Following the initiative by MK Elazar Stern, non-Jewish IDF casualties will be buried without visible distinction from the Jewish IDF casualties.
Former Chief Military Rabbi Brigadier General (res.) Yisrael Weiss explained in conversation with Arutz Sheva why this is a wrong decision.
"The public who come to the cemeteries sees the accepted order of the graves and does not visually see any distinction between the grave of a Jew and the grave of a non-Jew, and the matter of no difference creates an halakhic problem," explains Rabbi Weiss, adding that he understands the attempt to find an halakhic solution: "Therefore, they gave a kind of halakhic response that is visible from the inside and not visible from the outside, and precisely the invisibility from the outside creates a situation in which people think that the buried are buried in a halakhically problematic way."
The solution that Rabbi Weiss is discussing is a burial of the non-Jewish soldiers deeper than the Jewish ones. Rabbi Weiss emphasizes that he's not entering into the inner subtleties of burial in his discussion: "The great rabbis of Israel of the generation that is now ending, such as Rabbi Elyashiv, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and the late Rabbi Eliyahu, whom I consulted on the subject of this particular halakhah, ruled in exactly the opposite way, and I believe a Beit Din cannot cancel the ruling of a fellow Beit Din unless it exceeds it in greatness and number. I don't know who the current arbitrators are. My ruling was based on the greatest of the great rabbis," states Rabbi Weiss.
Rabbi Weiss also says that as soon as he heard about the change that was decided on, he called Rabbi Roja, "who is huge in rulings on killed soldiers and around the world everyone consults him and he was my personal advisor on this issue while I was Chief Rabbi of the IDF," and in their conversation, Rabbi Roja expressed to Rabbi Weiss the same misgivings that Rabbi Weiss now raises.
"It needs to be understood; such a complex ruling, when making such a dramatic transition with far-reaching future implications, without consulting the contemporary greats who have a lot of hand in this field? It's beyond my understanding," says Rabbi Weiss, noting that no one consulted him before making the decision, although he accumulated considerable knowledge in the field.
On the reality today, Rabbi Weiss says that everyone is buried in the most honorable place in the cemetery and "the rabbis I consulted were also very careful about the dignity of the soldiers as soldiers. They received the most honorable place possible and are buried in the proximity that halakha requires, i.e. four cubits. The non-Jews are buried in a separate section. We allow them to be buried with the same respect and in the same configuration with the same chapter of Psalms, but the burial itself differs by about two meters."
On the difficulty of explaining the same gap of four cubits to the family whose loved one fell and to the friends of a KIA soldier, Rabbi Weiss says: "I was faced with this argument that sounds very strong and correct, but I say this: I witnessed a tank that went up in flames and four soldiers were burned to death, two of them lived in a certain city, one Jewish and one non-Jewish; the funerals took place in the same cemetery one hour after another, but just before, I stood before the family and explained everything to them - and we did nothing without our family's consent. It was always in a deep agreement and with mutual respect - and there was not a single claim out of the 21 killed soldiers I buried in these funerals by the military rabbinate."
Rabbi Weiss adds that the President also was amazed at the time for achieving a reality in which no family has any claim about separation after death between two brothers-in-arms who were together in the same tent. "No such statement was made because it is a halakhic ruling imprinted with a Kabbalistic seal and it is the tradition I grew up on, 'do not enter after my death four cubits.' It does not mean that you are buried outside the fence or next to it or G-d forbid you are despised, but that you are buried with your religion. What is the difference? I'm asking the bare minimum, to respect my religion even if it's strange to you and not understood, but for thousands of years this tradition has existed among the people of Israel.
"I once said that if all the soldiers of the army were to be discussed as the Druze soldiers were discussed, we would understand," says Rabbi Weiss, adding: "I once asked a Druze sheikh if I could be buried in his cemetery. The sheikh told me that they have a tradition and command and principle that "Only Druze may be buried with us."
Rabbi Weiss says that complaints were never heard from the families, and even from Leftist MKs with whom he spoke and to whom he explained the issue, "They're satisfied. In Jerusalem, when there was no place and a non-Jew came and I asked the father if he wanted me to bury the son in the plot of the nation's heroes and he replied in the affirmative. Climb Mount Herzl and you'll see that the non-Jewish KIA are buried in the plot of the nation's heroes. Is it a disgrace or an honor? I have nothing against them. They gave blood for the State but it still doesn't make them Jews."
On the fact that MK Elazar Stern as the kippah-wearer is the flag bearer of the struggle, Rabbi Weiss says that this is not surprising: "We knew that already, enough said."