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Rising Streams: Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel

Burial in Israel is a public service, the cost of which is covered by the National Insurance Company (Bituach Leumi), which includes those in alternative or civil (non-Orthodox) cemeteries as well as those in smaller towns and on kibbutzim. The only circumstances in which the family of the deceased must cover part or all of the expenses is when non-residents wish to be buried in Israel or residents wish to be buried in “exclusive plots” (as opposed to “high density”, multi-level cemetaries).183

According to the Reform Movement, although a law passed in the Knesset two decades ago allowing civil burial and requiring adequate burial facilities throughout the country, most public cemeteries in Israel are run by the Orthodox burial societies. There are currently ten public secular cemeteries around the country (although not in major population centers like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem). While intended for residents of that municipality, anyone can be buried in any of these for an additional fee. Additionally, there are private cemeteries around the country (smaller towns and kibbutzim) that allow and even encourage ceremonies conducted by the Reform and Conservative Movements as well as non-religious funerals.184

According to the Reform Movement, a few Orthodox-run public cemeteries allow the family of the deceased to choose a funeral officiator on their own, as long as that individual coordinates with the Orthodox Burial Society and conducts the service in line with Orthodox tradition. Many of the roughly 200 burials conducted by the non-Orthodox movements each year are conducted in this fashion.185

However, according to Hess of the Masorti Movement, the reality is more complex as this approach entirely depends on the flexibility and goodwill of the local Burial Society and an Orthodox rabbi willing to provide the deceased’s family an official cover so that a non-Orthodox rabbi can preside over the ceremony.