Question: [Wednesday, 3rd Shevat, 5782]
We are a family of converts, and have a Gentile relative who recently passed away and asked in his will to be cremated. We are his closest available relatives to arrange for the cremation to take place, and my question is from a Halachic perspective am I allowed to assist in the cremation of the body of a Gentile, or is cremation forbidden on any human body?
It is permitted for you to assist and arrange for the cremation of a Gentile. This applies even if he is your relative, such as if you converted.
Explanation: It is forbidden for one to cremate the body of a Jew being that one is obligated to bury the body in the ground. This obligation of burial does not apply to a Gentile, and therefore seemingly there is no prohibition to cremate or help cremate his body. Now, although we are instructed by the sages to help bury the body of a Gentile for the sake of peace, this is not an intrinsic obligation to require actual burial in the ground, but simply an instruction for Jews to participate in the burial of a Gentile for peaceful purposes. However, the question they can be raised is whether burning the body transgresses the prohibition against desecrating the body of the dead which perhaps applies even to the body of a Gentile. Indeed, it is a dispute amongst the Poskim as to whether an autopsy may be performed on a Gentiles body. However, in truth this debate is due to the debate of whether there is a prohibition to benefit from the body of a Gentile, and is not due to it being considered desecration. Aside for the fact that there is no clear source that says that the prohibition to desecrate a body applies likewise to the body of a Gentile, one can argue that cremation is not similar to desecration at all.
Sources: See regarding the allowance to cremate a Gentile’s body: Shevet Halevi 8:256; Ach Tov Liyisrael [Kachlon] 27; See regarding the prohibition of cremating a Jew’s body: Sefer Chayeh Olam for letters from all Gedolei Yisrael on the great prohibition of cremating the dead; Gesher Hachaim 16:7; Chelkas Yaakov 2:14; Nitei Gavriel 75:23; See regarding whether burning the body is considered a desecration of it: Admur 311:1-2; M”A 311:3; Machatzis Hashekel ibid; See regarding whether the prohibition to desecrate the body applies likewise to a gentile body: Shevet Halevi 8:256 [no]; See regarding the obligation to bury the body of a Jew: Devarim 21:23 “Don’t allow his corpse to remain on the tree, you shall bury it”; Rebbe Yochanon in Sanhedrin 46b; “Minayin Limeilin Sheoveir…”; Admur 526:1 “Positive command of burial”; 495 KU”A 3 “Negative command of Baal Salin”; Admur 72:2 that one transgresses the positive command if delays until sunset and transgresses the negative command if he delays until morning; Michaber Y.D. 362:1 “One who places the body in a casket and does not bury it transgresses “Lo Salin”; Rambam Avel 12:1, as understood by Lechem Mishneh, and Sefer Hamitzvos 231 that transgresses positive command; Ramban Sefer Hamitzvos Shoresh 1; Chinuch 537; Radbaz Chadashos 311 [learns there is only a negative command, and not a positive command], brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 357:1; Ginas Veradim 1:8-2; M”A 72:2; Chochmas Adam Hanhagas Chevra Kadisha 12; Kitzur SHU”A 198:3; M”B 72:6; See Sdei Chemed Mareches Kuf 39 that so rule majority of all Rishonim and Achronim; See Gesher Hachaim chapter 16 and Vol. 2:12 for lengthy discussion; See Igros Kodesh 4:374, printed in Shulchan Menachem 5:255, for the various opinions; See regarding assisting in the burial of a Gentile: Michaber 367:1; Gittin 61a; See regarding that there is no intrinsic Mitzvah or obligation to bury a Gentile: Sdei Chemed Kelalim 2:103 in name of Poskim; Imrei Yosher 2:22; Gesher Hachaim 7:1; Shevet Halevi 8:256; Pnei Baruch 4:6; Shoel Umeishiv 2:151; Tzitz Eliezer 10:25