Facing lawsuit, IDF allows non-Orthodox Jewish burials

Under previous rules, military funerals could only be presided over by Orthodox rabbis; new regulations to be rolled out in coming months

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

Illustrative photo of a military funeral at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on July 5, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a military funeral at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on July 5, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Israeli military on Thursday agreed to allow soldiers’ funerals to be presided over by non-Orthodox clergy or in an entirely secular fashion, following an appeal to the High Court of Justice by a religious freedom organization.

In 2017, the group, Hiddush for Freedom of Religion and Equality, filed the petition with the High Court, asking it to force the military to revise its regulations regarding burials to allow Reform and Conservative rabbis to perform the ceremonies, as well as let secular families hold non-religious funerals.

“The regulations currently stipulate that… the Military Rabbinate may reject them for reasons relating to the procedures of religious ceremony or due to desecration of the cemetery,” Hiddush said in a statement.

On Thursday, a hearing was held on the case during which the attorneys for the Israel Defense Forces agreed to change the rules and allow non-Orthodox and secular Jewish burials.

According to Hiddush, the military said it would roll out these new regulations in the coming months.

The IDF would still retain the ability to deny certain requests under “extraordinary circumstances,” but said these would be kept to a minimum, Hiddush said.

The organization said the military agreed that, for example, its rabbinate would “not object to a female Reform rabbi conducting the religious component of a military burial ceremony at the family’s request, and also that [the IDF attorney] could not think of a concrete example in which the family’s request for a secular or non-Orthodox ceremony would not be honored.”

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