Rabbi opposes post mortem for body

Christchurch, New Zealand - A Christchurch rabbi is battling efforts to autopsy an Israeli hiker whose body was found near the Mueller Glacier in the Southern Alps.

Rabbi Menachem Goldstein, director of the Jewish Chabad-Lubavitch sect in New Zealand, has been acting as a liaison between local officials and the Israeli Embassy in Australia.

He said on a news website run by the New York-based sect of Hasidic Judaism that the man, aged in his 20's had been at the Chabad House in Christchurch last week and had been expected to attend this week's Friday night Shabbat gathering.

Rabbi Goldstein said that he was working to prevent a routine autopsy, which Jewish law views in most cases as an unnecessary desecration of the body. In New Zealand, a victim's family must lodge a formal complaint, but the final determination was up to the coroner.

"I've strongly advised the authorities against a post-mortem examination," he said.

"I told them it should be avoided if at all possible, especially since foul play is not suspected."

But police said today a post mortem was likely to take place tomorrow morning.

The Israeli tramper was last seen at the Mueller Hut at 8.15am Monday and had been due out of the park later that day.

Department of Conservation (DOC) area manager Richard McNamara said the man appeared to have made a conscious decision to leave the track.

"For whatever reason this tramper has decided to go off the track and got himself into an area of danger and technical difficulty and fell," he said.

"It's one of those unfortunate, tragic accidents - it happens from time to time."

Senior Constable Russell Halkett of Fairlie police said the man had slipped or fallen down an almost vertical rock face. He was located at the foot of a small waterfall near the edge of the glacier.

His name would not be released until he had been formally identified and his next of kin contacted.

He had been in New Zealand for several weeks and was travelling alone.

The rabbi said that he and his staff were working to have the body transported back to Israel for burial before the weekend.

"We're devastated," he said. "My heart goes out to his family and friends."

Department of Conservation staff discovered the man's car next to a popular tramping route in Aorangi Mount Cook National Park.

As many as 4500 people use the track each year. An American was reported to have died last year after straying from the same track.