Arson attack cheered by ZAKA leader

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, chairman of the ZAKA rescue service, receives a certificate of appreciation in 2006 from U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones.  (Embassy of the United States)

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, chairman of the ZAKA rescue service, receives a certificate of appreciation in 2006 from U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones. (Embassy of the United States)

NEW YORK (JTA) – An arson attack against an Israeli cremation facility is being cheered by the head of the Orthodox group ZAKA, best known for collecting Jewish body parts for burial after suicide attacks.

Unknown arsonists set fire Wednesday to an outdoor oven belonging to Alei Shalehet, the only Israeli mortuary to offer cremation as an alternative to burial. According to news reports, the attack took place hours after the crematorium’s secret location, on farmland outside Tel Aviv, was published in a fervently Orthodox newspaper, Kol Ha’ir.

The blaze set off recriminations within Israel’s political establishment. The Orthodox Shas Party moved to have a law passed banning cremation, while left-wing parliamentarian Yossi Beilin, who himself intends to be cremated after he dies, accusing the Orthodox of dragging Israel back to the “dark age.”

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, who heads ZAKA, congratulated the arsonist. ZAKA and the crematorium have reportedly been at odds for years.

“We saw the desecration there,” Meshi Zahav told Ha’aretz. “The structure is located between two chicken coops. There were sheets soaked in blood and the ashes thrown in the garbage bin. The place was destined to burn, and it was burned.”

Alon Nativ, one of the crematorium’s owners, countered that Meshi Zahav was a liar and that he had received threats about the arson that the police had ignored.

In a subsequent interview with JTA, Meshi Zavah clarified that he opposed any act of criminality, but he was nevertheless pleased with the outcome, given his organization’s commitment to protecting the holiness of human bodies even after death.

Eli Yishai, Shas’ chairman and the minister of Industry, Trade and Employment told Ha’aretz that the bill “would put an end to those who are implementing the final solution once again. Soon the Israeli people will happily sprinkle the ideological ashes of these devils outside the territorial waters of Israel.”

Beilin, leader of the Meretz Party, countered that the bill would lead to a situation
“in which civilians won’t even be able to decide what will happen to them after they die.”

Under the proposed legislation, anyone found guilty of cremation could be punished with up to a year in prison and a $7,200 fine.

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