(JTA) – The haredi Orthodox mother of an Israeli transgender woman who killed herself is battling the woman’s lawyer over plans to cremate the body.
May Peleg, 31, an activist in Israel’s LGBT community, filed a will with attorney Yossi Wolfson the day before her suicide stating her desire to be cremated, Haaretz reported Tuesday. The Israeli newspaper did not provide the precise date or details of Peleg’s suicide.
Cremation is forbidden according to Jewish law, although it is has become increasingly popular among liberal and secular Jews in recent years, particularly in the United States. The Jerusalem District Court is expected to issue a ruling on Wednesday.
Peleg’s will requests not only that she be cremated, but that a ceremony be held and her ashes scattered at sea and under a tree to be planted in her memory.
Peleg’s mother, who in her affidavit describes Peleg as her “son,” has requested an injunction to stop the cremation and that she “be given the body for burial according to Jewish law.” She argues that Peleg’s will “should be disqualified since my son was undergoing a deep mental crisis and was not capable of drawing up a will.”
Anticipating that her estranged family might try to stop the cremation, Peleg, according to Haaretz, wrote in a letter to Wolfson, “Since I have no contact with my biological family and since I fear that after my death there will be those who try to obstruct my final wish to be cremated, using various arguments, I ask you to represent me in court and be my voice.”
Before killing herself, Peleg contacted the Aley Shalechet funeral home and crematorium and paid for her cremation.
In a letter written shortly before the suicide, Peleg said she felt “pain and suffering” for most of her life.
Peleg was active in Jerusalem’s Open House LGBT centre and owned a gay bar in Jerusalem called Mikveh, according to Haaretz. Her Facebook page states her full name as May Peleg Friedman and says that she studied sociology and communications at the Open University in Israel.
Peleg married at age 20 and had two children before divorcing and undergoing a sex-change operation. The mother said Peleg’s ex-wife also wishes to block the cremation.
While Peleg and her ex-wife initially maintained good relations, two years ago the ex-wife stopped letting Peleg have a relationship with the children, who are now nine and 10 years old.
In an affidavit attached to the will, Peleg specifically requested that her mother be prevented from getting her body after her death.
“There are reasonable grounds for concern that if my body reaches her hands she will subject me to a religious burial, with Judaism not recognizing me as a woman, even though I’ve undergone sex-change surgery. This constitutes a lack of respect and an erasure of my identity,” Peleg wrote in her affidavit, according to Haaretz.
Wolfson said during court proceedings, “Everyone in Israel has rights over their body. Just as her family could not request the court to prohibit May from tattooing her body, cutting her hair the way she wanted to or changing her sex, the family cannot interfere with her wishes regarding the disposal of her body. May acted with consideration and detailed logic. She knew who would object and what their reasons would be and she preempted this with her stated objections.”
The mother’s attorney, Yitzhak Dahan, argued that Peleg’s will has “no legal validity.”