Tel Aviv Burial Society Offering Aid to ultra-Orthodox Only

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A mourner arrives at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery in Tel Aviv.Credit: AP

The Tel Aviv chevra kadisha (burial society) is seemingly breaching a Religious Services Ministry directive and providing financial assistance ahead of Passover exclusively for needy ultra-Orthodox Jews, while secular Jews or non-Jews are not eligible.

The 2009 directive by the ministry’s director general stipulated that the distribution of charity funds be “egalitarian," followed a 2006 High Court of Justice petition by the Reform movement against the Tel Aviv burial society.

In recent ads published mainly in the ultra-Orthodox press, the burial society is offering assistance to families with many children and also to yeshiva students. Those who fall into neither of these categories are ineligible for assistance.

Most of the aid that the Tel Aviv burial society distributes comes from funds left over from payments for burials transferred from the National Insurance Institute.

The ads note that the burial society provides charity to the needy to purchase Passover holiday necessities, “in keeping with directives from the Justice Ministry and Religious Services Ministry.”

The ads include a list of communities in the greater Tel Aviv area and the territories that are under the Tel Aviv burial society’s jurisdiction; only the residents of these communities are eligible for assistance.

Families are entitled to assistance if they have more than six unmarried children, the family does not own or use a car, and whose monthly salary does not exceed 1,500 shekels ($384) gross per person.

A yeshiva student is eligible if he can prove that he is a full-time student at a kolel (yeshiva for married men) in the jurisdiction of the Tel Aviv burial society, that he has at least five unmarried children, and does not own or use a car.

The Tel Aviv burial society is the largest one in the country and serves all residents of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. It receives about 50 million shekels a year from the National Insurance Institute and another approximately 40 million shekels annually from the sale of burial plots. The latter funds are earmarked for future development of cemeteries. It also receives hundreds of thousands of shekels a year in donations.

The Religious Services Ministry oversees the organization’s financial activities.

In response to the 2006 petition by the Reform movement, the burial society opposed any sort of oversight over the way it disbursed these funds. Nevertheless, the state pledged in court to arrange the matter, and the director general’s directive was issued in 2009, including ensuring that disbursement was egalitarian.

The Tel Aviv burial society did not respond to Haaretz’s query regarding the amount each family or yeshiva student receives, or what its total charity budget was. However, the society’s most recent report, from 2013, noted that it received about 750,000 shekels in contributions that year and earned about 4.1 million shekels from mutual funds and interest on bank deposits. Its charity disbursements amounted to 5.7 million shekels in 2013.

The Tel Aviv burial society said it published “clear criteria in the secular media as well,” adding, “It is important to note that, contrary to the Haaretz claim, the burial society is not funded by public money.”

The Justice Ministry responded that the burial society is a private body licensed by the religious services minister, and that a body operating under license can “distribute donations from unspent burial expenses, in keeping with egalitarian criteria.” It added that the latter condition was part of the license.

The Religious Services Ministry said it examines and follows up on the meeting of criteria previously determined by the High Court. It said it had yet to approve the criteria published this year and that they were currently under scrutiny.

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