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. Kirby

    Seriously, with everything going on in the world... Who really cares. Dead. Done and off the charts. A shame, but why do we need to debate useless issues in the press. Move on.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  2. 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, (10-20% of the Jewish population) 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 27, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  3. Equilizer

    no need to argue about amy's burial......anyway shes in HELL right now...case close..

    July 27, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Sue

      So you think painful torture for ever and ever is fair punishment for mere substance abuse for a few years? Pretty nasty god you've made for yourself there.

      July 27, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • md2205

      This is an unfair thing to say. First of all, G-d knows the situations He has placed people in and knows how hard they tried in their situation. We can never judge that as we simply do not know. Perhaps the misery she had in her life atones for her and she is in a better place than what you said. I surely hope so and so should you. We should never judge anyone's place as we do not know what level they started on, and how hard they tried. That is all G-d wishes us to do. I learned this very important concept from the Torah itself.

      July 27, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  4. jev

    CNN trying to stir up religious crap without having a clue. Again.

    July 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  5. curious

    I've read several of the articles about her death, one of which stated that she was laid to rest at her funeral (at Edgwarebury Cemetery) and that she was cremated afterwards at the Golders Green Crematorium. How could she be both "laid to rest" and cremated?

    July 27, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • C Reason

      Because they bury the ashes. Duh.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • curious

      That would make sense if the article I read had stated that the funeral followed cremation, but in fact it stated just the opposite: That her funeral service was followed by cremation. In order to bury her ashes, she would have had to have been cremated first.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  6. ruthrachel18

    וְשֶׂרֶט לָנֶפֶשׁ, לֹא תִתְּנוּ בִּבְשַׂרְכֶם, וּכְתֹבֶת קַעֲקַע, לֹא תִתְּנוּ בָּכֶם: אֲנִי, יְהוָה.

    "[You] shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor imprint any marks upon you: I am the LORD."


    Torah Emet.

    Amy Winehouse was a very talented, and yet very troubled, young woman. The cause of death has yet to be confirmed, and, personally, I do not rule out foul play:

    "In January 2009, with hostilities raging between Israeli and Hamas forces, Winehouse was one of several prominent Jewish figures identified by an Islamic extremist website as potential targets for "reprisal" attacks."


    July 27, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Malka Esther

      BH! At least someone here has Chochmah!!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • shmuel

      god tells you not to gossip about others, but you still do. shut up and mind your own business

      July 27, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Malka Esther

      Shes not gossiping! Pick up Chofetz Chaim and study "Shmirat Halashon" before you spew bs!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 27, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • ruthrachel18 ADDITIONAL COMMENT

      Something to think about very seriously during the Three Weeks; something to discuss ("Shmuel").

      May the soul of Amy Winehouse be elevated. May her family and friends be comforted alongside the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Dreamer

      I'll rule out foul play for you: She OD-ed. End of story. Nobody has taken "credit" for her death, which they would have, if Islamic terrorists had killed her.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Dave

      I'm not sure if your quoting of Lev. 19:28 is pro or anti tattjews, but approaching the commandment syntactically, is it not just stating you shall not get a tattoo that says: "I am LORD"?

      If a Jew wants a tatt of a monkey eating broccoli while wearing golf pants that's fine, right? RIGHT? I CAN GET THAT, RIGHT?!

      Also, if you want to learn Swedish, this video is a great learning tool: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsILyr-GcH4

      July 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Scott

      Here we go again. Humans trying to limit what God can do. Whether you're buried or cremated, I am certain that God will be able to resurrect Believer's regardless. Like being cremated is going to limit His abilities? I am sure He can handle it.

      Anyway, I believe in the Second Testament which teaches the resurrection of Christ.

      July 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Malka Esther

      OMG Why do you ALWAYS have to bring Jesus up? Jesus this, Jesus that. No offence, but its a discussion on Jewish burial what does he have to do with it?

      July 27, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • telldatruth

      stirring up hate... scapegoating...."let's blame it on the muslims"

      July 27, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  7. humanbeing

    Humanity grew weary
    Of it's doubtful state of mind
    So it summoned from far and called from near
    All the wise men thought to be sincere
    To heal it's wounds and make it whole
    And the lead the way back to the soul

    The charlatans they stayed behind
    To count their bags of gold
    And some stayed away as if to say
    I know that my way's the only way
    Afraid to learn they may be wrong
    They preach their nothingness at home

    But the wise men came together with the hope to free man kind
    Of the rubbish that had gathered in god's name
    To embrace and trust each other in the search for the supreme
    And they found that all their teachings were the same

    And when at last the word went round
    That all were one and all
    Many returned to seek the light
    Nobody claimed that he was right
    It's sad to know it's just a song
    To dream and hope still can't be wrong....Steppenwolf 1968

    July 27, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  8. AGuest9

    Tattoos are trashy, anyway. We as human beings need to get away from this being "raised on the last day" nonsense. You rot in the ground, like every other living thing.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  9. Bonnie

    I'd get a tatoo but they can't do it on my saggy baggy skin.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  10. matt

    seriously who gives a F?

