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Previous cemetery manager says he denied similar requests

Burial worker circumcises body in northern Israel without family’s consent

Colleague claims manager told religious volunteer to perform ritual ‘without thinking twice’; head of burial society denies incident occurred

Chief investigative reporter for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel's sister Hebrew website

Illustrative: The Nahariya cemetery in 2019 (iStock)
Illustrative: The Nahariya cemetery in 2019 (iStock)

A burial worker in northern Israel circumcised the body of a recently deceased man ahead of his funeral last week, without the knowledge or consent of the family, according to a complaint filed with the Religious Services Ministry.

Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew language sister site, reported on Wednesday that the alleged incident occurred in the northern city of Nahariya and was done by a volunteer worker with no experience at the directive of the head of the local religious council.

The complaint was filed by a fellow worker at the cemetery, Avital Keren, who told Zman Yisrael that this is a gross violation of norms at a Jewish funeral.

“Toward the end of the purification process, they discovered that the deceased was not circumcised — something that occasionally occurs with immigrants from the former Soviet Union,” Keren said.

Under normal circumstances, permission is requested from the family and, if granted, an experienced mohel is brought in to conduct a symbolic circumcision, Keren says, noting that if the family refuses there is no bar to conducting a traditional Jewish funeral.

“In this case, one of the volunteers called the acting manager and told him that the deceased was not circumcised. The manager, without thinking twice, told the volunteer, ‘Take a knife and circumcise him,’” he said.

Avital Keren, a worker at the Nahariya cemetery. (Courtesy of photographer)

“It is against all existing laws and a very serious act. It is a surgical procedure and it is absolutely forbidden to perform it without consent,” Keren said.

The daughter of the deceased told Zman Yisrael she was horrified by the report.

The head of the burial society denied the incident occurred.

But Avi Levy, a previous manager at the cemetery, claimed that such incidents have occurred before, and religious officials tried to pressure him to speed up procedures or shorten processes surrounding the circumcision of the deceased — pressures that he firmly rejected.

“I was in shock over the remarks. Also in my time, they tried more than once,” he said. ‘They said, ‘turn a blind eye, we are people of Jewish law, we are allowed to,'” Levy added.

“I always made sure to ask the family and there was even a time that the family refused the circumcision, and we buried the dead man uncircumcised,” Levy said.

A circumcision performed on a dead body without a family’s permission is similar to performing an autopsy without the consent of relatives, and violates a law respecting the autonomy of a person, even after death.

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