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Environment

Natural burials in the British Jewish community

 

In recent years, greater concern for the environmental consequences of human practices has lead a small but increasing number of people in the UK to opt for ‘natural burials’. Organisations such as the Natural Death Centre and Woodland Burials argue that cremations are environmentally damaging and that there is a shortage of burial space in the UK. Natural burials generally take place in woodland, either directly into the ground or in a biodegradable coffin. No gravestone is used, but a tree, plant or small plaque may be used to mark the burial site. There are a number of dedicated natural burial grounds in the UK.

As yet there are no dedicated Jewish natural burial initiatives in the UK. As part of its efforts to explore neglected issues in the British Jewish community, New Jewish Thought has commissioned a number of pieces discussing whether it would be possible or desirable to institute natural burials in the UK Jewish community.

First of all, we have two responses from non-Jews:

  • Michael Jarvis of the Natural Death Centre explains what natural burials are and why they are desirable. View article here...
  • Deryn Coe of the Arbory Trust talks about the experience of setting up a Christian natural burial ground within the Church Of England diocese of Ely. View article here...

We also have a number of responses from across the British Jewish communal spectrum:

  • From the Reform Jewish perspective, Rabbis Paul Freedman and Laura Janner-Klausner have allowed us to reprint a responsum they produced on the subject in which they argue that natural burials are permissable from a halachic perspective. View article here...
  • A Liberal Rabbi, Margaret Jacobi, writes from the perspective of someone who has conducted Jewish natural burials. View article here...
  • Rabbi Jeremy Rosen argues for the desirability of natural burials from an Orthodox perspective. View article here...
  • David Frei of the London Beth Din offers a guarded response that nonetheless does not rule explicitly out the possibility of the halachic permissability of natural burials. View article here...
  • Abe Alpren writes as a humanist Jew who has acted as a celebrant at a number of Jewish natural burials. View article here
  • Mike Frankl, Chair of the Jewish Joint Burial Society explains how there is an intention to start a Jewish natural burial society. View article here

Although it does appear to be possible to institute Jewish natural burials as a practice in the UK, there would still be many practical hurdles to clear before they would become a common practice.

We would welcome further contributions from people from across the Jewish spectrum on this issue, whether positively or negatively inclined towards Jewish natural funerals. Either post a comment or e-mail us.

July 2007

 

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