Asking the clergy about Scripture and burials

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For nearly a week, where to bury Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been contentious, pitting the community against the family. Finally, overnight Wednesday, someone answered the Worcester, Mass., police chief's plea to bury the body. A written statement from the Worcester police department said only that the body has been laid to rest, not revealing where, other than it was not in Worcester.

Common religious burial practices had been set aside as anger and frustration built. Earlier this week, three local clergy shared both scriptural and traditional burial practices of their religions. And, all three agreed that the humane, compassionate thing to do -- both for the family and the community -- would be to bury the bombing suspect's body.

Rabbi Art Vernon, Jewish Community Center of West Hempstead:

We look to the Book of Deuteronomy, which says if a criminal is hanged for an offense, the body is not to hang overnight. From this we learn that everyone, even a criminal, needs a speedy burial. And speedy depends on what you can do. In Israel, many people are buried the same day they die. I was in Israel, and a rabbi died at 4 p.m. and was buried at 11 p.m.

In New York and across America, we don't have that option of same-day burial because of union rules about when someone is required to work. We prefer to bury the deceased no later than the next day. There are, of course, instances when that isn't possible. There is nothing requiring burying someone by a certain day. And we are not permitted to bury on Saturday or the day of a festival.

Burying quickly also is related to our mourning tradition. One is not a mourner until the coffin is in the grave and covered. The Christian tradition is to have a viewing, wake and other things. In our tradition, burial triggers a whole week of shiva. We want to have the burial so we can begin the shiva, or mourning period.

There is no question that psychologically there is a difference when the funeral takes place the next day or the day after. There is no closure until the funeral takes place. Not having the body buried was a tragedy not just for the deceased, but for his mourning family.

Brother Gary Cregan, O.S.F., principal, St. Anthony's High School, South Huntington:

There is no mention in New Testament Scripture other than the burial practices performed on Lazarus and Jesus. In these instances, Scripture speaks of the body being embalmed and washed, then wrapped in swaddling clothing and placed in the tomb. Jesus was laid to rest in the Hebrew tradition. That tradition followed through for centuries. And while there is cremation, the common practice still is to bury rather than cremate.

Funerals and burials are very important to the grieving process. I'm not blind to the processes that went on in Boston regarding bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He is not Catholic, but if he were, I'm not sure the Catholic church would have denied him funeral and burial rites. He would still be a member of the community. He would have had to be excommunicated for burial to be denied. It is contrary to Catholic tradition to hold the family responsible for the actions of the deceased.

Imam Zaheer Uddin, executive director, Muslim Leaders of New York, which covers Long Island and New York City:

The Quran is specific about burial rituals. First, you have to wash the body. Then, the body is to be wrapped in an appropriate manner in a plain white sheet. Third, you have to perform the Janaza Prayer. Finally, the body is taken to the graveyard for burial. Cremation is not an allowed practice for Muslims. Just as it is important to obey any other Scripture in the Quran, it is important to obey burial Scriptures.

There is no particular time frame for burial, but it is encouraged that the person be buried within 12 to 24 hours of death. In extraordinary circumstances, if you don't have a body, you can't do these things. Such things as having a memorial or someone giving speeches would be acceptable but would not be common practice.

It shows the humanity of the living to bury the dead. In the case of the Boston Marathon bomber, yes, he committed a crime, but he is still a member of the community. We should bury him, not because he is a member of a faith, but because he is a member of humanity. It is not just important for the family that he is buried. It is also important that the community at large show its humanity, to show necessary respect to the deceased. We are all from the same father and mother, Adam and Eve. We should respect and honor the deceased, whether we liked him or not.

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