Contemporary American Reform Responsa
107. Burial of Human Skin from Holocaust Victim
QUESTION: The Congregation recently acquired an antique lamp, and it turns out that the lampshade is made of human skin which has survived from the Nazi period. Should the lampshade be buried? May it be displayed in a museum? What should be done with it? (Rabbi E. Silver, Salt Lake City, UT)ANSWER: The lampshade of which you write has survived from one of the most tragic periods of our history. It should not be displayed but treated reverently and buried. We would urge burial of this small portion of a body as a sign of reverence and respect for the victims of the Holocaust. Tradition would suggest burial for this reason and as a precaution against ritual uncleanliness for kohanim (Yad, Tumat Met 16.8; Jacob Reisher, Shevut Yaaqov II, #10). We are primarily concerned with the honor of those who were murdered during the Nazi period. As this may be the only portion of that unfortunate individual’s body which has survived, we should bury it with the simplest of rituals. We do not know whether this was a Jew or a non-Jew, but that would make no difference, as we have long ago been mandated to bury the dead of our neighbors (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 151.12). The lampshade should, therefore, be buried in the congregation’s cemetery.January 1984
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.