Israeli army’s new burial policy flies in face of Jewish law, former IDF chief rabbi warns

Jewish law will be broken if the new policy is followed, says former IDF chief rabbi in protest.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In a change of policy that may break Jewish law, the IDF decided several months ago that non-Jewish soldiers will be buried side-by-side with their fallen Jewish comrades. The decision has been met with rabbinic disapproval, Channel 20 reported Tuesday.

Former IDF Chief Rabbi Asher Weiss told Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, “It is forbidden for a non-Jew to be interred next to a Jew. I don’t understand why a new solution is needed if the previous solution was accepted both by bereaved parents and the left-wing members of Knesset. I’m afraid that bereaved parents will [now] want to rebury their loved ones.”

Since 2017, the IDF has buried its non-Jewish soldiers in its military cemeteries in the same lots as their Jewish comrades. To satisfy Jewish law on the issue of separation, they were put in a different row that would be two meters (six feet) away from a row of Jewish graves. A bench or tree was usually placed in the gap, which made the empty space unobtrusive.

The new procedure will instead create an unseen separation by laying the coffin twenty centimeters (eight inches) lower in the ground, and erecting an underground partition around it made of cement or metal.

The Ministry of Defense released a statement defending the move.

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“Over the years, there were discussions with the military rabbinate regarding the manner of burial, to enable the fallen soldiers to be buried next to each other and without distancing. Finally, solutions were found that were coordinated with the military rabbinate in their halachic aspects, and according to the ruling of the Chief Rabbi of the IDF,” it said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz praised the policy change, saying that all IDF casualties were equal in his eyes, and he was “happy that a halachic decision was found for this that on the one hand respects Jewish law and on the other hand respects the IDF fallen.”

In the Channel 20 report, Weiss said that the current IDF chief rabbi, Eyal Karim, was a Torah scholar but had made a mistake in this case.

“It’s impossible to go against the opinions of [former chief rabbis of Israel] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, and [generational leader] Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv all at once,” he said. “When ruling on such topics, you have to be supported by the great Torah leaders of Israel.”

The burial issue gained steam after the huge influx of Russians immigrated to Israel in the 1990s following the fall of the Iron Curtain, with many of them not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law.

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The new IDF policy was reportedly put in place several months ago.