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. 7038574

    What about all the Jews who were tattooed in concentration camps and lived through the war? Was there an exception for them?

    July 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Veritas

      Uhm, did you actually READ the article. It said more than once this isn't a problem in any branch of Judaism.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Byrd

      Concentration is an interesting word, don't you think....

      July 26, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • LisaDe

      Not only were they tattoo'd but many were cremated as well. Interesting.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Jim

      They did not CHOOSE to receive tattoos OR be cremated. Are you all idiots or something?

      July 26, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  2. JA

    loved her music!! a very talented individual with a bunch of terrible issues.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  3. gkingii

    What kind of irrelevant question is posed by that stupid headline?

    July 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  4. kye

    I always thought she'd eventually get clean. This is really sad. Addiction is awful.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  5. Gisabun

    I guess each type of Judaism has their own variations. I know orthodox Jews who will eat strickly kosher in their house but have a chesseburger outside. I know of no one who was ever cremated. Don't think i know anyone who has any tattoos [closest is former Dream Theater drummer Mike portnoy who has tattoos and is Jewish but doesn't observe].

    July 26, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  6. kristina

    Lining up for harry potter( oppppssss)

    July 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  7. kristina

    How about this: stop paying soooooo much attention to our entertainment industry PERIOD. It is a joke how obsessed americans have come with reality tv, teen moms, jersey trash..people lining up with their kids at midnight (along w millions of others) please please please get lives. Raise your children, get a job, volunteer, do something productive instead of wasting your time and money on mindless entertainment.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Jenn

      They got your attention, though. You wanna preach about entertainment yet you took 2 minutes to comment. Try living without entertainment. I dare you.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • gkingii

      Reading this jabber is entertainment enough.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  8. Leroy

    She had one OK album and people are acting like she was music royalty. She'll be known as a drug addict because she worked a lot harder at that than anything else in her life.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • boogie

      Leroy...besides being a used feminine hygiene product you also don't know anything about human's attention spans.
      In a couple years her addiction image will fade because nobody will be talking about her addiction in the press...Just like, Hendrix, Morrison and Cobain and the endless list of artists that died from drugs...people talk about it for a while and then it goes back to the music.
      She had some great music and was a talented singer/musician...that's what people will remember, but all you care about is being a tampon...so NOBODY will say ANYTHING about you when you die...not even a clever rude joke...lol

      July 26, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  9. Mike and Ike

    WHO CARES? I wasn't a big fan when she was alive, dead she's even less of an attraction...

    July 26, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Sick of Know It all Commentors on Comment Boards

      Then why bother wasting your time being an insensitvie A hole?

      July 26, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • baj4q

      I hope people are kinder to you when you pass on, jirk.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Jay

      baj4q: you are too generous. A shallow hole and a 5 lb bag of lime will suffice.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • aGWARslave

      She's still attractive. And warm.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  10. Roman Catholic

    I bet this is an American article, they are obsessed with race, religion and gays.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • McBobby

      Good point RC!

      July 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  11. tothe27club

    Very sad that another young and talented 27 year old was lost due to her troubled soul. May she rest in peace. I feel terrible for the guilt and pain her family must feel. I hope they find peace in knowing she no longer suffers. And her music will live on.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Kate

      I wouldn't have said it all better.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  12. mort

    can't be cremated because when some messaiah comes he's going to resurect the body that has been decomposing in the ground for a lot of years??? that makes almost as much sense as most other things in religion.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • baj4q

      It makes about as much sense as the universe at one time being the size of a singularity, exploding and expanding continuously even though it is not expanding into anything. Religion also makes as much sense as inorganic atoms eventually organizing themselves into living cells without any external force acting upon them. Examine your own beliefs, and and you will find that alot of them don't make sense.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  13. Helana Bozekis

    I wasn't a fan of her music, and I don't care what your religious beliefs are, but for people to say no one was there to help her is ridiculous. Her family was in the news a few years ago talking about their interventions and concern with her...and she JUST got out of rehab. Many addicts who get out of detox/rehab and relapse, will overdose and sometimes die. It's part of the disease of addiction. People tried to help her – but there's not much you can do for an addict who won't help themselves.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  14. Toby

    So somehow the Abrahamic god can create a world in a few days, raise the dead, heal a blind man, and turn water into wine but is somehow inexplicably foiled by cremated remains? How would he be able to raise those who died many years ago and have already turned to dust? Let's just make the assumption that all this god talk is just foolish and childish nonsense and it ALL makes sense! Peace.

