Is it true that Amy Winehouse was Jewish? How can that be if she was cremated, and had so many tattoos, which are against Jewish tradition?
—Jewish in Los Angeles, via the inbox
Indeed, Amy Winehouse was a post-millennial queen of Jewish soul, as much of a spiritual daughter of Abraham as Carole King.
Winehouse's parents, Mitchell and Janis, gave their daughter a Jewish funeral, but some aspects of the farewell were decidedly less traditional than others:
Yes, the funeral reportedly was overseen by a rabbi, with prayers in Hebrew and English. Winehouse's family also plans to sit shiva, the traditional Jewish approach to mourning. But Winehouse was also, indeed, cremated, which is, as you mention, not in line with Judaism.
Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, Executive Vice President of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said he was saddened to hear of Winehouse's death.
He also explained why the cremation was unusual.
"This is a very sad tragedy, a human tragedy," he said. As for cremation, "it's clearly prohibited in Jewish tradition." The reason: Jews believe they were created in the image of God, and should return to God as intact as possible—no embalming, even, if possible.
In fact, the rabbi says, the issue is considered so serious that, even if a Jewish person expresses a preference for cremation in a will, "you are able to, and often even encouraged to, disregard that directive."
That said, well, we're living in 2011—"the modern world," Diamond says.
"An increasingly significant number of Jews are choosing cremation. It's not something I would encourage, but we live as a part of the world."
The cremation wasn't the only non-traditional thing about the Jewish Winehouse. She also wore tattoos, which, historically, are not desirable for Jews.
"That goes back to the Bible," Diamond confirms.
"But that in no way would absolutely preclude someone from being buried in a Jewish cemetery. We live in the 21st century, and Jewish people, particularly young Jews, have a wide variety of practices and beliefs, customs and rituals, that respect a blend of traditions."
No matter how her parents designed her memorial, it was likely the best way they thought they could find some peace. And I say amen to that.