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TORA-BASED PRACTICES FOR NOAHIDES: Burial, Cremation, and Bereavement

בס”ד

Life encompasses many facets, and one of them is the passing of individuals.

In this article, we will explore how we can navigate grief and what would constitute an appropriate Noahide burial.

Within the 7 Noahide laws, there seems to be no specific mention of this topic. However, Rabbi Nissim Gaon notes that not all of the Seven Laws and their derivatives require revelation. For example, the obligation to recognize G-d, obey Him, and serve Him—all are rational—can be logically derived.[1]

Various cultures worldwide handle their deceased in respectful ways. Examples include the Toraja culture in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, where elaborate ceremonies with offerings symbolizing prosperity and respect for the deceased take place. Also, in Chinese culture and Western countries, we observe respectful rituals and customs.

Although Noahides don’t have specific religious duties to their dead, their actions are influenced by Torah beliefs and values. It is therefore valuable to look at Jewish tradition, as they have preserved these practices.


Burial or Cremation

The choice between burial and cremation is a crucial aspect. Genesis 1:26-27 emphasizes that man is created in G-d’s image.


And G-d said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.”
 וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהקים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ

And G-d created humankind in the divine image,
creating it in the image of G-d—
creating them male and female.
 וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹקים | אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹקים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם

So we see that G-d created man with special attention. All other things came into being directly through His word, but Rashi points out that G-d created man with His hands, referring to Psalm 139:5, “and You placed Your hand upon me.” This special attention that G-d gives to the creation of man is also evident in Psalm 139.


It was You who created my conscience;
You fashioned me in my mother’s womb.
 כִּֽי־אַ֖תָּה קָנִ֣יתָ כִלְיֹתָ֑י תְּ֜סֻכֵּ֗נִי בְּבֶ֣טֶן אִמִּֽי
I praise You,
for I am awesomely, wondrously made;
Your work is wonderful;
I know it very well.
 אֽוֹדְךָ֗ עַ֚ל כִּ֥י נֽוֹרָא֗וֹת נִ֫פְלֵ֥יתִי נִפְלָאִ֥ים מַֽעֲשֶׂ֑יךָ וְ֜נַפְשִׁ֗י יֹדַ֥עַת מְאֹֽד

If G-d takes such care in creating man, it is logical to treat the body respectfully even after death. The Torah and Judaism show that burial is preferred over cremation, aligning with the natural cycle of returning to dust.

The first mention of a burial in the Bible is in Genesis 23, where Abraham buys land to bury his wife Sarah. Following the burial practice, as the patriarchs did, is therefore wise.

It is logically derived from Genesis 3:19 that man must return to dust.


By the sweat of your brow
Shall you get bread to eat,
Until you return to the ground—
For from it you were taken.
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
 בְּזֵעַ֤ת אַפֶּ֨יךָ֙ תֹּ֣אכַל לֶ֔חֶם עַ֤ד שֽׁוּבְךָ֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה כִּ֥י מִמֶּ֖נָּה לֻקָּ֑חְתָּ כִּֽי־עָפָ֣ר אַ֔תָּה וְאֶל־עָפָ֖ר תָּשֽׁוּב

Rabbi Moshe Weiner of Jerusalem explains that based on Genesis 3:19, burial in the ground is a moral obligation for non-Jews. Therefore, they should not be cremated. Nevertheless, these matters are not Torah-law requirements for Gentiles.[2]

In Deuteronomy 21:23, we find a text that explicitly states that the dead must be buried.


