Amy Winehouse And Cremation
08/04/11
Jewish Week Online Columnist
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 Q - I have always been under the impression that cremation and tatoos are forbidden by Jewish law.  Yet the recent funeral for Amy Winehouse was very Jewish in nature although the singer — who was amply tattooed — had asked to be cremated.  Is cremation now accepted in Jewish quarters?

A –  The 27 year old British singer was cremated and yes, she was bedecked with tattoos .   Since tattoos are a topic I’ve addressed recently on these pages, I’ll focus here on whether it was appropriate for her to have had a traditional Jewish funeral, with a rabbi, shiva and all the trappings, when her body was not laid to rest in the traditional Jewish manner.
 
Unlike other liberalizing trends in contemporary Jewish life, there has been no great clamor for cremation rights. So the ancient taboo has retained its potency – in theory at least. The practice of cremation is something foreign to Judaism, and that runs across the board, for all denominations. Surely the Holocaust plays into this in our generation (although I’ve recently heard of some Jews desiring TO be cremated precisely in order to show solidarity with Holocaust victims – a practice that in my mind is counterintuitive), but the rationale goes to the heart of what it means to be a Jew. We believe that human beings are created in God’s image; there is something about each of us that is of infinite value. Our bodies are therefore sacred and should not be summarily destroyed. If we treat the dead with dignity, the hope is that we will treat the living with the same measure of respect. The Nazis did the opposite, of course, branding people like cattle, crushing them like insects and slaughtering them like sheep. 
 
That having been said, rabbis should always be looking toward to needs of the mourners and in many cases officiate at memorial services and shivas, regardless of how the deceased was interred. There are rulings allowing for the interment of ashes in a Jewish cemetery.  Some rabbis might even officiate at that burial and others would officiate, at the very least, at a service taking place elsewhere, before the cremation occurs.
 
Had I been asked to officiate at Winehouse’s cremation, my response, to quote her most popular song, would have been “No, no, no.” But I would have done the funeral, and with an immense sadness having far less to do with how she adorned the outside of her body than with the substances she put into it.
 
There’s no denying the tragic nature of this death, even as many of the details remain unknown. Winehouse’s honesty and fragility have had a deep impact on her fans and her death should be a wakeup call as to how we revel at watching celebrities self destruct (see Lohan: Lindsay and Sheen: Charlie). 
 
A death like this should not be fodder for gossip columns.   We should strive to salvage a modicum of dignity amidst the media circus that engulfed her soul long before the flames incinerated her body. The real ethical issue here is not how Amy’s corpse was destroyed after she died, but how so many burdens and pressures conspired to destroy her while she was alive.
 
 

Last Update:

07/15/2014 - 17:17

Comments

Amy's wish was to get buried alongside her grandmother, whom she loved above all. As there were no plots available at the Edgwarebury cemetary, the only option was cremation and then burial of the urn. They share the same headstone.

As Amy winehouse was a Jew despite being cremated and then ashes buried shouldn't her family plot be in just a cluster of graves with just being Jewish graves or not as I read somewhere the a Jewish grave should be buried with graves of the jewish faith, than be with family's of other denominations I think the story of Blake is so sad and tragic that if they were not harassed and picked on constantly and left to live a reasonable life than be bullied by the press like they both were especially amy. I saw a first personal interview by Blake fielder civil on the popular uk tv show in which he was sorry too Amy's family and I felt strongly that he spoke from the heart by saying heroin is a evil drug that takes lives and destroys family's and friends lives that are close too you I felt because the love was so deep for Amy that he said himself if she was alive and well e would have gone back he confirmed on tv in which his new girlfriend had not head this addition before but he then went on how he loved his new girlfriend and his new son. Then after doing his interview he helped another drug addict and Blake shone in convincing this guy rehab was the right thing todo and Blake said quite openly that he wished he and Amy took up rehab offers up earlier in the relationship than lost his former wife. Final thing I will say is rehab places accosts the uk are difficult too get as funding is as tight than ever and people can rebuild their life's only if they want too and face the upset from other family members its caused too to I hope it worked for the guy on this curtain show I really do

As an orthodox jew, I think that the law against tattoos is stupid! I don't think god cares if you put a tattoo on your own body is any different than piercing. It is an old law that had to do with idolatry and does not apply today. We need to stop being so archaic in our thinking and wake up to a new world. The tattoos can be removed today, so nothing is permanent and nor should this even be an issue!!

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