Military funeral freedom

The soldier is right. The choice should always belong to the family, not the IDF or the state.

By
July 6, 2019 18:15
3 minute read.
Tomer Peretz

'Funeral' depicts friends of a fallen IDF soldier weeping and comforting each other at a military funeral. (photo credit: PAINTING BY TOMER PERETZ)

Freedom in matters of religion and state took a huge and significant step on Thursday after the NGO Hiddush announced that the IDF will allow Reform rabbis to conduct military funerals for fallen soldiers, complete with all of the traditional military characteristics.

The ruling came two years after a petition was filed by Attorney Uri Regev on behalf of the Hiddush Association for Religious Freedom and Equality against the IDF, claiming that non-Orthodox soldiers faced discrimination since their families were not being allowed to choose the rabbi they wanted to officiate at their child’s military funeral service.

The petition claimed that the IDF did not allow Jewish soldiers to be buried according to their faith, instead forcing soldiers to submit to an Orthodox ceremony run by the IDF Rabbinate Corps. For decades, as The Jerusalem Post’s military correspondent Anna Ahronheim reported on Friday, military orders dictated that soldiers must be buried by an IDF rabbi in accordance with Jewish law. That meant it had to be an Orthodox ceremony.

While the IDF changed its orders in 2017 allowing families of fallen soldiers to determine whether to have a religious or civil funeral, those ceremonies did not include several key and traditional military characteristics: the ceremonial carrying of the coffin, a wreath-laying ceremony, an honor guard, and a firing squad. They also usually left out an official eulogy by an IDF officer.

In response to Hiddush’s appeals and following negotiations between the two sides, the IDF agreed to pass new orders in a manner that would enable families to choose the nature of the military ceremony.

One soldier told The Post that she was thrilled with the decision. “To have that clarity and knowledge that if, God forbid, something happens to me, my family will have the choice: to choose if they want a reform ceremony that includes all the accolades of a full burial, or they want to have an Orthodox ceremony,” she said.

The soldier is right. The choice should always belong to the family, not the IDF or the state.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, president and CEO of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, said that “in a reality in which thousands of soldiers and soldiers celebrated their bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies in Reform communities, and thousands of veterans ask Reform rabbis to officiate their weddings, the change in the position of the state and the army is a necessary and required one.”

We agree, and applaud the IDF for this monumental and overdue decision. Soldiers, like all Israelis, should be allowed to choose how they want to practice their religion and to which stream in Judaism they want to belong.

This freedom of religion though should not be confined to when someone dies; it should also be applicable when Israelis are alive. That means giving state recognition to the different progressive streams of Judaism like the Reform and Conservative movements that already operate in Israel, providing them the ability to perform weddings, conversions and funerals.

This also means moving forward with the establishment of a third prayer plaza at the Western Wall. Last week, The Post’s Ilanit Chernick revealed how two years after the government canceled the famous Kotel deal, there has still been no movement in upgrading the existing prayer space as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to do in 2017.

Instead, the situation has only deteriorated. Last year, for example, a stone fell out of the Kotel onto a small platform nearby which is used for egalitarian prayer. Despite the year that has passed, the small platform has yet to reopen. Instead, it continues to be covered in scaffolding. Now imagine that a stone fell out of the known men’s prayer plaza at the Kotel. Do you really think it would stay closed for a whole year?

This situation is intolerable. Israel, which prides itself in the diversity of its people and religions, needs to put action behind the words “Jewish state.” That means being the state for all Jews, and not just those who practice Judaism according to Orthodox tradition and law.


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