How the IDF chief rabbinate determines death of a soldier whose remains are not found

The IDF Chief Rabbi is legally able to make the final decision on the death.

IDF chief rabbi Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz  (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
IDF chief rabbi Brigadier-General Rafi Peretz
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
The IDF pronouncement of the of the death of Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, late Saturday night was the second such decision made during the course of Operation Protective Edge, in a situation where the soldier’s corpse has yet to be been found.
Goldin was ostensibly killed in an attack by Palestinian gunmen on Friday morning after the declaration of a 72-hour cease-fire, in which two other IDF soldiers were killed.
St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, 21, went missing in Gaza early on in the IDF’s ground operation against Hamas and his remains never recovered. The IDF nevertheless declared him dead a week later.
In both incidents, the IDF Spokesman’s Office released a message saying that the army’s chief rabbi, Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz, pronounced the soldier dead, having created a special rabbinical court on the case, and that the decision was made bearing in mind various findings and “considerations of Jewish law.”
Former IDF chief rabbi, Brig.- Gen. (res.) Avihai Ronsky, told The Jerusalem Post that there were several methods of establishing the a soldier’s death without having found his corpse.
He noted that if certain limbs or remains were discovered without which a human cannot live then it was possible to determine that the soldier had died according to Jewish law.
But Ronsky also said that even without any remains whatsoever, logical deductions about the possible survival of a soldier can be used to determine death.
Although he emphasized he was not aware of the specifics of the two cases that occurred in Operation Protective Edge, the rabbi said that in the attack in which Shaul was killed when an anti-tank missile destroyed an armored personnel carrier in which six other soldiers inside died, it would have been possible to establish his death based on the evidence of the damage done to the vehicle and the fact that no-one else survived.
Another possibility for establishing a soldier’s death without his corpse is testimony from soldiers who witnessed a fatal attack said Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association.
Laboratory analysis of blood spilled at the site of the attack can also be used to determine death in certain situations he added.
Another former IDF chief rabbi Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yisrael Weiss told Channel 2 that in each case a special panel is established with the military rabbinate including the serving chief rabbi, as well as the rabbinate’s expert in burial and the identification of fallen soldiers and other relevant specialists.
The IDF chief rabbi is legally able to make the final decision on the death of a soldier, and he then informs the head of the IDF Manpower Division who briefs the IDF Chief of Staff, following which the family is notified.
Ronsky said that when a final decision is made it is a professional evaluation and 100 percent accurate, saying that there is no chance that such a person remains alive after the IDF chief rabbi has pronounced him dead.
One difference between the cases of Goldin and Shaul is that the former’s family was able to conduct a funeral, which took place Sunday afternoon whereas the latter’s was not.
According to Jewish law, if a certain amount of human remains are found then they require burial.
The IDF Spokesman’s Office has not commented on the details of either case although it is possible that some of Goldin’s remains were found which would have allowed for identification and for his funeral ceremony to take place.