Religious Jews suspected in crematorium fire

Thursday, August 23, 2007 |  by Staff Writer

Religious Israeli Jews are the prime suspects behind a fire that burned down Israel's first and only crematorium on Wednesday, according to media reports.

The location of the crematorium at the Falling Leaves funeral home in central Israel had been kept a secret for fear that Jewish groups opposed to cremation would attack it.

Just hours before the fire, a local newspaper in the nearby Orthodox Jewish town of Bnei Barak published the location of the crematorium. Investigators quoted by Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper said there were signs of forced entry.

Yehuda Meshi Zahav, head of the Orthodox-run ZAKA rescue and recovery service, has been petitioning the government for two years to shut down the crematorium, insisting that the facility did not have a proper license from the Health Ministry and pointing out that Israeli law only accommodates burial of the dead.

“The purpose of the crematorium is to burn, so now – an eye for an eye – it has fulfilled its purpose,” Zahav said in remarks to Yediot.

Jewish law forbids cremation, as those Jews who believe in the Bible are looking forward to a future resurrection of the dead. The presence of a crematorium was also too reminiscent of the Nazi Holocaust for most in Israel to stomach. Six million Jews were killed and their bodies cremated in massive furnaces during World War II.

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