmana atzlan, I were ever in a situation like that, I personally
     would not want to do anything that cause dissension in my family, no
     matter what the halacha is (and I don't say that lightly). A death in
     the family should bring the remaining family members closer together. 

I answered anonymous2 as follows:

     I don't think this tract would have helped, and might have made her 
     antagonistic towards me.  Actually, all I told her was the law (as I 
     recall it).  I didn't even tell her it would be a problem to me. 

     My <family> were fully supporting Mom's decision to be cremated, and
     although I thought about lying (and making an actual court case about
     it), I didn't feel that the total upheaval of my extended family would
     have been worth it.  In the end, I am glad that HaShem showed me the
     correct derech.

I HAD looked at the possibility of bringing this to a court.  A Rabbi said
that it's possible, but in actuality not very realistic.  I also asked the
"executor of the estate", as he is called, who is a relative & a lawyer.  He
said, theoretically, he can do ANYTHING he wants to, after a person passes
away.  The family (or part of it) could also bring the matter to court, but
it's very seldom done.  I agreed with Mike (Gerber) on this & didn't even
mention this to my family.

There are at least three religiously-based books on the subject:

From: Meir Laker <meir@...>

     If you haven't already seen Maurice Lamm's book, "The Jewish Way in
     Death and Mourning", I recommend you get a copy.  Aside from its
     generally nice explanation of the philosophy underlying the Halachik
     practices of death and mourning, he has a section dealing with cremation
     that might be somewhat useful in talking to your mother.  He discusses
     the parallel natural processes of birth and death ("From dust you were
     born and to dust you will return") while arguing for the decomposition
     of the body according to nature's own schedule. 

From: Naomi Bulka <ab645@...> (Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka)

     Am sending to you an excerpt from my recent book, "More of What You
     Thought You Knew About Judaism: 354 Common Misconceptions About Jewish
     Life", p. 289. Here is the excerpt: 

          "MISCONCEPTION: If a parent requested to be cremated, the child
          must obey that request." (text follows of the book)  

I also saw a (I was told new) book by Kolitch, (something like), "All the
questions about Death & Mourning".

I have another question for the list.  Anonymous2 said:

     The funeral was in a nearby state but not near enough to where I live
     that my regular "chevra" came to the funeral.  I sat shiva with the
     family for the first 2 days, then went home for Shabbos and sat at home
     for the rest of it. 

I asked Anon2 if a Rabbi was consulted before going home for Shabbos after 2
days, and the answer was, yes, a Rabbi was consulted.  When I looked through
Kolitch's book, I saw that he DOES mentions several "Heterim" [leniencies]
whereby someone can go home.  I will in all probability be going to New York
for the funeral & would very much like to go back to Israel to sit "Shiva",
especially since there would be no place for me to do so in New York (I know
very few religious people there now!).   Someone else told me that if I don't
stay a night, ie, come during the day, go to the funeral & do Kria'a [the
traditional tearing of a garment], I could then return immediately that same
day, to Israel.  Can anyone substantiate these?

Two more points.  <klaudon@...> said:

     Sorry to sound like a Lubavitcher again, but the Rebbe's office still
     accepts requests for brochos and advice, despite his ill condition.
     What's more, as you may know, Lubavitch is now on e-mail.  That would
     certainly be something to consider.

I DID send a note to the Rebbe (may he recover from his illness). 

Finally, Kalman (Laudon) also said:

     Lastly, as an aside, the Lubavitcher Rebbe shlita, may Hashem grant him,
     along with all cholei yisroel, an immediate and total recovery, has
     recommended (many years ago) that people do not refer to the direct name
     of the c disease, and instead refer to it indirectly, as in Yiddish,
     "yener machaleh", or, "that illness".  Just something to think about.  

That I never heard before, and when I asked about it, Kalman said:

     I do not know the exact reason why the rebbe has suggested that people
     use an indirect reference to the disease.  Perhaps it causes an evil
     ___, or has some connection to idolatry (non-jewish astrology), or some
     other reason.  I only know that if the rebbe said so, it is worth
     considering! BTW, if you intend to re-post this bit of info, I would
     appreciate it if you make it clear that I do NOT know the rebbe's

Anyone else hear about this?

Finally, EVERYONE expressed the following, and it is so important to me I
want to repeat it, if I could, thousands of times:

May your mother have a R'fua Sh'leima and live for many more years 

I apologize for this being sooo long.

[My apologies on the delay in getting this out, continued
condolences to Steve in this time of his Aveilut, thanks to him for
sharing this with us and thanks to HaShem for burial k'Halakha of his
mother. Mod.]


