Does Torah have a Universal Perspective on Mourning?
Source*: A Sicha (Chassidic Talk) by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
In regards to the difference between Jews and Gentiles in Torah matters:
In spite of this difference, there are matters in Torah which belong in the category of “creating a settled world.” These matters existed before the giving of the Torah, and therefore also before the separation between Israel and the other nations existed. It is understood that these matters apply also to B’nai Noach [the Children of Noah, i.e. Gentiles/Non-Jews], even though they aren’t openly spoken about in the part of the Torah which speaks about the Seven Noahide Laws. Read more »
How should Noahides be buried?
Adam was commanded in Genesis 3:19: “… until you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken; for you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” As a Divine directive, this is a Torah commandment for Jews, who have many positive (“to do”) commandments in addition to many negative (“don’t do”) commandments. On the other hand, Gentiles do not transgress the Noahide Code if they utilize another process such as cremation or cryogenic preservation. But a meritorious soul will lack the mode of cleansing from unrepentant sins that burial in the earth can provide. In other words, for a Gentile, cremation is not sinful, and it does not alter the general destiny of the soul in its afterlife. However, burial is preferred and encouraged, and it is the most honorable way to treat the specialness of the deceased human body, which was a host to a human soul which is created “in the image of G-d.”
So it is not a sin for Gentiles if they don’t bury their dead intact, but as a part of Torah, they can accept it upon themselves in order to gain these advantages.
How should Noahides mourn for deceased relatives or friends?
It is important to set limits in intensity and length of time for mourning. Even before the Flood, there was a tradition of observing seven days of mourning. In Genesis 7:4, G-d told Noah, “For in another seven days’ time I will send rain upon the earth…” On this verse, Rashi explains, based on the Midrash, “These are the seven days of mourning for the righteous Methuselah, for the Holy One, Blessed is He, spared his dignity and delayed the punishments [of the Flood, so that the generation's mourning for Methuselah could be properly expressed]. Go and calculate the years of Methuselah, and you will find that they end in the six hundredth year of the life of Noah” [when the Flood came].
The following suggestions for funeral and memorial services were provided to Ask Noah International by Rabbi Immanuel Schochet o.b.m.: Read more »
What is the proper burial process for Noahides?
Rabbi Friedman in Kansas has been teaching a group of Noahides for many years. In working with his group he has indeed taken the time to research this subject. He answered us very briefly on the points below regarding death and burial:
(a) What can a Noachide expect – may or can a Rabbi perform a burial ceremony for a Noahide?
Yes, it is fine for a Rabbi or a judge to officiate at a Noahide’s burial ceremony.
(b) Since a gentile may not be buried in a Jewish cemetery–what is a Noahide to do in theory and in reality?
There are no other restrictions on where a Noahide can be buried, so the choice and arrangements are up to him or her.
(c) Noahide body preparation – what must be done? What should be done? By whom?
Noahides do not require special preparation of their body before burial. Rabbi Friedman suggests that it is most appropriate for Noahides to follow G-d’s decree upon Adam in Genesis: “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread until you return to the ground, from which you were taken: For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) Thus it would be most appropriate to not embalm the body.
A note from the Director of AskNoah.org:
From the Mishnah, “Ethics of the Fathers” (Avos) 3:14 -
“[Rabbi Akiva] used to say: Beloved is Man, for he was created in the Divine image. It is an even greater [act of] love that it was made known to him that he was created in the Divine image, as it states, “In the image of G-d was man created” (Gen. 1:27).
This refers to all mankind, since the quoted verse in Genesis refers to all the descendants of Noah. A practical lesson that results from this is that the human body should not be treated disrespectfully, even in death. We learn from Tenach that the most respectful treatment for a human corpse is burial. The Tenach teaches that even in the case of a convicted transgressor who is executed by decree of a court, the corpse should be buried on the same day. How much more so does this respect apply for the body of any other person. However, a body may be allowed to remain unburied overnight if this is required for obtaining a coffin or a shroud, for the sake of providing proper respect for the deceased.
What symbol should Noahides use on a tombstone?
Ask Noah forwarded this question to our friend Rabbi Shimon Cowen in Australia. Here is the unresearched, spontaneous response he sent back. Obviously this is his personal opinion on a non-binding issue:
Most headstones of the graves of deceased persons in our community have no religious symbols at all. I don’t see a requirement for them. Certainly I would, however, avoid symbols associated with other religions (not that we are going to say that these are all forbidden), but since the questioner has advanced in his or her Noahidism, it would in my view be appropriate to use none of these symbols, since in their raw form they do not have the purity of connotation which is suitable for a Noahide who has studied and knows exactly what Torah requires of him or her.
As for using the symbol of an ark or something like that, it might be fine, though that symbol has not yet been established as the symbol of Noahidism. So perhaps the best thing might be to use words, such as “so and so, devoted to the ideals of the righteous of the nations…”
A note from the Director of Ask Noah:
There are many cemeteries, especially the more modern ones, that make it a policy to have only simple headstones, without statues, etc., which may be an important preference for many Noahides.
Since Noahides do not have a commandment that they must be buried in the earth, the option is open to them for organ donation. Given that they have this option, it is in fact a meritorious thing for them to give this great gift of improved physical life, and even life itself, to another person. However, note that the Torah defines life by the beating of the heart. Therefore a person who wants to be an organ donor should make a clear and legal stipulation (a Torah-acceptable Living Will) that none of his organs (especially the heart!) may be removed before the heart is permanently stopped.
For Jews, on the other, it is commanded in Deuteronomy 21:23 (which applies to all Jews) that their entire body should be buried in the earth, on the day of death or as soon afterward as possible. The burial can be delayed beyond the first day only for certain specific circumstances.
A student of mine perished in a tragedy. What is the rationale for this?
It’s very difficult to conceive of the tragedy of your student, and about the sorrow and hardship which his family now faces. Of course you and they have very deep questions about how G-d could have allowed this, and how much more so, how could He have caused this thing to happen. Read more »