Ask the Rabbi

  • Family and Society
  • Burial and the Cemetery

A deceased’s last wishes.


Rabbi Chaim Tabasky

24 Tevet 5766
I have a moral dillema and a conscience. I am an executor in a last will & testament, drawn up by a non-practising Jew. I am not Jewish. The deceased, a widower, was a vey long-standing friend of mine. He was a physician. He worked and retired in a small village. He left instructions in his will that he wanted to be cremated and his ashes scattered over his village. He considered that his family had effectively abandoned him for the last years of his life. The deceased’s family were not listed as benficiaries. Before the funeral arrangments could take place, the deceased’s children and relatives, all scattered around the world, raised a fuss with me and asked that the deceased should be buried according to Jewish traditional custom. The local Jewish Burial Society would make the arrangements. On reflection I decided that the family should not suffer any more and allowed the deceased to be buried by Jewish Law. I denied my friend’s last wishes. Question: Who did I have a greater moral obligation to carry out the funeral arrangements? The Deceased? The Family, and at the same time perhaps Judaism?
There is a principle in Jewish law to honor the wishes of the deceased, and you are correct to be concerned. However, this rule does not apply if those wishes contradict a specific statute of Jewish law. Since the obligation of burial is such a statute, it was proper to allow such a burial. Normally concern over honoring the deceased wishes could take precedence over concern about the family, especially if the deceased specifically did not want the family's wishes respected because they had abandoned him. In this case, I belive you acted properly, as I indicated above.
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