The ashes of cremated Jews should be rejected by all burial societies and the bereaved of the cremated should not sit shiva, say kaddish or observe any mourning rituals, announced the Chief Rabbinate Monday in a press release.
The rabbinate's call is aimed at stemming the rise in the number of cremations performed by Aley Shalechet, which operates Israel's only crematorium, located in Hadera.
Aley Shalechet owner and CEO Alon Nativ refused to say exactly how many bodies had been cremated at the crematorium since its opening in July 2005, but did say that hundreds had either been cremated or signed up to be cremated.
Shalechet also said that a 2002 survey by pollster Geocartographia found that about 10 percent of Israeli Jews - or 3,800 people, based on an annual average of 38,000 deaths - would choose cremation. "So far I have not had that many people signing up to be cremated, but there has been a steady increase and I hope to reach that number."
In its announcement the rabbinate said that "[cremation] awakens difficult and bitter memories from the darkest period in Jewish history, the Holocaust, during which millions of our brothers, scions of the House of Israel, were led to the crematoriums by the evil Nazis and their helpers.
"Ever since, cremation has been etched in the collective memories of all Israelis, and Holocaust survivors in particular, as a sign of the attempt to annihilate Judaism and the Jewish people.
"The rabbinic council expresses its disgust and abhorrence with the operator of the crematorium in the Holy Land. Besides the blatant breach in Jewish law, the crematorium's very existence is insensitive and lacking of basic human feeling." Nativ, who imported the crematorium from the US, said that there is no law against cremating bodies in Israel, and condemned the rabbinate's announcement as "immoral."
He also said that many of his customers were Holocaust survivors.
By law, every Israeli citizen is entitled to free burial in the city in which he or she dies. Nativ said that he had asked the attorney-general and the Justice Ministry to order the National Insurance Institute (NII) to reimburse families that choose cremation. "An Israeli citizen who has paid the NII all his life should be entitled to free cremation just as he is entitled to free burial."
Zaka, a haredi rescue and recovery organization that helps bury the remains of those killed in accidents and terrorist attacks, argues that cremation is illegal. Michael Goodvine, head of Zaka's legal department, said that health ordinances do not mention anything about cremation. Also, he said, cremation could erase pathological evidence in cases of foul play.
Rabbi Jacob Ruza, an expert on Jewish burial and adviser to the L. Greenberg Institute for Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir and to the Chief Rabbinate, said that although there is a minority opinion among modern rabbis that the ashes of cremated Jews may be buried in a special plot within a Jewish cemetery, the vast majority of halachic authorities of the last century prohibited the practice.
Ruza added that former Sephardic chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu allowed the burial of human ashes if the cremated person was unaware of Jewish law, for instance Jews from the former Soviet Union. Eliyahu argued that these Jews were cremated not because they were rebelling against Judaism, but because they knew no better.
In reference to the matter of running out of space to bury the dead, Ruza admitted that there was a shortage of land for burial in Israel, but added, "it is nothing multilevel burial cannot solve."