New Cemetery Tries to Break Jewish Burial Service's Monopoly

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Herzliya is now burying its dead in a new municipal cemetery, with funerals arranged by a new municipal department in a bid to break the local burial societys monopoly.

Burial in ones area of residence is covered by the National Insurance Institute, but a burial society is legally permitted to charge a family to hold an adjacent plot for burying a relative in the future. This fee is regulated and averages about NIS 5,000.

Petah Tikva cemetary Credit: Nir Keidar

In reality, however, families were being charged tens of thousands of shekels, especially in the central region, where plots are scarce.

For years, this service was provided by a private association that had to account only to the Registrar of Nonprofit Organizations, said Herzliya Mayor Yael German.

Now everything will be transparent; everything will be reported. No money will be collected improperly, and if there must be a charge, it will be only according to regulations. No more commercialization and no more wheeling and dealing.

The new cemetery can hold 1,000 bodies and is burying the dead in tiers, with three levels of burial chambers carved out of walls that are three meters high. Burials started there this month.

A private ambulance service handles the body and conducts the pre-burial purification rite. Meanwhile, the city has bought the equipment needed to carry out the multilevel burials, over which a neighborhood rabbi, Yaakov Naki, presides.

For its part, the burial society petitioned the High Court of Justice in 2009, demanding that it, too, be allocated plots in the new cemetery. But the justices said they saw no way to force the city to give plots to the society, which withdrew its petition.

Last month the city received a burial license, so that it, like other cities such as Modiin, can bury its dead without having to affiliate with a burial society. The city is therefore setting up a municipal corporation to deal with the burials.

The Interior Ministry, however, has yet to issue a permit for a corporation, and the city is weighing a High Court petition against the ministry to secure the permit.

The burial society says the new arrangement simply replaces one monopoly with another, but German says the society has been claiming that no further plots are available in the area, when that is not the case.

My job is to serve the public, and Im doing that not to make money, but to provide a solution for the residents, because the burial society was not doing so, German said.

Many assumed that a cemetery being managed by German, who is affiliated with the left-wing Meretz party, would permit civil burials, but the municipality took pains to clarify that funerals would be conducted there in accordance with Jewish law.

While the city is legally obligated to set off a section for alternative burials, it has not yet done so.