    July 26, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Malka Esther

      Hahsem is NOT an Abrahamic G-d he is the creator of all you dufus. You are mixing the Old Testement with the New, Jews don't believe that G-d is a man. You are are one uneducated dude.
      They are ressurected its just a more painful process. Also if they chose to be cremeted they are ressurected in a different from. don't mock G-d my friend if you do bring a parachute cause your going DOWN

      July 26, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  15. texan

    I say good riddance to her. She will be remembered as a drug addict and no her music. She made the decision to get high and destroy herself. Buried or cremated whats the difference.? On to the next celeb to self detruct.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Dani

      Thanks for your overwhelming compassion! RIP Amy Winehouse.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Dee

      I wonder how many people ill think "good riddance" when you die? Probably a whole lot more than feel that way about this woman. You used energy to say "good riddance"?! My God you must be miserable.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Dee

      I wonder how many people will think "good riddance" when you die? Probably a whole lot more than feel that way about this woman. You used energy to say "good riddance"?! My God you must be miserable.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  16. art vandolaye

    Laid to rest or cremated. I'm confused by this article too. Was she cremated, then the ashes laid gently on the ground? So no tatoos for a good Jew. How do they feel about nipplle rings and other personal piercings, I wonder. All the biker Jews should be worrying. All 1 of them. -Art

    July 26, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I was in a long term relationship wth a jewish princess who had a number of "personal piercings", but refused to get a tattoo for cultural reasons.
      Metal is apparantly A-OK becuase you can always take it out, but ink is forever.

      July 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  17. Dachele

    Dennis C,

    What a beatiful comment....

    July 26, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  18. Reality

    The following puts to rest most if not all of orthodox Judaism:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    "Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument."

    "The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel – not one shard of pottery."

    July 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Malka Esther

      Wow you are really lost and confused. Your probably not even Jewish might as well go to church or go worship buddah in jungle ( they make more sense then you!) rather then twist our sacred 3000 year old religion to conform to modernity...

      July 26, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Reality


      Please reread. The comments were from the referenced Time Magazine article about the New Torah for Modern Minds. You can purchase said Torah at amazon.com.

      "Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (Hardcover) $58.00

      ~ David L. Lieber (Editor), Jules Harlow (Editor), United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (Corporate Author), The Rabbinical Assembly (Corporate Author)
      4.7 out of 5 stars (15 customer reviews)

      "The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) is the primary organization of synagogues practicing Conservative Judaism in North America. It closely works with the Rabbinical Assembly, the international body of Conservative rabbis, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.[1]"

      July 26, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Malka Esther

      Your book means nothing to me, if you deny the existence of the patriarchs . I will never deny the Torah and you shouldn't either.Its really sad to see this within our own nation. I will pray for you and your poor lost Rabbi. The Conservative movement is a fraction of our people shunned and not recognized by the court of Jewish law,your pretty much considered outlaws,no offence but its true I suggest you read Meam Loez it will open you eyes.I hope you see the truth soon.Amen

      July 27, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • miriam

      But there's no proof it isn't true.

      July 27, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  19. windwalker9649

    What's up with all this terrible anit-Canaanite retoric!?!?

    July 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Malka Esther

      Caanan doesnt exist anymore!

      July 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  20. chuck

    Well then hitler screwed us more than we thought.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Mike

      Finally, someone who was able to put this in its proper perspective!

      July 26, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Byrd

      You have no idea. It was far worse than you might think.

      July 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
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