This may seem like burial is a random topic to address right now. Unfortunately morbidity has been on my mind for a number of reasons. Really though, this is an article that I had promised not one, but two people on different occasions. The first is a huge holy person whose life’s work has been to bury the dead. The second is a friend of mine, indeed about as good a friend as one could make on Twitter, Joshua Paul. It was due to our conversation, and his vocalization of his desire to begin his afterlife in a Chock Full O’Nuts coffee can, that I have decided to make the pitch for burial.
Judaism is clear that there is an afterlife, and this belief is Biblical while not heavily discussed*. What that afterlife looks like is vague and is a lengthy discussion within the Rabbinic works. One issue that is agreed upon is that there will be a bodily resurrection. What exactly that means and what it will look like are the subject of serious analysis, but the point is that the body, even after the soul has left, still has relevance to a Jew’s afterlife.
Given this fact, the way we handle the body is important and is not just up to a person’s preference. Yes, I am sensitive to the fact burial is much pricier than cremation. The Rabbis were also sensitive to it, which is why there is massive fundraising for hevrei kadisha, the societies that take care of the dead. Burial is an affirmative of the truth of Judaism, and even further, an affirmation that there is something beyond the physical world.
So what does that mean for the unaffiliated? The irreligious? Well, in a sense it’s a Pascal’s wager type of argument. Either you will be using your body after you die or you won’t. If I’m wrong, you neither gain nor lose by being buried because you’ll have no clue what will happen to you. If I’m right, it certainly does make a difference, a big one. And unlike other commandments, it takes one time, one opportunity to fulfill.
This is one of the few issues where I don’t see another side, except for the expense issue. I don’t find it compelling given the fact that money is available for this cause.
*Lev. 19:31 and 1 Sam. 28