23
But you shall not leave his body on the pole overnight. Rather, you you must not let the corpse remain on the stake overnight, but must bury it the same day. For an impaled body is an affront to G-d: you shall not defile the land that your G-d Hashem is giving you to possess.
 כגלֹֽא־תָלִ֨ין נִבְלָת֜וֹ עַל־הָעֵ֗ץ כִּֽי־קָב֤וֹר תִּקְבְּרֶ֨נּוּ֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא כִּֽי־קִלְלַ֥ת אֱלֹקים תָּל֑וּי וְלֹ֤א תְטַמֵּא֙ אֶת־אַדְמָ֣תְךָ֔ אֲשֶׁר֙ ד’ אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ נַֽחֲלָֽה:

Rabbi Schraga Simmons emphasizes that cremation is discouraged out of respect for the natural separation of the soul and body, Judaism teaches that the soul undergoes a gradual process during burial, whereas cremation results in an abrupt separation.

One reason Judaism prohibits cremation is that the soul would endure significant shock due to an unnaturally sudden disengagement from the body. As the Talmud asserts, “Burial is not for the sake of the living but rather for the dead.” (Sanhedrin 47a)[3]

Despite differing opinions on delaying a burial, a swift interment is generally preferred out of respect for the deceased, aiming to avoid prolonged exposure.[4]

The Talmud tells us that it is forbidden to gaze at the face of a dead person.[5] On a basic level, this is so that we do not lose respect for the deceased, thats the reason Jewish that the casket may nog be openend to view the deceased.[6]

Cemetery

The general rule is that Noahides cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery, although some Jewish cemeteries may have separate sections for non-Jews. For Example At Har Hamenuchot (the Givat Shaul Cemetery) in Jerusalem, there are special sections for non-Jews. Many Noahides may not prefer Christian cemeteries either. If given the choice, they might opt for a general cemetery. One drawback of Western society cemeteries is that they do not have “eternal” grave rights. In the Netherlands, for instance, grave rights are usually granted for a specific period, often 20, 30, or 40 years. After this period, family members can choose to renew their grave rights, have the grave cleared, or make another decision based on the cemetery’s policy. The remains may be reburied elsewhere in the same cemetery, sometimes in a communal grave or a designated reburial area. However, there is often ambiguity about this process.

Currently, there is also the option, at least in the Netherlands, to be buried in a natural burial ground. In contrast to conventional cemeteries, where concessions can be terminated, and graves are cleared over time, natural burial grounds commonly offer concessions for an indefinite period. This ensures that the resting place is not disturbed by future clearances. Since there are no dedicated burial grounds for Noahides at present, this could be considered a viable alternative.

In summary, burial, preferably prompt, with a closed casket, reflects the respectful approach of the Torah and Jewish tradition. A natural burial ground emerges as a suitable alternative when considering burial options, especially in the absence of dedicated Noahide cemeteries. The practice of natural burial aligns with the principles of prompt interment and respects the environment, making it a thoughtful choice for those seeking a resting place for Noahides.

Funeral Service

Few specific Noahide practices are known for the Funeral Service. Given the diverse cultural practices among Noahides, it is beneficial to have a wide degree of freedom in this regard. It is recommended that the deceased has expressed their wishes in advance, or the bereaved family has the flexibility to organize the service according to their best judgment.

One may incorporate prayers and psalms for the deceased found in the prayer book of AskNoah International and provided by Rabbi Immanuel Schochet o.b.m

Prayer for a Departed Soul[7]:

All or part of the following prayer may be recited (not more than once daily) during the funeral, memorial gathering, week of mourning, anniversary of passing, or other special occasions that are deemed appropriate.

May G-d remember the soul of [mention the deceased person’s given names], son/daughter of [mention the given names of his/her parents*] who has gone on to his/her world. By virtue of my praying on his/her behalf, and – without making a vow – my intent to donate to charity on his/her behalf, may his/her soul be bound in the Bond of Life together with the souls of the righteous, and let us say: Amen.

*If the names of at least one parent are not known, use Noah if the deceased is a Gentile, or Abraham if the deceased is a Jew.

All or part of Psalm 49 and/or Psalm 139 may be recited as meditations on earthly life. The mourners or eulogist may recite Psalm 23.

