What makes a Humanistic Jewish funeral unique?
A Humanistic Jewish funeral or memorial service (a ceremony at which the body is not present) reflects Judaism’s realistic and respectful acceptance of death. Its purpose is to celebrate the life of the deceased and, through the presence of family and friends, to help the bereaved accept their loss and focus their memories in a meaningful way.

Death is a time when the “ethics of words” is particularly precious. As secular or cultural Jews, we choose language that avoids euphemisms, platitudes, and messages of false comfort. Instead, we speak honestly about our circumstances, and about our loss and pain.

Because this life is the only life of which we are certain, we as a community must do our best to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the person who has died, help to establish a living legacy of that person through shared memories, and help the bereaved understand that their loved one lives on through their memories.

In addition to words and readings offered by the Rabbi, family members or close friends often share reflections at a funeral or memorial service.  Music, when available, can also help create a beautiful and meaningful tribute.

Just as no two people are alike, no two secular Jewish funerals are alike either. The exact content of the ceremony will be determined by the Rabbi and immediate family, who will meet prior to the ceremony to plan the service together.

Is cremation OK?
Yes. While forbidden in Orthodox, or rabbinic, tradition, cremation has become an increasingly acceptable choice in modern society where concerns over the environmental impact of traditional burials is growing. The prohibition of cremation has its roots in some early cultures in which body and soul were believed to be inseparable; thus the soul could not survive destruction of the flesh. The rabbis justified the historic ban on cremation by their belief in a final Judgment Day when the dead would be physically resurrected in Jerusalem.

(Of course, there very likely was a much simpler rationale for the historic preference of burial over cremation: Ancient Jews lived in a dry, rocky climate. Fuel for the fire was far too precious to waste on the burning of the dead.)

Because we no longer believe in physical resurrection of the dead, there is no reason to adhere to the traditional prohibition against cremation, if cremation was your loved one’s preference.

To learn more about the history of Jewish funerary practices, I published a 2-page article on the topic in Jewish Current magazine, which you can view here

What about other Jewish burial practices? Are they done?
If you want them to be, yes. Humanistic mourning practices include:

  • Shiva:  Mourners may choose to remain at home for a period of time after the funeral or memorial service. The purpose of this practice is to allow mourners to be comforted by visiting friends. Self-mortification is inappropriate. Memorial services also may be held in the home.
  • Yahrzeit: While the traditional Mourner’s Kaddish is filled with praises and petitions to an omnipotent God whose wisdom and beneficence are unquestioned, many Humanistic Jews choose to recite an alternate Humanistic Kaddish, written by the movement’s founder, Rabbi Sherwin Wine (view here). Yet another option is to choose a particular poem, reading, or meditation favored by the mourners of the deceased, which can be read in place of the Kaddish each year.
    Whatever reading you choose, a yahrzeit flame may be kindled.
  • Unveiling or Stone Dedication: If there is a burial or cremation plot, a memorial stone may be placed on the grave. A ceremony of dedication may be held. The unveiling of the tombstone is typically done 6 months after burial, but it may occur at any time. The family can simply gather on their own on this occasion, or the Rabbi can also join you to facilitate the remembrance.
What are your fees?
Like most rabbis in the area, I adhere to the pricing guidelines put forth by the local Board of Rabbis. We believe that death is not a time that people should have to worry about the stress of price-shopping or fear they are being financially gouged.

To determine my travel times, I will need to know where you wish me to officiate the ceremony, as well as where (if anywhere) you’d like me to go for a shiva minyan. Simply provide this information on the Contact form, and I can provide you with a fee.

What is Humanistic Judaism's philosophy on assisted suicide?
Just as Humanistic Judaism encourages and seeks to secure life with dignity, it encourages and seeks to secure death with dignity. The word euthanasia (from the Greek eu – good, thanatos – death) means “good death.”

People should be permitted the right to die a good death – a death with a minimum of pain and suffering. Humanistic ethics oppose the cruel and inhumane notion that human beings must be kept breathing as long as possible, regardless of the circumstances and the person’s own wish to be relieved of their suffering.

The Society for Humanistic Judaism has adopted a statement supporting physician-assisted death that “affirms that mentally competent adults with irreversible, terminal medical conditions accompanied by intense suffering should have the right to physician assistance in dying.” [add hyperlink]

The Society, in an earlier statement supporting advance directives, “urges every person to compose a binding document (living will, advance directive) to ensure that all loved ones, close family members, and medical personnel will carry out his or her decision, and affirms that no one should have the right or authority to interfere with a personal choice regarding decisions about the ending of one’s own life.”

How Can I Help?

If you’ve recently lost a loved one, contact me today.