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Israel Debates How to Bury Non-Jewish Soldiers

A bill aims to allow Jews and non-Jewish IDF members to be buried together

Romy Zipken
July 01, 2013
Har Herzl in Jerusalem.(Flickr)
Har Herzl in Jerusalem.(Flickr)

A new bill by Israeli Member of Knesset Elazar Stern seeks to allow Jews and non-Jews to be buried alongside each other in military cemeteries. The bill was brought to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, but the Defense Ministry requested an extra week to study its clauses. Many, including the IDF, are not on board with the proposal, reports the Jerusalem Post.

In addition, senior members of the Bayit Yehudi faction, including Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben- Dahan, are also vehemently opposed to the bill.

Ben-Dahan is opposed both on grounds of Jewish law, as well as due to his belief that the Knesset should not rule on such matters without the involvement of the Chief Rabbinate.

Stern brought forth his bill right after a controversy for IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz on Israel’s Memorial Day, reported the Jerusalem Post. Gantz was supposed to place a flag on the most recent fallen soldier’s grave, but because the most recent soldier was not Jewish, and was buried in a separate plot from the Jewish soldiers, he placed the flag on a Jewish soldier’s grave instead. Gantz apologized for his actions during the traditional event at Mount Herzl.

“Mourning is equally difficult among Jews as it is among non-Jews. It was not necessary to add to the family’s grief through alienation grounded in an ugly discrimination of blood which also contradicts basic democratic principles,” Gal-On said.

Gal-On added that the fact that the fallen soldier was not Jewish “did not hinder the state from asking him to sacrifice himself for its sake, yet upon his death [the state] casts him ‘beyond the fence’ [of the cemetery] and refuses to pay him his final respects.”

At the time, reports the Times of Israel, the IDF apologized and promised to include all portions of the cemetery in the future, but Stern proposed his bill as a remedy.

The bill consists of a one-sentence amendment to the 1950 Military Cemeteries Law, stating that “Any soldier who dies, including a soldier eligible for rights under Article 4(a) of the Law of Return, and whose relatives choose to bury him in a military cemetery, shall be buried in the plot and row, and directly alongside, the soldiers already buried in that plot.”

Despite the opposition, there is a lot of support. Stern, who is an Orthodox Jew himself, “insists the bill has the support of many modern Orthodox rabbis.”

Romy Zipken is a writer and editor at Jewcy. Her Twitter feed is @RomyZipken.

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