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Court accepts family request, orders 4-year-old released for burial without autopsy

High Court of Justice overturns previous decision that prompted violent protests in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Police scuffle with ultra-Orthodox men in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot on August 15, 2022, during a protest over the autopsy of a 4-year-old boy who was allegedly strangled to death by his uncle a few days before. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police scuffle with ultra-Orthodox men in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot on August 15, 2022, during a protest over the autopsy of a 4-year-old boy who was allegedly strangled to death by his uncle a few days before. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice ordered the body of a 4-year-old boy who was allegedly strangled to death by his uncle to be released for burial without an autopsy at his family’s request on Monday.

A lower court ruling in favor of the state attorney’s request to perform the autopsy prompted violent protests in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods around the country on Sunday night and Monday morning.

The parents of the boy, who was allegedly killed by his uncle over the weekend, petitioned to the High Court on Monday to overturn the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruling, believing that the autopsy constitutes a desecration of their son’s body in violation of Jewish law, or halacha.

The family was represented by the ultra-Orthodox ZAKA emergency response service, which deals extensively with religious issues surrounding death and bodies.

“After hearing the claims of both sides, we reached the conclusion that the petition will be accepted,” the court ruled.

The family was expected to perform the burial later in the day on Monday, ZAKA said.

The initial ruling in favor of an autopsy prompted riots in ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, areas of the country, as top rabbis issued a statement calling for protests against the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court’s “predatory decision” to “desecrate the honor of the deceased.”

Police said that hundreds of ultra-Orthodox protesters gathered in Shabbat Square and on Bar Ilan Street in Jerusalem, as well as on Nahar Yarden Street in Beit Shemesh and in Bnei Brak on Sunday night and Monday morning, with clashes and rioting reported in all three locations.

Police said at least five people had been arrested on Sunday and another five on Monday. In Sunday photos from Jerusalem, protesters can be seen being sprayed by a police water cannon. “Dozens of rioters blocked roads, some of them through rocks and other objects at police officers, rioted and set fire to garbage cans in the area,” police said Sunday.

Police at a Ramot property August 13, 2022, after reports a young boy was found with strangulation marks on his neck. The boy was pronounced dead the following day. (Israel Police)

Ahead of the High Court hearing on Monday, prominent Haredi rabbis again called for protests to be held, saying they should “shock the entire world over this desecration of the honor of the deceased.”

Halacha generally opposes autopsies on the grounds that the human body is sacred and thus should not be tampered with after death and urges that funerals be held as quickly as possible after a person dies. Exceptions are made in cases where an autopsy can lead to the arrest of a murder suspect or where there is some other pressing need that would result in the immediate saving of a life. Courts have in the past overruled the wishes of families in such cases.

The 4-year-old boy at the heart of this case was brought to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center on Saturday night after he was found lifeless at his home in the Ramot neighborhood of the capital.

Though he was initially resuscitated, he was eventually pronounced dead at the hospital after “emergency staff and the pediatric intensive care unit fought for hours to save his life,” a Shaare Zedek spokesperson said.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters demonstrate on August 14, 2022 against the planned autopsy on the body of a 4-year-old boy who was allegedly strangled to death by a family member in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot a day earlier. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to an initial police probe, the boy did not respond Saturday morning to the calls of family members. After the father was called home from the synagogue, relatives noticed a family member’s door was locked and broke into his room, where they found the boy lying on the floor with strangulation marks on his neck.

Police use a water cannon device to break up a protest by members of the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem, August 14, 2022. Protesters blocked a road in the capital to protest the planned autopsy of a 4-year old boy. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The uncle, 27, was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder by officers called to the scene.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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