Civil burial in Israel? Not here, not now and not secular

A quarter of a century has passed since a law was passed allowing Israelis to be buried in accordance with their beliefs, yet, absurdly, the biggest beneficiary of the legislation is the religious burial society. One woman’s attempts to find a suitable burial place expose the government’s helplessness. Unless one is willing to be buried far from the center of the country, to pay 60,000 shekels or to be given a civil funeral by a religious body, there is no such thing as a secular burial in Israel. A special report: How the state safeguards the monopoly of religious burial.

A quarter of a century has passed since a law was passed allowing Israelis to be buried in accordance with their beliefs, yet, absurdly, the biggest beneficiary of the legislation is the religious burial society. One woman’s attempts to find a suitable burial place expose the government’s helplessness. Unless one is willing to be buried far from the center of the country, to pay 60,000 shekels or to be given a civil funeral by a religious body, there is no such thing as a secular burial in Israel. A special report: How the state safeguards the monopoly of religious burial.

A quarter of a century has passed since a law was passed allowing Israelis to be buried in accordance with their beliefs, yet, absurdly, the biggest beneficiary of the legislation is the religious burial society. One woman’s attempts to find a suitable burial place expose the government’s helplessness. Unless one is willing to be buried far from the center of the country, to pay 60,000 shekels or to be given a civil funeral by a religious body, there is no such thing as a secular burial in Israel. A special report: How the state safeguards the monopoly of religious burial.

Jonathan Bloom

Ayelet Cohen, civil burial in Petach Tikva. Photo: Jonathan Bloom

April 28, 2022

Summary

It has been 25 years since Israel passed the Alternative Burials Law. However, anyone hoping for a civil burial carried out by a secular organization will discover that the only place in Israel that offers such a service – at the state’s expense – is Beer Sheva. Absurdly, most of the organizations involved in civil burial in Israel are religious and the precious few civil cemeteries that are in secular hands are reserved for locals only – or are very expensive.

In the past, the increased demand for a civil burial and the lack of supply led to the growth of a burial industry in several agricultural communities, which violated the law by charging for burial services. Ten years ago, the Israel Lands Authority and the courts put an end to that. One of the most recent legal rulings on the issue came in a 2014 verdict when the Kfar Sava Magistrates Court ordered the Ministry of Religious Services to refund funeral expenses to a plaintiff. In the ruling, the court said that every community, no matter how small, has at least one religious cemetery, while there are only a dozen civil cemeteries in the whole of the country.

“For the past 18 years, the state has been in violation of the Alternative Burials Law and is not allowing citizens to exercise their right to be buried in accordance with their worldview. The state has not provided the public with a sufficient number of civil cemeteries, located at reasonable distances from each other, in accordance with the law. The Ministry of Religious Services has violated the right to civil burial and has not designated regional cemeteries which are obligated to accept any local resident and not just someone who lived in the community where the cemetery is located.”

This is a summary of shomrim's story published in Hebrew.
To read the full story click here.