Proper Burial for Victims of the September 11th Terrorism
Adopted by the Executive Board of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism March, 2003
SUPPORT FOR A PROPER BURIAL FOR VICTIMS OF THE SEPTEMBER 11TH TERRORISM
The attacks of September 11, 2001 resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people. The remains of many victims of the World Trade Center attacks were never located. The "debris" from the World Trade Center site was transported to Fresh Kills Landfill, a garbage dump in Staten Island, where it was thoroughly sifted to separate the larger debris from the bodily remains and the ashes of the victims (referred to as the "fine"). The workers took great care to treat the remains respectfully, but the decision to leave this "fine" at the Fresh Kills Landfill ill-serves the reverence that the remains and the memory of the victims deserve. Meanwhile, the families of these unfound victims continue to suffer, as the ashes of their loved ones remain amidst waste.
Jewish law and tradition are forthright in maintaining the importance of affording a proper burial for the dead and of guarding the integrity of that final resting place. The examples of our patriarchs and matriarchs serve as models in teaching us how to lovingly lay our dead to rest. For example, immediately after the death of Sarah, Abraham attended to the proper burial of Sarah by insisting on purchasing a plot of land from Efron and the children of Heth (Genesis 23). After the death of Rachel, "Jacob set a pillar on her grave: that [is] the pillar of Rachel's grave to this day" (Genesis 35:19-20). A proper burial is considered so important that the community as a whole is held responsible for the proper burial of an unclaimed body (Semahot 4:16).
THEREFORE, the Executive Committee of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism resolves to:
Express its deep concern over the decision to allow the ashes to remain at the Fresh Kills Landfill; and
Support efforts to provide for a more appropriate and sacred treatment of the remains of the unfound victims of the World Trade Center tragedy.