‘A very wrong thing’: rabbis are rebuked over burial of victims

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‘A very wrong thing’: rabbis are rebuked over burial of victims

Terror victim who had not completed conversion to Judaism denied Jewish burial

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Funeral of Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi in the old cemetery of Tiberias
Funeral of Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi in the old cemetery of Tiberias

Appalled Knesset members have warned Israel’s rabbinate that they must find a solution to the strict rules governing cases of conversion and burial, after cases came to light of burials “outside the cemetery fence” of people murdered on 7 October, but not considered Jewish according to halacha, or Jewish law.

Olga Palhati lost her 23-year-old daughter Alina to Hamas terrorists when she was killed at the Supernova music festival at Kibbutz Re’em. The Russian-Israeli could not be buried inside the Beit She’an cemetery because, rabbis ruled, she had not completed her conversion to Judaism at the time of her death.

The young woman’s mother told a Knesset committee considering the speeding up of the conversion process for those currently serving in the IDF — thought to be an issue for more than 7,000 young people — that Alina “died because the terrorists looked for Jews to kill. They didn’t look to see who’s Christian.”

Palhati, 49, told the Times of Israel that Alina should have been buried as a Jew “because she had decided to be Jewish, and the only reason she didn’t finish her conversion was because she was killed for her Judaism.

“It hurts and it deeply disappoints us that she wasn’t buried in accordance with who she was.”

Palahti, who is not Jewish, emigrated to Israel in 2001 with her Jewish husband, Roman, from Kaliningrad. The couple’s son Ilya, Alina’s older brother, completed an Orthodox conversion process and is thus regarded as Jewish.

The Knesset committee’s chair, Oded Forer, said he was “ashamed on behalf of the state of Israel that you were treated this way”.

He called Palhati’s treatment “the greatest insult to someone who sanctified the land of Israel with their blood, who left their place in exile to come here.” He then declared: “I want to be buried next to such a person, even if it means being buried outside the fence.”

In another case discussed by the committee, an entire family killed by Hamas terrorists were buried outside the fence of the Dimona cemetery, because the father of the family, Evgeni Kapshiter, was not Jewish.

Though his wife, Dina, and their two children, Aline, aged eight, and Eitan, aged five, were halachically Jewish, the children’s grandparents decided that all four should be buried side by side.

Those listening to the testimonies appeared horrified.

Elazar Stern, a Knesset member from Yesh Atid, said: “I apologise on behalf of all Judaism. This is not the Judaism we are a part of. Not our children’s, not our grandchildren’s [and] not my Judaism.”

Rabbi Haim Amsalem, a former Shas MK, said the treatment of these families bordered on criminal. “There is no description,” he said, “that can capture this very wrong thing.”

And one rabbi, Eliezer Simcha Weiss, a member of the rabbinate’s committee for honouring the dead, said he thought there could and should be solutions to these situations.

He said: “They did not distinguish between Jews and non-Jews in the brutal attack. We can do everything in line with Jewish law.”

Another MK, Yuli Malinovsky, said: “If on the subject of conversion and burial, you won’t change the limits, the people will blow up the limits for you. Today, we’re asking you. In the future, we will demand it.”

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