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April 1, 2020 9:22 am

Cremation of Argentina’s Jewish Coronavirus Victim Sparks Concerns

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Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo: Wikimedia Commons. – The cremation by local authorities of Argentina’s first Jewish victim of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has stirred controversy among the country’s Jewish communities since the practice is forbidden under religious Jewish law.

Ruben Bercovich, 59, a businessman and father-of-three, died on March 26 in Resistencia, the capital of the northern Chaco province. Bercovich recently traveled to the United States and returned to Argentina on March 9. He was active in the Chaco Jewish community and represented Argentina in golf in the Maccabiah Games held in Israel.

Authorities said cremating Bercovich’s body was a best way of avoid further spreading COVID-19; however, Argentine rabbis are hoping to find a compromise that will uphold Jewish law and have started dialogue with officials regarding the practice, The Times of Israel reported.

Rabbis and officials in Argentina have already agreed on leaving mikvahs, or Jewish ritual baths, open. Those who wish to use one must coordinate with the government and will get a code to enter the mikvah after they are considered healthy enough to do so, according to the report.

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Orthodox Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the dean of the Israel’s Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions, ruled last week that Jewish communities in Europe should embrace cremation if their governments decide that it is necessary for public health during the coronavirus pandemic, and should consider it a posthumous “mitzvah” on behalf the deceased.

“The highest honor that a person who isn’t alive can achieve is to help the living,” said Brander, adding that while cremation is normally considered a “desecration” in Judaism, if it helps save a life during this time it would be “a mitzvah that the deceased is doing posthumously.”

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