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Human Composting Implications for Kohanim


Hello I submitted this question earlier but have resubmitted with the relevant information. This practice may become more prevalent in other areas now that Washington State has broken the ice on human composting. From an atheistic perspective, it makes sense to them to dispose of a body in the cheapest way possible and the least environmental impact. However, for Orthodox Jews, having bodies essentially scattered about (albeit in the form of soil and in less than a kzayis); and the fact that secular society has even broken this barrier for honor of a dead person, is jarring. Below are some articles on the topic from recent news. Does this issue create a problem for Kohanim?

Washington becomes first state ever to allow human composting
Gov. Jay Inslee, the Democrat from Washington, signed a bill into law on Tuesday that allows the composting of human bodies as an alternative to burials and cremations.

The Evergreen state is the first state to approve the measure after an earlier trial study that involved six backers who agreed to the organic reduction. The results were positive and the “soil smelled like soil and nothing else.”

Troy Hottle, a fellow at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, told The Seattle Times earlier this year that the method is as “close to the natural process of decomposition [as] you’d assume a body would undergo before we had an industrialized society.”

Licensed facilities in the state will offer a “natural organic reduction.” The body is mixed with substances like wood chips into about two wheelbarrows’ worth of soil in a span of several weeks. Loved ones are allowed to keep the soil to spread, just as they might spread the ashes of someone who has been cremated — or even use it to plant vegetables or a tree.

“It gives meaning and use to what happens to our bodies after death,” said Nora Menkin, executive director of the Seattle-based People’s Memorial Association, which helps people plan for funerals.
The bill, SB 5001, takes effect on May 1, 2020. The bill reportedly passed easily in Aprile and had bipartisan support in the state Senate and House of Representatives.

An NBC News report last year said the procedure could cost $5,500.
The Associated Press contributed to this report

Eco-friendly burial alternative: You can now compost your loved ones in Washington
In a push for eco-friendly burial alternatives, Washington became the first state to allow “human composting” when Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation Tuesday that approved the process that turned bodies into soil within weeks.

Human composting, or “natural organic reduction,” relies on a mixture of materials, such as wood chips and straw, to produce about two wheelbarrows’ worth of soil. The legislation signed into law Tuesday will allow licensed facilities to offer the service.

The law also allows loved ones to keep the soil in urns, similar to cremation, spread it in public lands or use it to grow plants on private property.

Proponents of the law say it will help reduce the demands on space needed after a person dies, curb pollution from chemicals pumped into buried bodies that can seep into groundwater and reduce carbon emissions from cremation. It also can help with the planting of trees.

More: Washington poised to become first state to allow eco-friendly ‘human composting’

In this Friday, April 19, 2019, photo Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose, displays a sample of the compost material left from the decomposition of a cow, using a combination of wood chips, alfalfa and straw, as she poses in a cemetery in Seattle.
In this Friday, April 19, 2019, photo Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose, displays a sample of the compost material left from the decomposition of a cow, using a combination of wood chips, alfalfa and straw, as she poses in a cemetery in Seattle. (Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP)

“It is sort of astonishing that you have this completely universal human experience – we’re all going to die – and here’s an area where technology has done nothing for us. We have the two means of disposing of human bodies that we’ve had for thousands of years, burying and burning,” the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jamie Pedersen of Seattle, told USA TODAY in April. “It just seems like an area that is ripe for having technology help give us some better options than we have used.”

The legislation was inspired by Katrina Spade, a graduate student who came up with the idea by modeling it from a method farmers use to dispose of livestock.

Spade found that a mixture of wood chips, alfalfa and straw can convert bodies to soil within four to seven weeks. She tested it during a pilot program at Washington State University with six human bodies.

Spade then later founded Recompose, a company that provides body decomposition services to the public.

The law takes effect May 1, 2020, the Seattle Times reported. Previous laws allowed for only cremation or traditional burials to dispose of remains in Washington.

Other green burial methods, like using a biodegradable casket, are growing in popularity around the country in recent years. The law also allows for alkaline hydrolysis, or “liquid cremation,” the Times reported.

After actor Luke Perry died in March, he was buried in an eco-friendly mushroom suit that is biodegradable.

Luke Perry mushroom suit: Actor buried in Tennessee in eco-friendly mushroom suit, daughter says

“To be able to provide more options for people’s choices is a very exciting thing,” Rob Goff, executive director of the Washington State Funeral Directors Association, told USA TODAY last month.

Pedersen, though, said he’s received angry emails form constituents who oppose the legislation.

“The image they have is that you’re going to toss Uncle Henry out in the backyard and cover him with food scraps,” Pedersen said. But the process is respectful, the state lawmaker said.

Spade said in April, “Our goal is to provide something that is as aligned with the natural cycle as possible, but still realistic in being able to serve a good number of families and not take up as much land as burial will.


It is truly a shame that this is the way the gentiles look at their bodies and burial, as merely a way to “dispose of the human body” as if it doesn’t have any significance, and it is a piece of trash. B”H our sacred torah teaches us that the human body, even after the soul departs is sacred, as it is from the remains of this body that H-shem will rebuild our next body, after techiyas hameisim.

Regarding your question, I can’t answer you, but it might matter if the remains of the body will have any pieces of bone left or not. When this question will be practical, it will have to be presented to the gedolei haposkim to guide us what the kohanim should do when they confronted with such a situation.

Best Wishes

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