    July 27, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • Hcag

      when she was alive, nobody favored the things she did, when a star fades to death, everyone starts to care. When Micheal Jackson wasn't making any hits for a long time and he suddenly passed away his record sales were off the charts. Because she is a Jewish person the people of her kind tend to miss her the most. same thing with Micheal Jackson

      July 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  11. Bonnie

    Any decent monotheists should not get tattoos. That's for pagan polytheists.

    July 27, 2011 at 3:29 am |
    • jev

      And God told you this, I'm sure. BTW, She waved hi this morning and said you should order the tuna melt.

      July 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      Monotheism doesn't seem like a valid basis for that distinction. What does the number of god you recognize have to do with tattoos? The relevant question is the distinction between the flesh and the spirit. If you believe that your flesh and spirit are one and that your spiritual purity is dependant on your physical purity, tattoos would be something to be concerned about. I would think that if your body and spirit are one and the same that you could elevate your spirit with the right tattoo, properly applied. If the body and the spirit are seperate, tattoos can not corrupt your flesh. I would think that if her tattoos corrpted her spirit, her drug abuse, smoking, and eating habits would be of bigger concern.

      My own belief is that I am not this body. I live in this flesh, but it is not who I am. If the divine has a plan for my spirit after I die, my body will in fact be dead, and not relevant to what comes next. If the divine is going to put my spirit into flesh again, some ink in the flesh I now live in, could not possibly present a barrier to the creator of all things. God would not say "I would like to give you eternal life, but I can't. You got a tattoo, so your body is ruined. Sorry, I don't make the rules here, just doing my job."

      July 28, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  12. Kornelia Strong

    My heart and prayers go out to her and to her loved ones.It is the ones left behind who suffer the most. May they find their peace and may Ami find peace in her death. . . .

    July 27, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  13. me

    Breast implants had to come out for cremation

    July 26, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  14. me

    I work next to crematorium. No cremation for me.

    July 26, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  15. DianaID

    Just to clarify some points, the Nazis tattoed Jews because there were such strong prohibitions in Judaism against tattoo'ing that it was considered an important part of jolting people when sent to concentration camps. Second, as some have said, Jews in the Holocaust who were cremated and tatto'ed had no choice in the matter. Regarding the various branches of Judaism, Reform is the most liberal and would have few problems with tattoos or cremation. I am a Conservative Jew and our rabbi will not officiate at a cremation. Re: tattoos, although they are ubiquitous, they still bother me personally, but for example, I had breast cancer so I had a small dot – but a tattoo – on my chest to guide the radiation. That isn't a problem for anyone including me because it is health related. Tattoos won't keep you out of a Jewish cemetary, nor will committing suicide, but there are signficant social pressures not to do either.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Laughing


      You're correct mostly, especially with Pikuah Nefesh, so your tattoo is completely necessary. However, to nitpick, the most liberal form of Judaism is reconstructionist, and there really isn't strong feels against tattoos until it came to the holocaust, but that's more because of the horrors of the holocaust that we reject the idea of tattoos more than judaism prohibiting it.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Ya'akov

      I couldn't bring myself to have a tattoo or be cremated because it makes me squeamish as a Jew, but there are quite a few modest ones on folks at my conservative shul. As for cremation, that is not part of our local custom, but I understand it is way more common among liberal Jews in Europe where almost everyone is cremated these days.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  16. Jason Jenkins

    Hey, Truth: there are a bunch of books that say things that are different from what the Bible says. Your choice to treat the Bible as inherently true is just that–your arbitrary choice. You could just as easily choose another scripture to convince yourself is absolutely true. Everything that can be said about the reliability of the Bible boils down to it being just another book written by people, claimed by other people and each other to be inspired, claimed by other people to be true–a long chain of people making claims, who you have no more reason to believe than any of the people who make comparable claims about any other scripture.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • fred

      Not exactly, we have had millions come to Christ and experience life change of all sorts. That is right up to now. I can say that from personal experience and personal eye witness of others. These are facts the Bible changes lives today.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • CeciAnnaMcGray

      well, fred, i'm sorry that you wake up feeling so empty that you have to fill that nagging void with bronze aged fairy tails and barely disguised pagan rituals. i dont, and i feel jusssssssssssssst fine.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • fred

      Not at all, as a matter of fact never been better, filled with hope and assurance about today and tomorrow not to mention the hereafter. As to the bronze age we are way past the old testament stuff of 4,ooo years ago and swept up in Christ today. I can work with science and the word of God understanding how the two relate because I accept both.

      July 26, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Susan

      "As to the bronze age we are way past the old testament stuff of 4,ooo years ago and swept up in Christ today."

      So, moving from the bronze age stuff of 4000 years ago to the iron age stuff of 2000 years ago. Big improvement!

      July 27, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • fred

      Susan, peoples lives are transformed to this day when they accept Christ. Can't help it Christ is alive today !

