Burial of Non-Jewish Soldiers

Eliad Avruch and Lilach Ben-Zvi

One of the most obvious manifestations of being Israeli is army service. Another factor positioning a person within Israeli society, is his religious affiliation. This presents a dilemma for the many people currently serving in the armed forces who are categorised as being without religion or questionably Jewish, and this dilemma is particularly poignant during times of bereavement, when the army must decide whether to bury both Jews and non-Jews, side-by-side (considered by most to be against the dictates of Halacha). This situation creates a clash between the values of Israel as a Jewish state and as a state which appreciates and even sanctifies all its fallen.

According to Jewish law it is forbidden to bury a member of another religion in a Jewish cemetery. But since burial of combat soldiers has taken on such symbolic importance, setting aside separate sections for members of other religions or burying the bodies outside the cemetery fence may lead to unwanted personal, familial, and sectorial complications. Insensitive treatment of a soldier who was persecuted in his native country for being a Jew and in Israel is treated, even after his death, as a non-Jew (leaving aside for now any determination of his true religious affiliation) may lead to alienation and isolation on the part of both the soldier’s family and entire groups within Israeli society. At the same time, ignoring Jewish law may have a negative impact on the Jewish character of the state of Israel and on soldiers and their families who wish to be buried according to the dictates of Jewish law.

The purpose of this position paper is to determine the most appropriate approach to the burial of these members of Israeli society in order to maintain a balance among the needs of the different sectors which serve in the armed forces.

The position paper is composed of the following sections:

· The first two sections present a general survey of the issues and the specific case discussed.

· The third section presents army and the Ministry of Defense guidelines. These institutions are responsible for military burials and the maintenance of military cemeteries.

· The fourth section presents the halachic background as developed over the course of generations in Judaic literature.

· The fifth section summarizes the discussion. It also presents a policy recommendation based on statements by the former chief army rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, and the current chief army rabbi, Rabbi Rafi Peretz: the burial of non-Jewish soldiers in special sections which are neither isolated nor in the same section as the rest of the fallen members of the military. The separation between graves would be accomplished by means of a tree, a bench, or any other item which is a normal part of the cemetery. This solution combines compliance with Jewish law and the proper respect for those who have sacrificed their lives to protect those living in this country.

To the full position paper (Hebrew)

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