In Judaism, there are certain connotations surrounding tattoos, piercings, amputation, cremation and suicide when it comes to burial. While the Talmud and Halacha are clear on these issues and that none is acceptable in Jewish cemeteries, modern interpretations are more subjective, and it is increasingly rare for a deceased member of the Jewish faith to be denied burial virtually anywhere based on the circumstances surrounding his or her death. Read on for more on how each situation is handled.


It has long been thought that anyone with a tattoo cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery, and while the Torah officially prohibits tattoos, such individuals are by no means banned from Jewish cemeteries. Thus this particular line of thinking is a myth.

“Tattoos are frowned upon and in many cases a violation of Halacha,” says Rabbi Ed Farber, from Miami’s Temple Beth Torah, “but so is stealing and adultery and we bury them in Jewish cemeteries, and in my book tattoos are just not as bad!”


Piercings, while also frowned upon, are even less of an issue in Judaism when it comes to burial. In fact, piercings are mentioned in the Tanakh (canon of the Hebrew Bible) as being worn by the Hebrews, and earrings have historically been acceptable forms of adornment for Jewish women.


The same non-exclusion is applied to amputees, according to Farber, who says it is customary to purchase a plot before or immediately following an amputation and “bury the severed limb there to receive the rest of the body at the time of death.” But, says Farber, this is not mandatory, and no deceased person should be refused plots based on amputations.


The issue of cremation is very much a unique one. There are different schools of thought, and the general consensus is that one's wish to be cremated is not in accordance with Jewish traditions, so the deceased in this case is often not interred at a Jewish cemetery. However, if an individual who was cremated also wished to be have his or her ashes buried at a Jewish cemetery, that request is usually accommodated with help from the next of kin and/or children of the deceased.


The same controversy accompanies the delicate issue of suicide, which is officially considered a criminal act in the Talmud and thus grounds for refusal at Jewish cemeteries, but modern views have changed, and it generally varies based on the cemetery’s policies and practices. Likewise, shiva for those who have committed suicide is a perpetually debated issue, and is ultimately at the discretion of the family in mourning.


Ultimately, there is one prevailing unofficial “law” that, especially in modern times, trumps traditional postmortem practices: To deny burial under any circumstances would itself be a violation of the sanctity and importance Judaism places upon the deceased. Additionally, many rabbis are quick to point out the Torah's commandment that even condemned criminals be buried properly after execution, and that the notion of virtually anyone being denied burial in a Jewish cemetery, for any reason, is an outright myth.