Equal in Life, and in Death

Rabbis call for non-Jewish soldiers to be buried with their Jewish comrades.

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Gil Ronen,

Comrades-in-arms, regardless of background
Comrades-in-arms, regardless of background
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Beit Hillel rabbis group has published a halakhic ruling according to which it is permissible to bury non-Jewish IDF soldiers next to Jewish ones, in a military cemetery.

In their decision, the rabbis wrote that “Separating between soldiers after their death according to their religion could harm soldiers' strength and unity. Therefore it is proper to allow the burial of non-Jewish soldiers who gave their lives for the nation of Israel beside their comrades at a military cemetery.”

The issue is currently in public dispute, and MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) has proposed a bill that would change the current IDF orders, according to which non-Jewish soldiers are buried in a separate section of the military cemetery.

Rabbi Meir Nehorai, Head of Beit Hillel, explained that “on the battlefield, all soldiers are equal, and every casualty must be treated without differentiating between a Jewish soldier and one who is not. So too, in burial, we stress that a person who wishes to give his life for the nation of Israel should be allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Thus, we increase the morale that is necessary during the battle, and also treat all soldiers, including those who are not Jewish, in a moral and respectable way.”

The Beit Hillel rabbis also pronounced a halakhic decision regarding renting or selling homes to non-Jews. They ruled that it is permissible to do so unless the buyer or renter will bring “avoda zara” into the property – that is, idolatry.

"Regarding renting or selling homes to tenants who are not Jews,” said Rabbi Nehorai, “there is no halakhic need to create discrimination and care should be exercised in using the language of halakha. Using of halakha out of place, to advance a right-wing or left-wing political agenda, harms the halakhic decision and the world of Torah.”

The decisions contradict decisions by prominent rabbis including Rabbi Haim Druckman (on the matter of burial) and Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu (regarding renting apartments).

The Beit Hillel group is made up of Orthodox rabbis, and has advocated for a variety of "controversial" causes. It is not connected to the US-based Hillel organizations. 

On another matter of recent controversy, the Beit Hillel rabbis have come out in favor of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and have also called to allow the controversial Women of the Wall to pray at a separate section at the Kotel.

Beit Hillel also places an emphasis on integrating women into their ranks – not as rabbis per-se, but as thinkers and teachers.