HCJ 3458/17: Hiddush – For Religious Freedom & Equality v. IDF

The Supreme Court ruling on pluralistic IDF burial

The following is an extract from the Supreme Court ruling on Hiddush’s petition on pluralistic military burials in Israel, handed down on August 8, 2019. The Court’s opinion was written by Justice Anat Baron with the consent of Justices Elron and Grosskopf.

IDF military funeral, source: WikipediaIDF military funeral, source: Wikipedia

For some years now, Hiddush has been pursuing, as part of its overall struggle to advance religious freedom and equality, the challenge of pluralistic burial in Israel. With the ruling handed down last week [LINK], we hope that we can close an important chapter in this ongoing saga, intended to enable bereaved families to bury their beloved fallen soldiers in a manner befitting their beliefs and lifestyles, as well as military burial free from the control of the Orthodox Military Rabbinate. We are now reaching out to relevant organizational partners (religious and secular alike) to ensure that they are aware of the new rules, assuring them of our availability to assist in taking further legal action should the need arise.

Ahead of us is the second petition, which we recently submitted, regarding pluralistic civil burial, in the face of the multi-year failure of the Ministry of Religious Services to implement the 1996 Alternative Burial Law. This new petition focuses on the fact that, in breach of the law and in spite of repeated declarations of the Ministry of Religious Services, most of Israel’s residents do not have access to civil burial. The Supreme Court has ordered the State to respond to the petition by October 1, 2019.

“… Credit is due to the petitioner [Hiddush] that has raised and advanced a sensitive issue whose importance cannot be overstated. It touches the bare nerves of Israeli society. According respect and honor to him that found his death in military service is integral to the values on which the State of Israel is based and to our existence as a society. Hence the will and the desire, as well as the duty to enable a family mourning the loss of that which is most precious to it, to accompany its loved one or loved ones on their final journey while honoring their memory, according to their worldview. A man will live by his faith – and so he will die; and the choice not to hold a religious Orthodox ceremony, if such is the choice, must not deny anyone of the official state trappings of a military burial. Indeed, it is clear from the respondent [the IDF] that all authorities connected to the issue of burial for the fallen soldiers of the IDF are attentive to the sensitivity of the matter and the issues that the petitioner has spotlighted, and that they have deepened the examination of the claims that were raised.

Credit is due to the petitioner [Hiddush] that has raised and advanced a sensitive issue whose importance cannot be overstated. It touches the bare nerves of Israeli society.

The situation as of today is that while maintaining the structure of the military ceremony and its state trappings, it is possible for the family of a fallen IDF soldier to hold the [military] funeral in a manner that matches his lifestyle and faith. The respondent’s counsel has further made it very clear in answering the questions posed to him that it is possible to hold a ceremony in a military cemetery without religious elements, “to add and remove content”; and at the same time permitting a family that prefers it to bring a rabbi on its behalf, as well as a female rabbi, from any religious stream. It was also clarified by the respondent’s counsel that all of the changes to the “IDF General Staff Orders” mentioned briefly above, which were discussed between the parties after the submission of the petition and which the respondent expressed a willingness to integrate into the IDF Orders, have already been approved by the necessary authorities, and that amendments to the orders would be made in the coming months; and on the ground they have already been implemented for some time, so that most such requests made by bereaved families are accepted…

Insofar as a concrete dispute will arise as to the burial procedure, the doors of this Court will be open. In recognition of the contribution made by the petition towards advancing the matter at its core, the respondent will bear the petitioner’s expenses in the amount of 10,000 NIS.”

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