Israel's only crematorium to re-open

ZAKA head Yehuda Meshi-Zahav says: "We hope it will fulfill its purpose, and burn down."

By MATTHEW WAGNER
October 28, 2007 08:55
2 minute read.
Israel's only crematorium to re-open

crematorium 224. (photo credit: Zaka)

 
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Just months after a religiously motivated arson attack destroyed Israel's only crematorium, the Aley Shalechet Funeral Home announced Sunday that in the coming month it would import a new machine to be installed at a secret location. "We don't plan to give in to violence or threats," said Alon Nativ, owner and manager of Aley Shalechet (Autumn Leaves). "But we also do not want to reveal the location of the new crematorium out of fear that once again someone will attempt to take the law into his own hands." Nativ said the damage done to the crematorium was too extensive to justify fixing. In August, unidentified arsonists torched Nativ's crematorium, which was located on Moshav Chibat Zion, a community with a high percentage of religious residents. Since then his crematorium business has been suspended. Yehuda Meshi Zahav, head of ZAKA, an organization that specializes in identifying, collecting and bringing to burial victims of terrorist attacks and car accidents, praised the arsons. "I did not burn down that disgusting thing, but I admit that I am happy somebody did," he told The Jerusalem Post after the arson attack. Meshi-Zahav was known in the 1980s for spearheading aggressive, often violent, demonstrations against perceived secular encroachment on haredi sensibilities. For traditional Jews, cremation is an anathema. It is considered a violation of the body's sanctity as a vehicle for doing God's will. Unlike other religious transgressions, such as Shabbat desecration or eating pork, advocating cremation is perceived as a radical upset of the delicate religious status quo. An aversion to cremation is not restricted to religious Israelis. With the impact of the Holocaust still keenly felt in Israel, cremation arouses images of concentration camps, where the Nazis used massive crematoriums to dispose of the bodies of their victims. Nevertheless, Nativ said, several of Aley Shalechet's clients are Holocaust survivors. Although Shas, a Sephardi haredi party that is a member of the government coalition, has drafted legislation that would prohibit cremations in Israel, the bill has not yet been passed. At the same time, cremations are not recognized by the National Insurance Institute as a legitimate form of burial. As a result, Israeli citizens who choose cremation are not entitled to state funding. In Western countries, cremation is a popular form of burial. According to data provided by Aley Shalechet, a quarter of those who pass away in the US opt for cremations, as do 45 percent in Canada and 68% in Holland and Great Britain. In Japan, almost all deceased are cremated. Nativ said he has hundreds of clients who have opted for cremation.

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