According to Israeli law, Israel’s Bituach Leumi (National Insurance) covers the cost of most burials in Israel. Unless the family requests a special arrangement (see below), the state pays burial expenses for anyone (even a foreign tourist) who dies in Israel and is buried near his place of death, or for an Israeli buried near his home here. This is true for burials that take place in all cemeteries that operate by law, including alternative (non-Orthodox) cemeteries and those in small towns and kibbutzim. In such burials, no payment may be demanded from the deceased’s family for the burial plot or its maintenance.
National Insurance covers standard burial arrangements: a plot, transportation of the deceased from the place of death (within the local jurisdiction or at a hospital that serves it) to the plot, cleansing the body (tahara), shrouds, a funeral ceremony, and a temporary sign on the gravesite.
National Insurance does not cover the printing of death notices, transportation for the mourners, preparation and installation of a headstone, additional undertakers, a long funeral procession stopping in different locations, additional funeral attendees to complete a minyan, flowers, and the like
There are cases, however, in which the family of the deceased does pay part or all of the cost of burial. These payments are then used by the Chevra Kadisha for general expenses not funded by National Insurance, such as preparing ground for burial plots, paving paths/roads to and in the burial areas, water drainage, gardening, sanitation, security, and insurance.
Examples of cases when payment is required include:
• If a deceased does not reside in Israel – a Jew who lived and died abroad but wishes to be buried in Israel, or even an Israeli citizen who lived abroad for a long time and did not keep up National Insurance payments, is not entitled to funeral costs. The amount to be paid is not fixed by law, and is set by whatever Chevra Kadisha or organization arranges the burial.
• Burial in exclusive plots or “closed” cemeteries – Some plots and cemeteries have been designated as “exclusive” plots (chelkot meyuchadot), and some (usually older) cemeteries as “closed” (s’gurim). As long as a reasonable plot is offered to the family in a cemetery in use by the general public, they will have to pay burial expenses if they request an “exclusive” plot or a “closed” cemetery. The price of burial in these cases is not fixed by law, and varies with the Chevra Kadisha, the time, and the place.
• Refusal to be buried in “high density” graves – as a space-saving measure, many cemeteries offer burial at no charge using one of several “high density burial” methods. If the family insists on a regular plot, the burial society may impose a fee.
• Pre-purchasing a burial plot – plots may be pre-purchased. The maximum price for pre-purchasing a plot is fixed by law, and varies by place of residence. A 20% discount is given for purchase of a plot after the death of a spouse. An additional discount is given for high-density graves. A surcharge of 20% may be imposed on someone who purchases a plot outside of his area of residence (in Jerusalem, the surcharge can be as high as 30%).
• Distant burial – when burial takes place outside of the Chevra Kadisha’s jurisdiction, the family of the deceased must pay for transporting the body. If the Chevra Kadisha transports the body, the rate is calculated based on National Insurance’s published guidelines. The rates for a private hearse vary from company to company, and it is therefore advisable to compare prices.
When there is suspicion that death was not of natural causes, the police will send the body by private ambulance to the Center for Forensic Medicine, and it will be returned for burial without charge. If the family is forced to delay the burial (to wait for a relative arriving from abroad, for example), they will charged for keeping the body in appropriate conditions and temperatures from the second day (third day, if the second day is Shabbat or a holiday) on.
• Special burial arrangements – National Insurance covers only standard burial arrangements: burial in a nearby cemetery, regular shrouds, and a direct route from the funeral home to the grave. Special burial arrangements (e.g. linen shrouds, an expensive coffin [in the case of a Christian or alternative burial], a long funeral procession stopping in different locations, etc.) cost more.