Posts tagged " death "

My Wife Wants to be Cremated

September 12th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 37 comments

My wife has stage 4 cervical cancer and is not healthy enough for the standard treatments. We are preparing for the worst but praying for the best. 

She has expressed a desire to be cremated.  It’s cheaper, and when I pass I will  be interned at Arlington as I am a veteran.  It sounded OK to me at first but I’m having reservations.

Your thoughts, should a Jew or a Christian consider cremation?

Robert H.

Dear Robert,

We are moved by your words, “We are preparing for the worst but praying for the best,” and pray that God responds favorably to your prayers.

While we love teaching what the Torah says we aren’t comfortable telling you as a Christian how to act. We recommend that you discuss this with a respected mentor and/or clergy from your own faith.

We can tell you that in Torah Judaism, proper treatment of the body after death is defined as burial, just as God told Adam toward the end of Genesis chapter 3. This is so important that, for faithful Jews, even if one’s parents expressed their wishes to be cremated, their children may not carry out those wishes. The idea is that after death, the parents will have entered a World of Truth and will be appalled that they ever wanted to do something counter to God’s law. As such, giving them a proper burial is actually following their final wishes.


Did I Accelerate My Mother’s Death?

December 21st, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments


My Mom passed away suddenly in April.  She had been having intestinal issues for a couple of months & I finally figured out it was from a prescription she was taking.  I had the doctor change it, but less than a week later, she died.  

I blame myself for not discovering sooner the medicine was causing it, and have blamed myself ever since, believing I let her down & am heartbroken.  She was my biggest inspiration.  As you can imagine, I miss her terribly.

 My husband says it is not my fault, and it was her time to go, but I feel I would still have her if I had figured it out sooner.  Do you think we each have a certain time we are appointed to die?



Dear Becky,

We are truly sorry for your great loss.  What a lovely tribute you give to your mother when you write, “She was my biggest inspiration.”

Blaming yourself is a natural reaction, but we agree with your husband that it is not a correct or productive one. Your letter makes clear (we edited for space; you provided more details) that you and your husband devotedly took care of your mother. If you could see into the future or if you were omniscient, you would have known that her medication was causing a problem; but those powers are not given to us. Her death may be completely unrelated to her treatment, as well. There is no reason to feel bad for being a human being. You did the best you could with the realities you saw.

We do believe that God appoints a time for each of us, however we also believe that human actions can accelerate or delay that time. Otherwise, there would be no reason to punish a murderer or to provide medical care or to pray for someone who is ill. Yet, we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that we are in charge.

Your loss is still fresh and your emotions are raw. Try not to divert yourself from the pain by focusing on self-flagellation.  You are still in the first year of mourning so rather than repeatedly reliving the medication issue in your mind, focus on all the good times you shared, all the gratitude you feel, and the wonderful example she set.

By sharing your mother’s story you are reminding us all to pay close attention to medicine interactions and of the need to monitor doctors. By sharing memories of her, you can encourage women to recognize their importance as mothers. The pain will never completely go away though it will lessen. The guilt should be abandoned right away.

Sending virtual hugs,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Choose Life

October 11th, 2016 Posted by Susan's Musings 14 comments

What if you do not want to pray for life? That thought ran as an undercurrent through my mind as I prayed the extra prayers during the Ten Days of Repentance that culminate with Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. Many of those prayers plead with God for the opportunity to live for another year. The soft whisper I heard was spurred by a beautifully written article, dictated by use of voice recognition technology because author Ben Mattlin cannot use his hands. Severely disabled from birth, he fights for life each day as he has done from infancy. During that time, he graduated from Harvard, became an accomplished financial journalist, married and raised two children, and achieved many other goals of which many healthy people only dream. In his article, he explains how much he values his life and how much value his life has. He was partially motivated to write by the legally sanctioned refusal of treatment to a fourteen-year-old born with the same birth defect as he, spinal muscular atrophy.


Glad to be Sad

September 21st, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools No Comment yet

You know those days. You feel unstoppable and on top of the world, walking on air with sheer delight. A real king of the hill. Keep your balance!

And then the days when you’re dejected and all alone and your eyes fill with the hot tears of defeat and you feel that life isn’t worth living. Keep your balance!

Things are seldom as deliriously intoxicating as they might seem and they are never as hopeless and despairing as they often appear to be. Keep your balance.

This Wednesday night is the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles; we call it Sukot, the plural of the word Sukah based on this verse:

In Sukot you shall live for seven days…so that your generations will knowthat in Sukot I sat the children of Israel when I took them out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God.

(Leviticus 23:42-43)

This holyday is uniquely characterized as “the time of our joy” on account of the following verses:

…and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.
 (Leviticus 23:40)

You shall make the holyday of Sukot for seven days…And you shall rejoice in your holyday…
 (Deuteronomy 16:13-14)

In another of those puzzling paradoxes we so frequently encounter in our Biblical studies and whose resolution inevitably leads to one more blinding truth about how the world REALLY works, we find death surrounding the holyday called “Time of our Joy.”  Death and joy?  Really?

Look at a few of these death allusions.  The holyday of Sukot occurs in the fall when the post-harvest fields are empty and the trees lose their leaves.  The days are getting shorter and cooler.  (Not coincidentally, this is when Halloween with its foolish emphasis on death and ghosts also occurs.)

The main rule about the Sukah is that its roof must comprise vegetation that once was alive but is now disconnected from the earth and dying.  The four tree species which we hold in our hands and bless each day of Sukot are green and beautiful but we watch them fade and wither.

During the Passover Seder we invite real living people who might be hungry to come and join our meal.  However, during Sukot, we invite dead people to join us.  On each night of the holyday we formally invite to our tables, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David.

The decidedly gloomy book of Ecclesiastes is read during the holyday of Sukot, with verses such as these:

Better is a name than good oil and the day of death is better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of festivity…

 (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2)

You get the idea.  The seven day festival of Sukot is highlighted as the time of joy.  Indeed, in Israel today, a happy atmosphere pervades the air on Sukot, felt by religious and non-religious alike. Yet it unquestionably contains more than its fair share of deathly hints.

I suspect that you have already grasped what God is hinting at.  You see, if we all lived forever, we would never know the real happiness of living.  Without sorrow there can be no joy and without darkness, there can be no light.  Paradoxically, the holyday of happiness must refer to death.

The reverse is also true.  Every pain ultimately carries the promise of pleasure; poverty promises prosperity and sadness contains the seed of happiness. The distress of death presumes the joy of eternal life.

I truly know of no better way of gaining the perspective so necessary for coping with life’s ups and downs than the the Bible with all its nuances.  Delve into a new secret or another insight. Replace the perplexing predicaments of life with its permanent principles. 

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