The following may be included in the burial service:

The Rock – His working is perfect, for all His paths are justice; a G-d of faithfulness and without iniquity, He is righteous and fair! (Deuteronomy 32:4)

We know, G-d, that Your judgment is righteous; You are righteous when You speak and pure when You judge. There is naught to murmur about the way of Your judgment. You are righteous, G-d, and Your judgments are fair.

G-d gave, and G-d took; blessed be the Name of G-d![8]

The Rambam provides valuable insights at the forefront of mourning practices. It is important to note that while these guidelines are not obligatory for Noahides, the principle remains that mourning should be bound. Just as in the days of Noah (Genesis 7:4), where deep grief did not exceed 7 days, establishing limits in mourning is crucial.


For in seven days’ time I will make it rain upon the earth, forty days and forty nights, and I will blot out from the earth all existence that I created.”
 כִּי֩ לְיָמִ֨ים ע֜וֹד שִׁבְעָ֗ה אָֽנֹכִי֙ מַמְטִ֣יר עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ אַרְבָּעִ֣ים י֔וֹם וְאַרְבָּעִ֖ים לָ֑יְלָה וּמָחִ֗יתִי אֶת־כָּל־הַיְקוּם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשִׂ֔יתִי מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֥י הָֽאֲדָמָֽה

Rashi explains this verse based on the Midrash, as follows.

These are the seven days of mourning for the righteous Methuselah, for the Holy One, blessed be He, had consideration for his honor, and delayed the retribution. [This refers to the Flood so that the generation’s mourning for Methuselah could be properly expressed.]

The Rambam’s recommendations, including three days of intense weeping, four days for receiving visitors, and a period of thirty days without cutting the hair, offer practical guidance for dealing with grief. These practices assist in finding a meaningful place for the loss in our hearts while emphasizing the importance of setting reasonable boundaries during the mourning process.

The Brachot upon hearing bad news is:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, דַּיַּן הָאֱמֶת

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, dayan ha’emet.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, the true judge.

You often see BDE under a mourning notice, which stands for Baruch Dayan HaEmet. Noahides can also say this, but the surroundings may not always immediately understand what you mean, so it’s better to say it in English. If you want to use a similar text for the service, you can use the following verses from the Tenach, such as Deuteronomy 32:4 and Job 1:21, to emphasize the righteousness of HaShem.

The Rock – His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice; a G-d of faithfulness and without iniquity, He is righteous and upright! (Deuteronomy 32:4)

G-d gave, and G-d took away; blessed be the Name of God! (from Job 1:21)

Yahrzeit


Yahrzeit is the Yiddish name for the anniversary of a person’s passing.

On this day, one could recite additional Psalms, perform acts of kindness, and donate to a charitable cause. All of this is done to examine one’s own heart and improve personal ways.[9]

Stones instead of Flowers

In Jewish tradition, stones are often placed on a grave instead of flowers, and this practice carries multiple meanings:

1. Eternal Remembrance: Placing stones on a grave emphasizes the enduring and permanent nature of the memory of the deceased.

2. Spiritual Symbolism: While flowers may be associated with the transient nature of the body, stones symbolize the soul’s eternal essence.

3. Biblical Origin: The use of stones has Biblical roots. In the Old Testament, stones are frequently employed as memorials or altars. Placing stones on a grave can be viewed as an age-old custom with origins dating back to Biblical times.


By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources:

[1] The Noahide Laws: Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim : Rabbeinu Nissim Gaon’s Hakdama to Tractate Berachos
[2] Article AskNoah – What is the proper burial process for Noahides?


[3] Aish Article: The Jewish View of Cremation


[4] The Noahide Laws: Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim
[5] Horayot 13b:6 and Mishnah Berurah 2:2
[6] The Jewish Approach to Death and Burial
by Rabbi Dov Lev


[7] Sometimes the question is asked whether a Noahide can/may say Kaddish for a deceased person. It is recommended to use this prayer for that purpose.
[8] Article AskNoah: How should Noahides mourn for deceased relatives or friends?


[9] AskNoah Article: Marking an anniversary of a relative’s passing

Texts from Sefaria.org

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