From: <umeth@...> (Uri Meth)
Date: Thu, 10 Mar 1994 10:17:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re:  Holocaust Museum and Kohanim

In response to the Holocaust museum and Kohanim posted by Mack in v12n03
and my subsequent response, a number of questions to Kohanim entering 
such a place have been asked.

I personally have received one question in private via e-mail from
Michael Lipkin.  I am printing it here, with the response I sent him
with some addendums.  I hope Michael does not mind my printing his
question here, but I beleive my answer will show why.

>Michael S. Lipkin asked privately.
> I didn't want to post this publicly, since nobody has asked or stated it I
> thought I might seem dumb even asking, but what is the basis for the 
> question about Kohanim and the Holocaust Museum?

In V12n12 three more question/comments are posted:

>From: eisenbrg%<milcse@...> (Lon Eisenberg)
>Having not been in the museum, could someone explaing to me why a kohen
>would think that there may be a problem with going to it?

>From: <david@...> (David Charlap)
>This is what I'd expect.  After all, there aren't any bodies buried
>beneath the museum.  Kohanim aren't prohibited from all things
>pertaining to death, just dead bodies.

>From: Justin M. Hornstein <jmh@...>
>Probably a posek would need to investigate all the original exhibits at the
>Holocaust museum; possibly some, like the cattle car and other death
>conveyences, might need to be avoided by Cohanim, while other exhibits
>may be ok.

In answer to Michael Lipkin and Lon Eisenberg:

In every Holocaust Museum the problem for Kohanim is the remains of dead
people.  There are a few exhibits which could be a problem.  

a) Soap.  One of the ingredients of soap is a fatty substance and the
Nazi's used human fat to make their soap
b) Ashes.  Some museums have exhibits of the ovens used in the
crematoriums and have ashes from the original crematoriums.

These are the two most common problems.  A small peice of soap would not
be "metamai be-ohel" (make a person impure by being under the same roof)
if the human fat content was less than a "kezayit" (size of an olive).
I don't know what the shiur is for ashes.  Also, if there is a shiur of
human fat or ashes which would be "metamai be-ohel", if the case it is in is
hermetically sealed and the walls of the case are a minimum of one
handbreadth above and around the problematic item, in such a situation a
kohain would be permitted to enter.  This case would constitute a
separate Ohel (see below for this concept) around the prohibited body
part.  There might be other items which are problematic, but I don't 
recall them at the moment.

If you wish to learn about the subject a great place to start is
Mesechet Kaliim (first tractate in Seder Taharot).

I hope this answers your question.

By the way, this is not a dumb question.  Mostly, the only people who
even think this is a problem are Kohanim because we have to worry about
it.  If you are not a kohain you would never even consider this.

GENERAL NOTE:  In regards to Halachah, no question is dumb.  If a person
does not know the law, he should not be afraid to ask.  There is a
jewish saying, "HaBayshan Aiyno Lomaid" - the ambarrassed person will
not learn - because he is too afraid to ask.  Any time a person has a
question in regards to Halachah, no matter how "dumb" you might think it
is, just becuase no one else has asked it, doesn't mean they aren't as
ignorant in the law as you are.  They are just as afraid of asking as you.  
So to one and all (I know I am on a soap box now, sorry about the pun), in any
situation where you have a question in Halachah, no matter how dumb you
think the question is, don't be ambarrased to ask.

In response to David Charlap and Justin Hornstein:

The general laws pertaining Tumas Mais (impurity from a dead person) are
quite complex.  The simple rule is that a Kohain is not permitted to
enter under the same Ohel (covering) as a dead body.  Therefore, if
there is a dead body in one room in a building, and all the rooms in the
building are connected via airways (vents, open doors, etc) the Kohain
is forbidden to enter the whole building, not just the room that the
dead body is in.  If however, the room which contains the dead body is
completly sealed off from the rest of the building, then a Kohain MIGHT
be permitted to enter the rest of the building.  Each scenario must be
investigated to determine the permisability.  This rule also applied to 
parts of a dead body.  When the body part in question is from the flesh 
the shiur is a Kezayit.  When it is just dry bones the shiur is Rov Binyan 
Oh Rov Minyan (the major bones of the body, ie the spine, skull, and rib 
cage, or a majority of the number of bones in the body).  I beleive there is
another shiur for bones but I don't recall this at the moment (is it a
Kav of bones, I don't remember). 

Therefore, if one exhibit in the building is problematic for a Kohain,
a Kohain might have to refrain from stepping in the whole building.

I hope this answers your questions/comments.

Uri Meth                (215) 674-0200 (voice)
SEMCOR, Inc.            (215) 443-0474 (fax)
65 West Street Road     <umeth@...>
Suite C-100, Warminster, PA 18974


End of Volume 12 Issue 33