An Ancient Solution to Israel’s Coming Cemetery Shortage

Oct. 26 2022

One inevitable side effect of the Jewish state’s demographic miracle is an increasing number of the dead as well as the living. Jewish law and custom mandate strict procedures for attending to the bodies of the deceased, which include a requirement that they be buried intact in the earth, thus prohibiting cremation. As Israel is a small country, land for burial is scarce, and cemeteries are already experimenting with creative options. Shlomo Brody sets forth the case for reviving a practice that was widespread two millennia ago.

In recent years, several activists have suggested restoring a method commonly used during the Second Temple period: likut atsamot (gathering bones for reburial). Under this approach, a corpse is buried under the explicit condition that following decomposition (say, a year after burial), the remaining bones will be reinterred into a small ossuary that is placed into a multi-layered alcove or burial cave. This initiative, called K’vurat Eretz Yisrael, suggests that families or communities will utilize the same cave or building. Multiple generations of family members or comrades can have a final memorial spot around their loved ones. Archaeologists have found such caves from antiquity, which contained the remains of dozens and even hundreds of members of the same family.

This practice is already found in the Bible. Joseph’s bones, for example, were initially buried in Egypt and ultimately reinterred in the Land of Israel. This tale has served as a precedent for many people to bring the remains of their family members buried in the Diaspora to reinterment in Israel.

The Jerusalem Talmud describes how this procedure was done. “In earlier times, they were burying them in trenches. When the flesh had rotted away, they collected them and buried them in cedar wood.” The Talmud then describes the emotions of the living family members. On the day [of the reinterment] itself, the mourners were sad and would sit shiva until nightfall. The following day, they were happy since the final decomposition of flesh was taken as a sign that the deceased was no longer under final divine judgment.

Restoring this practice will save billions of shekels and many dunams of land.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Death, Jewish cemeteries, Judaism in Israel


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship