(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jewish burial services in major Israeli cities will be on hold from Tuesday
morning until 2 p.m., head of the forum of Hevra Kadisha burial services Ze’ev
Rosenberg announced Monday.
The list of cities includes Jerusalem, Tel
Aviv, Haifa and Petah Tikva, among others.
The dramatic resolution, which
Rosenberg called a precedent, was reached by the 11-man forum representing the
large Jewish burial organizations in the country. It came in the wake of the
recent slaying of Haifa’s Ashkenazi Hevra Kadisha director Benny Hesse, who was
gunned down outside his house on Sunday.
Directors and employees of Hevra
Kadisha organizations nationwide will gather to pray and protest the violence
and abuse to which they are subjected, in an assembly at the capital’s Har
Hamenuhot cemetery at 11 a.m.
Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv
– which was attended by heads of the large Jewish burial organizations, as well
as Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi – Rosenberg expressed his great
pain and shock over the killing of “our friend Benny Hesse, who fell in the line
of duty, who was murdered for being an honest and decent man, a courageous
person who didn’t succumb to strong-arming and violence.”
Hesse lost an
eye to an acid-throwing attack in 2006, and his home was burnt on a different
occasion. A court-ordered media ban on all details of the investigation has been
in place since Sunday night. Police have refused to discuss the ongoing
investigation due to the ban, though some Hevra Kadisha directors on Monday
intimated they knew what was behind the deadly attack.
that “threats directed at Hevra Kadisha directors and employees are not a new
thing. We live and act in an atmosphere of threats and terror, intimidations and
pressures. We face impossible situations with people in a very bad state,
feeling the pain of their greatest loss.
We take care of them in their
most difficult hours, and their bitterness at the cemeteries that lack space,
their pressure, agony and stress – it all funnels into the moment of their
encounter with the Hevra Kadisha.”
Burial services are state-funded in
Israel, but a shortage of burial plots, especially felt in cities, has led in
the past 10 years to the solution of burying in multi-storied drawer
Freshly bereaved families are at times outraged to learn from
Hevra Kadisha workers that interment in the ground is either not possible, or an
option that would cost extra money.
Rosenberg, who in the past was
director-general of the Religious Services Ministry, blamed the government for
its decades of overlooking the perpetually growing need for more burial grounds,
and for not explaining to the public the current situation of nontraditional
burial, which at times does not enable a tombstone or landscaping.
public is truly hurt by this situation, but we are the last to bear the
responsibility for it,” Rosenberg continued.
“We are the public’s
punching bag, but it is the regime’s fault.”
Margi, who, as head of the
Beersheba religious council from 1993-2003, was exposed to intimidations,
threats, humiliation and violence from angry families, ambulance drivers and
tombstone contractors, declared that Hevra Kadisha employees would no longer
turn the other cheek to such abuse.
Margi noted that of the 34,000
funerals a year conducted by the 700 Hevra Kadisha societies, there was a
minuscule number of complaints, and of these only a few were found to be
“The societies act according to a government decision forced
upon them. It’s not someone’s whim to get as many bodies as possible into the
given burial areas. The governments didn’t have the wisdom to explain the
situation to the public,” he said.
“We are the victims of the
government-induced illusion that everything here is free, and that it is our
fault” when bereaved family members learn that the funeral they envisioned is
not, said Rabbi Elazar Gelbstein, head of Jerusalem’s Central and General Hevra
Founded 160 years ago, his burial society today serves the
capital’s Ashkenazi haredi populace.
Gelbstein – who is the fourth
generation in his family to undertake one of the holiest and most thankless
tasks in the Jewish life-cycle – noted the dedication the task demands, with the
vast majority of bereaved families being satisfied with the burial societies’
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.