Planting vs. Burning
Earth burial helps the ground. When any living organism dies and returns to the earth, its body itself benefits the earth greatly. As author and environmentalist Mark Harris put,
As it decays, the body releases into the surrounding soil its cache of organic nutrients. The microbes, insects, and other organisms that attend a decaying corpse further nourish the ground with their leavings and remains; they also aerate the dirt, loosening compacted earth and thereby creating fertile ground …1
Unfortunately, many modern funerals negate this blessing to the earth through embalming and metal caskets.2 Embalming is unnecessary in the vast majority of cases today and not required by law (refrigeration is more than adequate), and it releases toxic chemicals into the earth. Metal caskets add tons of non-biodegradable metal into the ground, delaying and negating the positive effects of the body itself.
If one avoids embalming and chooses a simple wooden casket,3 burial is in fact a blessing to the earth. Decomposition is a positive natural process that adds nutrients, health, and fertility to Planet Earth. As one writer puts it,
To allow, and even invite, the decay of one"s physical body — its tissues and bone, its cache of organic components — and return what remains to the very elements it sprang from, as directly and simply as possible … to give back to the earth some very small measure of the vast resources they drew from it in life and, in the process, perpetuate the cycles of nature, of growth and decay, of death and rebirth, that sustain us all.4
Compare this to cremation. In a modern cremation, the casket is placed in the retort (the cremation chamber), and the temperature is raised to approximately 1600–1800 degrees Fahrenheit (871–982 degrees Celsius).
What is left after cremation?
After approximately 2 to 2.5 hours, all organic matter is consumed by heat and vaporization. The residue remaining is bone fragments (more commonly referred to as ashes), which are then carefully removed from the cremation chamber.5
In other words, the whole point of modern cremation is to burn away almost the entire body. The cremation industry prides itself on the efficacy of their burners — nothing is left but bone fragments, which are then scooped up and ground into a fine dust.
While efficient, cremation — by definition — prevents a body"s nutrients from enriching the ground.
Think of it this way:
- Plant a seed and growth can occur: When a plant or living organism decomposes, the ground is given new life.
- Try burning a seed and then planting it: Growth is impossible. Burnt ashes provide no fertilizer and no growth.
As human beings, our bodies are nourished from the ground. Fruit. Vegetables. Grains. Water. Meat. Directly or indirectly, our bodies live through the nutrients we receive from the ground. Burial is a blessing to our planet, returning our bodies to the land.
Cremation, on the other hand, burns the nutrients and gives nothing back to the planet that gave us so much.
Environmentalists do not favor cremation. They suggest6 returning to a purer form of burial, skipping embalming, choosing a simple wood coffin (or just shrouds), and making smaller eco-decisions along the way – all of which is in line with Jewish thought.
1 Ibid., 172.
2 Roughly three-quarters of caskets sold today are metal (ibid., 135).
3 Thus following Jewish law, as well.
4 Ibid., 2.
5 National Cremation Society, "The Cremation Process," http://www.nationalcremation.com/dm20/en_US/main/ncs/information/cremation.page.
6 Do an Internet search for “green burial” and see the results.