Kfar Saba follows Beersheba's lead to allow non-Orthodox burials

Shas source: "we put more focus on encouraging people to live like Jews than to die like Jews."

secular cemetary 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
secular cemetary 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Kfar Saba has become the second town in the country - the other is Beersheba - to have non-Orthodox burials. The Kfar Saba Local Council voted last month in favor of establishing a 20-dunam (five-acre) cemetery for that purpose. Rabbi Mordechai Elboim, the head of Kfar Saba's Hevra Kadisha, the Orthodox burial society, welcomed the move. "It will solve a lot of problems for us," he said. "Mixed couples can be buried together or people who cannot prove they are Jewish." Rabbi Ya'acov Ruzah, of the Hevra Kadisha in Tel Aviv, said the alternative cemeteries would reduce friction between Orthodox burial societies and families who resent being forced to hold Orthodox burial ceremonies for their loved ones. A Shas source said that although the party is opposed in principle to deviating from Halacha, "we put more focus on encouraging people to live like Jews than to die like Jews." However, Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement and a member of Menuha Nehona, a non-Orthodox burial society, said that Orthodox burial societies oppose alternative burial because they fear competition that will hurt their profitability. As proof of his claim, Kariv pointed to the fact that only one alternative cemetery has been created since 1996, when a special Ministerial Committee for Burial decided on the establishment of alternative cemeteries. The decision, which has the same legal weight as legislation, directed that 10 percent of all new burial grounds be allocated for alternative burial. "Don't try to tell me that for the past decade no new land has been allotted for burial," Kariv said. He also said that 14 cemeteries had no problem finding room for burial sections allocated to gentiles or Israelis who could not prove they were halachicly Jewish. According to Jewish tradition, gentiles cannot be buried in the same cemetery with Jews. Even secular Jews are not buried together with their religious brethren. For instance, in many cemeteries separate sections are allotted to secular Jews who did not keep Shabbat. Also, in Israel the custom is to bury without a coffin, even if the family demands it. Guy Ben-Gal, chairman of Menuha Nehona-Kfar Saba, the nonprofit organization that will run the cemetery, said that he expects that about 10% of Kfar Saba burials will take place in the new cemetery (about 600 people die in Kfar Saba each year). He expects the number to grow to 20% within five years. In Beersheba, which has had alternative burial for seven years, less than 15% of the residents opt for it. According to a survey commissioned by the Reform Movement in 2001, about one-fifth of Israelis said they would choose alternative burial if it were offered in their city. However, Maurice Kalfon, chairman of Menuha Nehona-Israel, said it was difficult to forecast how many Kfar Saba residents would choose alternative burial. "People have a tendency to choose the traditional way of burial when their beloved is lying dead before them," he said. "But once alternative burial takes off in trend-setting Tel Aviv, it will spread all over." By the end of 2006, a third alternative cemetery is slated to be established in Haifa. Others are planned for Palmahim, Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky has promised to allot 18,000 graves to alternative burial. Kariv said that the competition offered by alternative burial should be welcomed by the Orthodox because "it will force the Hevra Kadisha to improve its services." Elboim agreed. "If alternative burial here forces us to give even better services to our citizens, we should look forward to it," he said.