Rabbis, Government Officials Reach Accord on Burial Issue

Israel’s chief rabbis and Ministry of Absorption have agreed on a way to resolve the controversy over burials for some immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Many of the immigrants are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox rabbinate and burial societies.

The agreement, which went into effect Wednesday, allows those Israelis whose Jewishness is in question to be buried in separate sections of existing Jewish cemeteries.

The special burial sections were established after months of talks between Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein and representatives of the Orthodox Rabbinate.

Edelstein, a leader of the immigrant rights party Yisrael Ba’Aliyah, called the compromise “a great achievement” and stressed that it had been achieved through negotiation.

“The success of the negotiations has brought me to the conclusion that this is the way to find solutions, both logistically and in principle,” Edelstein said in a statement. “I’m certain this is the way society can solve the problems related to personal status and religious-secular issues.”

Yisrael Ba’Aliyah raised the burial issue last year after winning seven seats in the Knesset and joining the governing coalition.

“We were seeing many cases where the Rabbinate refused to bury people, keeping bodies in the freezer for two weeks, or burying them outside the cemetery walls,” said an Absorption Ministry spokesman. “This was very hurtful.”

After Yisrael Ba’Aliyah joined the government, “it told the Rabbinate: `You should be in charge of burials, marriages and so on, but if you want to maintain your monopoly over these things, you have to find the solution,’ ” the spokesman said.

The special burial sections have been established in 16 cemeteries across Israel. In Jerusalem and other localities where no such sections could be created because of already overcrowded cemeteries, the Absorption Ministry will help pay to transport the body to a cemetery in another city.

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