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Winehouse burial raises Jewish questions about tattoos, cremation
July 26th, 2011
12:20 PM ET

Winehouse burial raises Jewish questions about tattoos, cremation

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

LONDON (CNN) – Your Jewish grandmother might have told you not to get a tattoo if you want to be buried in a Jewish cemetery when you die. If you ignored her, rest easy - not only progressive Jews, but Britain's Orthodox Jews now have no problem with burying Jews with tattoos.

The question came up Tuesday as the heavily tattooed Amy Winehouse was laid to rest in a traditional Jewish ceremony in London. The funeral was conducted by a rabbi and the Winehouse family will sit shiva - the Jewish custom and tradition of receiving guests in their home - starting Tuesday night, Winehouse spokesman Chris Goodman said.

Winehouse was cremated, Goodman added - a more controversial practice among Jews.

Traditionally Jews do not cremate their dead because of the belief they will be resurrected when the messiah comes, said Nikki Saunders, a spokeswoman for Britain's mainstream Orthodox movement, the United Synagogue.

"That can only happen if your body is intact," Saunders said.

More liberal Jews don't have that concern, though, explained Ben Rich of the Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK.

"Physical resurrection isn't something that progressive Jews believe in, so that isn't a concern," he said. Progressive Jews also don't accept the Orthodox belief that cremation is the mutilation of a corpse, he said, since it is done respectfully, not maliciously.

"We have therefore been happy to allow cremation for those who want it," he said, calling it "extremely common. It wouldn't be anything to raise an eyebrow about in the progressive movement."

In fact, he argued, there is Biblical precedent for cremation.

"If you go back to Biblical times, it is normal and there are references to King Saul being cremated," he said.

There is a tradition of not burying people with tattoos, said progressive Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, but he said there didn't seem to be much support for it in Jewish law, or halacha.

It seems to come from instructions in the Biblical book of Leviticus against marking one's skin, he said.

"But this part of a whole series of Canaanite cultic practices which the Israelites were not supposed to imitate," he said.

Reform Jews today would not disapprove of tattooing, he said dryly, "since we do see ourselves as in danger of impersonating Canaanite cultic practices."

–CNN's Sarah Sultoon and Olivia Feld contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Death • Judaism • United Kingdom

soundoff (539 Responses)
  1. jake tripp

    "That can only happen if your body is intact," Saunders said.

    after 5-10-15-20... years in the ground decomposing, can't say there's any body left... and if resurrection did happen who want's to walk around in a decomposed body or a skeleton?

    August 28, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
  2. Jargo

    KH

    December 21, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  3. Jargo

    I am scared to get cremated when i die i in general dont Care what will happen to my body when i am dead

    December 21, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  4. get followers on twitter

    It's in reality a great and useful piece of information. I'm satisfied that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

    November 9, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  5. dixiejon

    i understand the biblical prohibition to be against religious tattoos. cremation for catholics was only recently (in catholic time) allowed.

    August 22, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  6. Bj

    What happens when people die in a fire? What about an explosion,like 911 victims whose bodies were never found?What about someone whos been eaten by a shark or alligator?You dont need your body folks,its as simple as that!

    August 22, 2011 at 6:00 am |
  7. Mike P

    Wow...In the book of Ezekiel God reassembles bodies from bones, but the Orthodox rep says He can't do anything with cinders and bone slivers, huh? Pathetic lack of faith.

    August 21, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  8. Geof

    OK, our ancestors believed that some phyisical bit was needed to resurrect – but this is a folk belief, not a dogma. In fact, knowing full well bones disintegrate, they postulated that the small bone at the base of the spine, called the luz, was the only indstructible bone. But again, this is customary belief. For some its even more complicated. SOme believe that even an intact body will not get you into the afterlife if the body has not undergone ritual purification. Again, some treat it as dogma, even though it isn't. That being said, custom has huge power in Jewish tradition. Traditionalists prefers to do as their forebearers did on the assumption they knew. Innovation is frowned upon, even though it creeps in unself-consciously. Like many transgressions in Judaism, there is no actual penalty for violation. Don't get a tatoo, but if you do, ehhh.

    August 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  9. Violet

    It is my belief that at least Reform Jews (I can't speak for Conservative or Orthodox) felt uncomfortable with cremation because of the Holocaust and the way many people, especially Jews, were sent to their death.

