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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 June, 2005, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Israel's first crematorium opens
Israel's first commercial crematorium has begun operation, in defiance of Jewish taboos on burning human bodies.

The first person cremated was described by the media as a 66-year-old non-Jewish Latvian immigrant.

The director of the Aley Shalechet (Autumn Leaves) funeral home said he gave people "the chance to choose how they want to part from this world".

Cremation is also frowned on as a reminder of the Holocaust, but burial space is getting scarcer.

Many Israelis have been forced to pay extra to secure graves in preferred cemeteries, even though the government subsidises burial societies.

"Ultimately, it is a matter of economy as much as anything," said the Aley Shalechet director, Alon Nativ.

"Freedom of choice applies to cost as well."

A watchtower at the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, 27 January 2005
To many Israelis, the crematoriums serve as reminders of the Holocaust

Mr Nativ said there was "considerable interest" for the services Aley Shalechet provided and a potential market lay with immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom are not Jewish under Orthodox law.

But secular Jews may also show an interest - especially as some of them view the ritual practice of burying Jews in shrouds, rather than caskets, as degrading.

However, the issue remains so sensitive that even the exact location of incinerator, outside the central town of Hadera, is a closely guarded secret, Reuters reported.

Nazi memories

For many Israelis, crematoriums raise images of the ovens used by the Nazis to kill Jews during World War II.

"I think the social taboos that have traditionally adhered to cremation in Israeli society came from a consciousness of the Holocaust," Jonathan Rosenblum, a spokesman for the Orthodox Jewish community, told Reuters news agency.

The only previous cremation in Israel was of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, in 1962.

"Cremating Eichmann was, in a sense, the Jewish people's revenge for the fact that six million Jews were not brought to a Jewish burial as a consequence largely of this man," Mr Rosenblum said.


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