A Ra'anana resident is demanding NIS 18,000 from the Religious Services Ministry - the amount he had to pay the civil cemetery in Kfar Sava to bury his wife because he is not a Kfar Sava resident.
Tzvika Ginsberg, 72, who filed the suit in Kfar Sava Small Claims Court, said the religious establishment has not been sufficiently dedicated in building civil cemeteries for those who prefer to be buried without a religious ceremony.
Currently, 10 of the country's 11 civil cemeteries offer free burials only to residents of that city, while others must pay for their plots. The civil cemetery in Be'er Sheva is the only one that will bury people without charge no matter where they lived. This is the case even though a 1996 law says a person has a right to be buried in a civil cemetery without charge.
Ginsberg says the principle is more important than the money.
"This really upset me," he said. "My wife is not the last secular person who's going to die in the State of Israel and I wanted to do something about this. The most modest, most concrete thing I could do was sue the Religious Services Ministry because its delay in implementing the civil burial regulations is what deprived my wife of the right to have her burial covered by the National Insurance Institute," which covers the expenses of most burials in Israel.
Ginsberg's wife, Ninette, died more than a year ago after a lengthy battle with cancer.
"She told us more than once that she wanted to be buried in a casket, which in Israel is only possible in a civil burial," he said.
A few months before her death, Ginsburg found out there was no civil-burial section in Ra'anana Cemetery, so he approached the Menucha Nechona association in nearby Kfar Sava and paid membership fees for himself and his wife. The association runs secular cemeteries in Israel.
After his wife died, Ginsburg called the association, but only then did he learn that the Menucha Nechona cemetery in Kfar Sava is not regional and that, since he doesn't live in Kfar Sava, he would have to pay for the plot.
Menucha Nechona itself petitioned the High Court of Justice four years ago, demanding that the state be ordered to allocate more money to preparing areas for civil burial. Last July, the judges said they were leaning toward accepting the petition, though they have yet to rule.
Upon hearing the criticism the Religious Services Ministry and the treasury announced in August that they were upping the annual allocation for secular burials from NIS 300,000 to NIS 5 million.
The Religious Services Ministry said it had not yet seen Ginsburg's suit. As for implementing the law on secular burial, it said, "In accordance with the law, the country has been divided into districts. Civil cemeteries must, by law, bury any person who lived or died in a locale within its area of operation."
The ministry is aware, however, that some civil-burial associations are not cooperating, it said, and it has set up an interministerial team to locate and prepare alternatives for civil burials.
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