Undertakers' strike puts Israeli burials on hold

Tue Jan 18, 2011 11:09am EST
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Undertakers put funerals on hold across Israel on Tuesday after a mortician was shot dead in a suspected dispute over rising fees for scarce burial plots.

Benjamin Hesse, 60, was killed outside his home in Haifa on Sunday in an attack witnessed by his wife. An Israeli court has imposed a gag order on key details pertaining to the case.

Hesse ran a local burial society, part of a national agency which has a legal monopoly on Jewish funerals in Israel.

Peers of the victim told Israeli media they suspected he was attacked after facing threats over rising fees for increasingly scarce burial plots, a problem undertakers blame on government red tape in a country where much of the land is state-owned.

"We suffer from an atmosphere of terror on a daily basis," another burial society official, Zeev Rosenberg, told the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily. He said bereaved families often threaten undertakers over burial charges.

The strike was not expected to last more than a day. Jewish ritual law dictates that people should be buried before sunset on the day of their death, but many rabbis in Israel extend that deadline to await the arrival of relatives living abroad.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)