A Message from Rabbi Kenneth Brander:
A Response to “The Jewish Week” Distortion of Ohr Torah Stone’s Position on Cremation

We are in a time of unprecedented crisis when the world demands unity and integrity. With 300 rabbinic and educational emissaries around the world, Ohr Torah Stone has been working day and night and has so far been successful in avoiding occurrences of any need for cremation. We have witnessed the UK create protocols to avoid cremation of Jewish bodies and are hosting a meeting for all our rabbis around the world to give them guidance on how to speak to government officials if such a challenge occurs.

I was therefore deeply disturbed – and indeed shocked – to read an article in the Jewish Week ascribing statements to me that are completely inaccurate. Quoting me out of context without speaking to me first, led to an inexcusable potentially harmful mischaracterization of my position and of the work being done by my colleagues around the world.

Only after the piece was released and our efforts to have the record rectified, was I given the chance to respond and the piece was then adjusted online. I am grateful for that opportunity. However, recognizing that some of you may see the print edition where the mistakes sadly remain, I am using this forum to make every effort to ensure our intent is made entirely clear.

What I stated in an interview in The Times of Israel and I stand behind is that IF a government demands cremation and efforts to avoid it are unsuccessful, the highest levels of compassion should be extended for families of the deceased.

This is to say that while there is no doubt that cremation is 100 percent forbidden by Jewish law and is nothing short of another possible tragic consequence of this terrible crisis, a family need not live in shame if this is the fate that has befallen a loved one.

These times demand that we deal with enormous challenges. We have been working with our rabbinic and educator couples around the world coping with all sorts of practical, ethical and moral questions. I firmly believe that this heightened attention to compassion must be a light that guides us without ever wavering on our commitment to Jewish Law. I trust you appreciate that this has been and always will be my position – and that of Ohr Torah Stone.

The Pesach seder is divided into two parts: the pre-meal Haggada and the post-meal Haggada. The pre-meal Haggada focuses solely on our redemption from Egypt; the freedom of the past. The post meal Haggada and its final two cups focuses on the future redemption. This Pesach, we appreciate the redemption of the past so much more and look forward to the future redemption that will enable us all to enjoy Pesach with family and friends in an ever-flourishing Jerusalem.


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