Bucharest Jews can bury coronavirus dead on Shabbat to avoid cremation, a rabbinical authority rules


(JTA) — The Jewish community of Bucharest, Romania, received a rabbinical allowance to bury coronavirus victims on Shabbat.

That followed an order from Romanian government authorities on Friday that coronavirus victims must be buried on the day of their death or cremated. Cremation of the dead is not allowed under religious Jewish law, and a burial cannot take place on Shabbat.

The community turned to Rabbi Yaakov Rojah of the Zaka volunteer community emergency response organization for the allowance, called a heter, and he identified a possible precedent that would allow a non-Jew to bury the body on Shabbat, the Hebrew-language Haredi 10 news website reported.

Rojah turned to Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, the former chief rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem and the president of the Rabbinical Council of Zaka. He ruled Friday that the Bucharest Jewish community would be permitted to have a Christian bury a coronavirus victim who dies on Shabbat to prevent the body from being cremated.

“We’re receiving dozens of appeals from Jewish communities around the world to prevent cremation of bodies in the wake of government directives,”  Zaka head Yehudah Meshi-Zahav told the news website. “We will make every effort to preserve Kavod HaMeis [the honor of the dead] like we constantly battle to do. We daven every day and hope that the pandemic ends and we can assist in happy events only.”

On Thursday, the first Jewish victim of the coronavirus in Argentina was cremated by local authorities despite protests from the local Jewish community.

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