Family of trans woman appeals her cremation to Supreme Court
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Family of trans woman appeals her cremation to Supreme Court

Ultra-Orthodox mother seeks Jewish burial against LGBT activist’s testament, filed the day before her suicide

LGBT community activist May Peleg before her November 13 suicide (screenshot: YouTube)
LGBT community activist May Peleg before her November 13 suicide (screenshot: YouTube)

The ultra-Orthodox family of a deceased Israeli transgender activist has appealed to the country’s Supreme Court against a lower court ruling, which approved the cremation of her body as requested in her will.

The hearing in the Supreme Court in the case of May Peleg, 31, is scheduled for Tuesday, according to the Campaign for May Peleg’s Memory. The Jerusalem District Court had ruled on November 18 that Peleg’s body could be cremated, as she had arranged and paid for in her last will and testament.

Peleg, who served as head of the executive committee of Jerusalem’s Open House LGBT community center, committed suicide last weekend. She had long been estranged from her family.

Her ultra-Orthodox mother asked the Supreme Court Sunday to overturn the District Court decision, requesting she be allowed to bury her daughter’s body. The appeal filing refers to Peleg in the feminine, as opposed to the original request, in which she referred to her as “my son.”

The mother’s attorney, Yitzhak Dahan, argued that Peleg’s will had “no legal validity.”

Peleg’s mother explained to Channel 2 news that Peleg’s suicide proved she was not in a mental state to draft a will and testament.

Her will requests not only that she be cremated, but that a ceremony be held and her ashes scattered at sea and under a tree to be planted in her memory.

The legal battle has highlighted the uneasy relationship between Israel’s relative commitment to gay rights, rare in the Middle East, and its ultra-Orthodox Jews, who abide by a strict religious code.

Cremation is forbidden according to Jewish law, although it has become increasingly popular among liberal and secular Jews in recent years, particularly in the United States.

Peleg wrote in an affidavit prior to her death, submitted to the court: “There are reasonable grounds for concern that if my body reaches my biological mother’s hands she will subject me to a religious burial, with Judaism not recognizing me as a woman, even though I’ve undergone sex-change surgery. This constitutes a lack of respect and an erasure of my identity.”

Peleg married at age 20 and had two children before divorcing and undergoing a sex-change operation. While she and her ex-wife initially maintained good relations, two years ago the ex-wife prevented Peleg from maintaining a relationship with the children, who are now 10 and 9 years old.

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