“Alternative” or “civil” burial refers to burial in a cemetery that allows one to conduct funeral rites that differ from the traditional ceremonies conducted by the Chevra Kadishas or the burial societies of other religions (Christianity and Islam). In the past, this type of burial was designated primarily for those defined as those “without religion,” reffering to residents of Israel who do not belong to any of the religious communities recognized by the state. In 1996, a law was enacted that allowed every Israeli citizen, Jewish or not, to have the choice to be buried in a civil ceremony. This choice can be indicated in a will or any other way.
Costs of Civil Burial
National Insurance burial payments cover civil burials as well, and it is forbidden by law to collect money from the deceased’s family for the burial plot or for the site’s maintenance and upkeep. One can pre-purchase a plot in a civil cemetary, at a price fixed by National Insurance. Nevertheless, the family must pay for peripheral services such as installing a headstone, publishing death notices, etc. The family must also pay for special expenses, such as transporting the body by private hearse, refrigeration of the body for several days, special clothing, a coffin, and a particularly long procession with several stops.
Cemeteries in Israel That Allow Civil Burials
Regional cemeteries: only for those “without religion.” In some of the larger cities, the Chevra Kadisha handles the burial of local residents who do not belong to any religious community. They designate and manage a separate area of the cemetery for the burial of these residents.
Public civil cemeteries: Public civil cemeteries serve those who belong to no religious community in addition to Jews, Christians, and Muslims who opt for a civil burial.
Cemeteries on kibbutzim and moshavim: Some small kibbutzim and moshavim allow civil burials in their cemeteries, even though they are generally designated for the burial of their members and their families. Under certain limited conditions, these communities can bury others in their cemeteries.
Burial Customs in Civil Cemeteries
In civil cemeteries, families may decide how they wish to bury their departed loved one – for example, whether to perform a tahara, to bury in a coffin,or to use shrouds or another form of dress. The family may also determine the language of the ceremony. Jewish families can choose a traditional ceremony or any other. Similarly, families have full freedom to design the headstone and its inscription.