A ministerial-level committee had adopted a series of measures aimed at providing Israelis with burials outside the purview of the Orthodox establishment.
In one such step, the Ministerial Committee for Alternate Burial, which is headed by Justice Minister David Libai, decided last week to allocate grounds for alternate burials near an existing cemetery in Beersheba.
The committee, which includes Immigrant Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban and Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, also agreed to take steps to allocate additional alternate burial sites in Haifa, Jerusalem and in the center of Israel.
The committee members said they were acting in response to what they perceived as the real need and distress of non-Jews who cannot find burial grounds in Israel. Many of those involved in such cases are new immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish.
The moves will also benefit Israeli Jews who prefer a non-Orthodox burial.
Libai said if the committee confronts any obstacles, they will be dealt with through proper and swift legislation, a move he said would serve notice to the Orthodox establishment, which now has a monopoly on Jewish burials.
A spokesman from the Ministry of Absorption called the decision “a significant step toward the implementation of the government’s decision of December 1993 to establish” alternative burial grounds.
That decision came after the High Court’s 1992 favorable ruling in a case brought by Menuha Nehona, the burial society that offers non-Orthodox and non- religious burials.
Menuha Nehona is affiliated with the Center for Jewish Pluralism, the activist arm of Israel’s Reform movement.
According to the spokesman, the Beersheba site will alleviate the shortage of burial grounds in the Negev for those who are not recognized as Jews.
There are at least five cases involving deceased people who are not recognized as Jews and for whom no burial grounds have yet been found.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau expressed his regret over the committee’s decision.
The burial of any Jew not in accordance with halachah, or traditional Jewish law, “is distressing to us,” Lay said. “The loss of one of our people’s common denominators, a Jewish burial, and the fact that we are no more united by burial is doubly distressing.”
However, Amiram Shacham, a spokesman for Menuha Nehona, applauded the decision, saying it could provide a solution not only for non-Jews, “but also for those Israelis who wish to bury their loved ones in a liberal Jewish or a secular ceremony, rather than submit themselves to the Orthodox establishment.”
Meanwhile, the ministerial committee also instructed the ministers of absorption and religious affairs and meet with the finance minister in order to find a solution to the shortage of Christian burial grounds in Israel.
The committee said this, too, has become a matter of urgency, as churches in Israel have refused to accept non-Jewish immigrants for burial due to a severe shortage of Christian burial space.