    August 16, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • mo

      I was thinking the same thing, and feel the same way

      August 17, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  10. Erky

    People must be dumb as rocks, if tattoos can prevent physical resurrection – wouldn't the whole 'decomposing in the ground' thing be an issue?

    August 16, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Joe

      The tatoo is a biblical prohibition and has nothing to do with resurrection. Jews aren't supposed to have tatoos and the men aren't supposed to dress as women or wear earings (a sign of slave in ancient times apparently).

      The cremation DOES have to do with ressurection. Apparently when the messiah comes the bones will rise and God will allow the flesh / organs to reform around the bones (Kinda like in a zombie movie) until the body is alive again. But apparently God will not do that if ashes were spread around .... the bones must remain.

      Not agreeing or disagreeing – just explaining the difference between the prohibition against tatoos vs the prohibition against cremation.

      August 18, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  11. cbr

    This is not a matter for discussion on the internet. Amy's family deserve the right to mourn in peace.

    August 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  12. herbert juarez

    cremation should make tatoos a non issue.

    August 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  13. Truth Teller

    Saunders said " The God of Heaven who created Adam from the dust, can not resurrect a burnt human He created from the dust." I didn't know God had limitations ! My KJ Bibile says " cursed be man that trust in man and make flesh his arm.

    If jews only read the Bible for themselves they'd find the Christ is indeed the Mesiah. ISA. 53 ( is a good place to start)

    Stop trusting rabbis. See for yourself. Its important. You don't know what your throwing away.

    I was born a jew myself. I found out after a dramatic convervsion the absolute Truth.

    There is no salvation thru lineige. God is no respecter of persons. You got one shot at this.
    Head Gods counsel and don't trust anyone but the Bible. ISA. 9:6 and 7:14

    August 10, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • TheyNotHim

      Oh good, I am looking for a bit of truth. Please give me one example that Jesus the Christ actually existed using a primary source. The bible is not a primary source because nobody writing in that book actually met Jesus or heard him speak in person. Just this one little example and Im sold, saved, and going to Heaven!

      Still waiting...

      August 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  14. Lost

    The world is full of lies and pain. People will do anything to find comfort and meaning, even if that means using drugs to soothe the soul, and take drastic measures to self-destruct simply to escape. Everything you think you know, and have been exposed to all your life is not truth for human nature. Look at the profound imbalance everywhere...and now examine how this imbalance has caused depletion and suffering.

    August 6, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Shaul

      That was a profound and very caring comment, I am referring to "lost" -- the big issue here is the incredible talent Amy Winehouse was and the tragic manner in which she was taken from us. I watched her perform many times and know that a very special spirit resided in her that enabled her to be such an outstanding artist.... simply put,,, Amy had it!! All the right stuff in one artist is so rare. Yet Amy was a terribly tormented soul. I wish I knew her personally as a friend; perhaps I could have helped her. Let's all celebrate her life by taking pleasure in the music she left behind. http://www.rabbirock.org

      August 19, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  15. Mandy

    Doesn't it stand to reason that if Messiah is powerful enough to reurrect bodies that have gone through natural processes of decomposition after being buried intact, He is also powerful enough to resurrect bodies that have been cremated? Makes sense to me.....There is nothing that is beyond His power!

    August 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  16. REEL AMERICAN

    I didn't know a great deal about Amy Whinehouse but she did have a beautiful voice and it is a shame she couldn't have found more happiness in the short time she lived on earth R.I.P

    August 3, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  17. John Utah

    Doesnt matter what cemetary this girl gets buried in. I would hate to be her in the grave or on the day of Judgement.
    God gives you one life in this world to live honorably and worship him and you spent it like this garbage way and you die. Not good, like I said I would hate to be her.

    August 2, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Emilie

      It must be nice up there on that pedestal. "Let he without sin cast the first stone."

      August 2, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  18. AvdBerg

    Make no mistake, gay Jesus will return. Go to our website to learn more http://www.gaychristian101.com

    August 1, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Urttakkadigakku

      I've been waiting for a chance to use these lyrics! This parody is not intended as an insult to anyone, though I expect some Christians will take offense. To be sung to the tune of "Tomorrow", from the musical "Annie", as far as it goes.

      The Son'll come out tomorrow!
      Jesus Christ will tell the earth and Heaven that he's gay.
      The Father is proud to hear it
      And the Holy Ghost will say He's always been that way...

      August 3, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.