The missing Yemenite children:
Opening graves - according to Jewish law

MK declares bill to open graves for genetic identification must be approved in halakhic ruling by Rabbinate Committee for Honor of Deceased

Mordechai Sones ,

Nurit Koren
Nurit Koren
Nachi Shohat:Flash 90

The Special Committee on the Disappearance of Yemenite, Eastern, and Balkan Children held a third session today (Tuesday) on the draft law for exhuming the bodies of minors from Yemen, the East, or the Balkans for genetic testing of family ties.

The committee was attended by MK Nurit Koren (Likud), MK Amir Ohana (Likud), MK Uri Maklev (UTJ), MK Yisrael Eichler (UTJ), representatives of the Justice Ministry, the Health Ministry, the Finance Ministry, the Population Registry, and experts in locating missing IDF soldiers.

At the beginning of the hearing, Idit Ben Shimol spoke of the court decision not to allow her family to open the grave, where according to records and the burial society, a family member is buried.

A judge recently ruled that since the family turned to the court at a late date - after decades had passed - and in light of doubts regarding the identity of the person buried in the grave, the feasibility of harvesting DNA at this point, and in view of the fear of desecrating the dignity of the deceased, the family is not permitted to exhume the body.

The committee Chairman MK Nurit Koren said that the court's ruling underscores the need to pass a law that will instruct the courts to order opening graves precisely in cases where there are doubts, in order to enable the families to achieve closure.

Attorney Nira Lamai, legal advisor to the committee, explained that the text presented to the committee results from previous meetings and feedback from government ministries: "The purpose of the law is to enable investigating the truth about the deaths and burial places of minors from Yemen, the East, and the Balkans, where a death notice was given to their families without their being given the opportunity to identify and bury them."

She stressed that the wording of the bill was intended on the one hand to make it easier for family members to obtain the permit to exhume the bodies in the widest possible interpretation, but on the other hand not to extend the law to those not related to the Yemenite Children's affair.

"The wording of the law is intended to save the court in principle from discussing opening the graves attributed to the affair and to limit the discussion only to the special circumstances that will be adjudicated in any case," concluded attorney Lamai.

MK Yisrael Eichler stressed that the law must include a clear clause requiring special approval by the rabbinate, and halakhic supervision in the field.

He further said that there is great interest in uncovering the truth, as long as it is done according to Jewish law.

MK Eichler also read from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's ruling which, while stating that generally it is forbidden to exhume bodies, tends to allow doing so in the case of a pressing need, where the situation makes it a mitzva to mitigate hesitation.

MK Uri Maklev said that the truth and the great injustice of the kidnapping of children should be investigated: "It was an emotional and physical affair sponsored by the government. However, at the base of the law there must be a demand for respect for the dead. Even when the court hears such cases, the issue of respect for the dead must be part of the discussion. And respect for the dead should be part of the discussion not only when the grave is opened."

Committee Chairman MK Nurit Koren addressed concerns expressed by Knesset members and said that at her request the Chief Rabbi would convene a Committee for Respect of the Dead. Committee members shall present their wording for the bill and thereafter their written halakhic decision shall be attached to the Law. Despite existing halakhic rulings, the bill will also be approved with the Halakhic ruling of the Chief Rabbinate's Committee for Respect of the Dead.

"The bill will allow for clarification and closure of some children's disappearances, while ensuring accompaniment and supervision of both the Chief Rabbinate and the Institute of Forensic Medicine to ensure the dignity of the deceased and the maximum chance of identifying the buried children."