MKs blast separate burial for Hamas massacre victim who was converting to Judaism

Rabbinate kept 23-year-old Alina Plahti, murdered at Nova festival, out of Jewish part of cemetery; her mother says move is hurtful: ‘She was killed for her Judaism’

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Alina Plahti (Courtesy)
Alina Plahti (Courtesy)

Several lawmakers on Monday lambasted the decision by the Rabbinate of Beit She’an to bury a 23-year-old victim of Hamas terrorists in a section of the cemetery that is separate from Jewish graves. She was in the process of undergoing conversion to Judaism, according to her family.

The Knesset’s Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on Monday discussed the burial of Alina Plahti, who attended the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Re’im, when she and more than 200 other partygoers were savagely killed during Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists murder some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and abduct some 240 hostages of all ages.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Laseri, the Chief Rabbinate’s top official in Beit She’an and head of the Rabbinate’s office there, said that Plahti was not Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law, and that she had dropped out of the program she had attended to convert to Judaism.

“I am ashamed for the State of Israel and apologize that she was treated this way,” said Oded Forer, the committee’s chair and a lawmaker for the Yisrael Beytenu opposition party, Plahti’s burial on October 30 outside the perimeter where Jews are buried at the New Cemetery of Beit She’an. She was buried by the Jewish burial society of Beit She’an, which operates under the local office of the Chief Rabbinate,

This was in keeping with the Rabbinate’s interpretation of halachah, Jewish Orthodox law. The Rabbinate, whose burial societies run Jewish cemeteries, prefers Jews and people who are not considered Jewish under Halachah to be buried separately. Great halachic rulers have issued conflicting edicts on this in the past, ranging from Judah ha-Nasi’s permission for mixed burial “to observe peace” and Shlomo Yitzchaki’s prohibition of this custom.

Maimonides says mixed burial is permissible, especially for those who were “killed together,” an edict widely thought to mean people who died fighting with Jews or because of their affiliation to the Jewish People.

“I apologize on behalf of the Jewish faith and wish to say, this is not our Judaism,” said lawmaker Elazar Stern of Yesh Atid, another opposition party.

Jewish Orthodox law contains provisions that could have allowed for burying Plahti in the main Jewish section of the cemetery, said Rabbi Ido Pachter, coordinator of religion and state at Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a relatively moderate religious-Zionist movement.

An aerial picture shows the abandoned site of the weekend assault by Hamas terrorists on the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Reim in the Negev desert ,southern Israel, October 10, 2023. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

“But even if the rabbinate adopted a stringent approach, it could have found ways of burying Alina separately without doing so blatantly,” said Pachter. The Israel Defense Forces Rabbinate, which operates relatively independently of the stricter Chief Rabbinate, “has practical ways of creating this distinction. But there was just total thoughtlessness and obtuseness,” Pachter told The Times of Israel.

Olga Plahti, Alina’s 49-year-old mother, told the committee: “Alina died because the terrorist looked for Jews to kill. They didn’t look to see who’s Christian.”

Her daughter 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,” Olga Plahti told The Times of Israel. “It hurts and it deeply disappoints us that she wasn’t buried in accordance with who she was,” Olga added.

Olga Plahti, who is not Jewish, immigrated with her Jewish husband, Roman, to Israel in 2001 from Kaliningrad, Russia. Alina’s older brother, Ilya, is Jewish following his Orthodox conversion several years ago.

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