      July 27, 2011 at 2:00 am |
    • Susan

      Perhaps all that is happening is that some people are aided by the IDEA of Christ, giving them the extra emotional support from within to help themselves? Nothing wrong with that, but what happens so often next is that they get caught up in all of the silly, outdated superst.itions and bigotry that Christianity promotes and, in some cases, it really does leave them a worse person for it. There are isles of self-help books out there that can do just as good a job of helping people pull themselves out of depression, but without making them judgmental, irritating and contemptible people.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • fred

      Yes, lots of self help books out there and some people are aided by them and or Christ. Take a close look at all these self help books and at the center your will find the words to be a rewrite of what is gleaned from the Bible both old and new testament. The predominate ones are from the new testament. Step by step instructions on how to live a healthy and rewarding life in relationship with God. Now, these authors do not reference the source of the good news. The Gospel is called the good news because that is what it is to a lost individual, nation and world. Solomon said it best when he said there is nothing new under the sun. I have yet to hear of one thing Jesus brought to the table which is harmful.
      Man on the other hand is a different story. Whether it is some Christians or die hard democrats it is people that get caught up in themselves. It is man that twists the truths leaving twisted wreckage behind wherever man sets foot. Jesus hit hard on: religious hypocrites, those who twist the truth, those who use the name of God to commit terrible acts, silly superst-itions. Look no further than how Christ was treated as a man and as God then and now to fully understand what lies in our hearts. Everything about scripture reveals who we really are and who God really is. Most of us do not like what we see so we have problems with God, the Word or others. People, myself included, will go to great lengths to justify who or what they really are.

      July 27, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • md2205

      It is not just another book. It was not written by people. It was told by G-d to Moses, who wrote it down all himself. There are so-called Bible critics who want to say that different people wrote it because of different writing styles and wording used in different places. However, that is a wrong analysis. If you learn the Torah with an Orthodox rabbi, you right away learn that the different names used for G-d signify different aspects of Himself as pertains to the way He is relating to the situation at hand. This is important because it adds crucial meaning to the topic being discussed. That is one reason, by the way, that the Bible has been mistranslated so badly and why so many people cannot understand it. There are more explanations for all the "criticisms" of the Bible critics. Had they only known the explanations, they would not have said what they said, or they could have presented what they said along with the other explanation. And if they wouldn't want to do that, then you know they have an agenda. The main thing is to learn the Torah properly. There is a book called "The Bible Unauthorized". It has an excellent translation of the first few chapters of the Bible that makes you realize how understandable it is, and how relevant the Bible is to our lives today.

      July 27, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  17. Jason Jenkins

    About cremation being banned because supposedly only intact bodies can be resurrected–that pretty much excludes from resurrection all the people from Biblical and Talmudic times, whose bodies have long since decomposed, right?

    July 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • CeciAnnaMcGray

      how it was explained to me by a jewish friend, was that it had to do with the veneration of life...if you are cremated you can't give back your body to the earth to nourish the soil and whatnot.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • News Flash

      In the long run, we're all going to be "star dust" when the sun goes to the red giant stage, so cremation just gets it done a little early.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Laughing

      Nope, according to legend, when the messiah returns he'll ressurect everyone who left their bodies intact, so even people who have already decomposed a couple of times over will regain their bodies and walk this earth again. It's really more about the people who cremated their bodies and mutilated their bodies that the messiah will have issues with.

      News Flash is right though, since the messiah is just a legend what will really happen is everything is going to be consumed by the sun and we'll just blink out of existance

      July 27, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  18. Truth

    Study shows the amount of tattoos and skin exposure parallels to the person's immoral lifestyles. God prohibited tattoos in the Bible. In Asia, traditionally only gangs and their victims got tattoos. Barbarians tattooed heavily. Believers in God must not tatoo. It's rebellion against the Creator God and an attraction to the evil.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  19. Truth

    This is what God says: "Do not practice divination or sorcery. Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD." (Leviticus chapter 19)
    Willful tattoos were only for gangs and barbarians in the world. The de-christianized West gets into everything the Lord abhors.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Susan

      I know a lot of youth pastors, and I think they all have tattoos.

      July 27, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Bonnie

      I think youth pastors want to look tough just like any men of nowadays. But it's wrong. Long hair, too. Pastors don't need to be fashionable. They need Biblical knowledge and true character.

      July 27, 2011 at 3:27 am |
    • Susan

      They have a product that they want to sell to a particular demographic, so they dress like that demographic as part of their advertising and selling pitch. Simple, really! They want young people to be able to picture themselves talking about Jesus openly without having to sacrifice any of the style in the process. It's how all products are marketed.

      July 27, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Barbara

      Leviticus is old testament as are most of the antiquated laws. We are not saved by performing all the laws which no one can do, but are saved by grace and the power of God through Jesus. (LOVE)

      July 27, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Rbnlegnd101

      Wait, long hair is bad? That's sort of confusing, because every image I have seen of Jesus shows him having long hair.

      July 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • JR

      So we can skip the bit in Leviticus about not eating shrimp, but we need to follow the bit about no tattoos? Iiiiinteresting.

      August 14, 2011 at 4:35 am |
  20. Sarah

    I don't think all "progressive" Jews agree on everything like tattoos or cremation. However, in terms of the holocaust, those victims had no choice.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:40 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.