Senior Rabbi Implores Family Not to Cremate Rona Ramon, Widow of First Israeli Astronaut

Ramon, who lost husband Ilan in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, asked to be cremated to spare her family another funeral ■ Rabbi tells family that when someone requests not to be buried 'they are not listened to'

Rona Ramon listens as President Bush speaks at a memorial service February 4, 2003 for the seven astronauts killed in the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

The chief rabbi of Be’er Sheva, Rabbi Yehuda Dery, asked the family of Rona Ramon to reconsider their decision to cremate her.

Ramon died on Monday of pancreatic cancer at 54. Her husband, Ilan Ramon was Israel’s first astronaut and he died in 2003 when the Columbia Space Shuttle blew up on reentry, killing all on board, after space mission.

Ramon also lost her son Asaf, an Israel Air Force fighter pilot, who died in 2009 when his F-16 crashed in a training accident.

Ramon requested to be cremated to spare her family another funeral. Dery, the brother of Interior Minister Arye Dery, said he shocked to hear of her request and offered to hold a small, closed funeral without the family.

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In a letter he penned to the family, Dery wrote that he first wanted to express his condolences to the family and “along with all of Israel, we are suffering along with their pain and joining in their deep sorrow.”

He said that cremation of Ramon’s body “would have severe Halakhic implications” and that Jewish law clearly states that even if someone requests to be cremated and not buried, “they are not listened to.”

Dery said he had turned to the family in the name of many rabbis and “in the name of large parts of the people.”

Rona Ramon should be given a Jewish burial “in the clods of the earth she loved so much and for which she also sacrificed those dearest of all to her,” said Dery. “There she shall lie in rest in peace, and also on behalf of her descendants over the generations to commune with her memory in front of her grave, which will become a monument and memorial forever that they had an illustrious ancestress in Israel.”

Dery wrote to the family that he was the their service if they chose “to hold a modest funeral, and all the arrangements, even without the participation of the family members, as she requested, and in doing so her last request would be fulfilled in a more appropriate and respectful manner."

Her coffin lay in state on Wednesday at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Tel Aviv, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid his respects. In his eulogy, the premier said Rona Ramon’s life was a “tragedy of biblical proportions” and that he is “deeply sorrowed” by her death. “Rona had heroically stood up after the passing of her husband Ilan and son Asaf, our admired pilots. She had, just as heroically, fought against cancer, which sadly overpowered her. We will always remember her and her incredible family.” 

Ramon is survived by her three other children.