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3 Tammuz, 5780 - June 25, 2020 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Israeli Burial Rules in the era of Covid-19 are Non-Halachic

By Binyomin Y. Rabinowitz

The draconian rules of the Ministry of Health

Much sharp criticism has been brewing of late against Professor Sigal Sedatzky, head of the Public Health Services. The central claim against her is: excessive regulations, lack of consultation with the relevant and professional factors in that capacity. Even the experts within her department were not allowed to express their opinion or differ with her. Dealing with one of the foremost crises in the country was carried on without any discussions or consultations with organized decision making.

If this was true regarding the living, the contagious public and those who had contracted the virus, it was all the more acute vis-a-vis the dead. No less than 13 pages of draconian directives were issued regarding the dealing with the deceased. In many cases, representatives of the Health Ministry were sent to ascertain that the harsh and illogical rulings were being carried out on site, which forced the Chevra Kadisha members to adhere to these instructions.

Suffice it to say that Professor Sedatzky herself wrote the following words in an update published on the past 18th of Nisan: "The illness of the Corona virus (COVID 19) is a disease affecting mainly health. According to present information, the new Corona virus is transmitted from person to person through droplets and direct contact. Aerial transmission is possible mainly through procedures creating aerosols. According to publicity from the World Health Organization, there is no present verification of human contamination of the new Corona virus via exposure to the dead but one cannot rule out such a possibility."

As for deceased ones brought from abroad, even more stringent rules have been instituted, and the document further stated that "the relation to every corpse brought to Israel shall be as to those having died from Corona." Consequently, it is demanded that every body brought to Israel be treated with the required taharoh and burial exactly as done to those who died from the virus, even though the burial document itself denotes that no corpse be transferred to Israel without a specific certification from the country of origin noting the cause of death, as well as a consular certification declaring the facts.

It is superfluous to note that these directives called for making the taharoh with a designated task force and a designated taharoh team, all of which had to conform to safety rules. Ensuing was a long list of means of caution regarding place, teams, strict decontamination and the forbidding of the presence of people not connected to the teams on the site. There were many more extreme restrictions defying the imagination which certainly did not take into consideration a clear, unchallenged halachic consideration requiring corpses to be buried in the ground and not in any other manner.

Without going into detail about the differences between regular taharoh and burial and that of Corona victims, there also exist differences between Jerusalem customs and those of other places. The Health Ministry categorically forbade making an internal taharoh, with the most significant detail being that according to directives, the victims of Corona be brought to burial with two layers of impermeable plastic sheeting sealed with a cable tie, which according to all views does not constitute proper burial, since the deceased's body must be laid directly on the ground, as explained in a recent discussion of burial in Yated Ne'eman regarding the use of Styrofoam to line graves.

One of the Chevra Kadisha members told us that while those in the Health Ministry claimed that the plastic sheeting eventually disintegrates, no one could authoritatively tell the Chevra Kadisha how long this takes, especially regarding the thick, resistant plastic sheeting used. Consequently, our rabbonim emphatically ruled that burial must be executed strictly according to Halacha.

If, cholilah, one has to see to a burial in Eretz Yisroel during these times, he is advised to try to ensure that proper halachic procedures are followed.


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