- David M. Weinberg - https://davidmweinberg.com -

A Grave Situation

Published in The Jerusalem Post on, July 5, 1998

Posters went up in Mea Shearim this week decrying the ‘final solution’ (!) reportedly reached between the Municipality of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Rabbinate for dealing with the graves found in the path of the city’s Road Number 1 near Pisgat Zeev. The wildly-extreme language of the posters condemned Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Kolitz and by inference also Rabbi Shalom Eliashiv, the leading Ultra-Orthodox halachic decisor of today – for being anti-halachic ‘collaborators’ with the Zionist entity.


Faced with renewed Ultra-Orthodox (this means the radical ‘Atra Kadisha’, controlled by Satmar’s anti-Zionist ‘Eda Hareidit’) opposition to the completion of the long-held-up and badly-needed road, Mayor Ehud Olmert has pulled back from the settlement reached. He now says there’s a “budget problem” that is stalling things. Funny how the budget ran out just as the bones were discovered! Olmert wants us to think he needs budgets for road-paving. In truth, it means money to pay off the hareidim.


Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu this week promised the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party that he would replace the Antiquities Authority council with members “more sensitive” to hareidi grave concerns, and it was widely-reported that this also means the sacking of Authority director Amir Drori. In other words, the most uncompromising hareidim will gain veto power over archaeological digs and the ability to build in Israel.


What is so exceedingly sad is that all this is patently unnecessary under Jewish law. Halacha * can * solve the problem of graves that stand in the way of important public works developments. Inexpensively. It’s the murky, underhanded axis between Ultra-Orthodox political interests and unprincipled secular politicians, along with the total capitulation of the national Chief Rabbinate to the hareidim – that is at fault.


Rabbi Yisrael Rosen of the Tsomet Institute and Prof. Zeev Safari of Bar-Ilan University’s Land of Israel Studies Dept. each independently have shown that the *Shulchan Aruch * (Rabbi Yosef Karo’s authoritative Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Dei’ah chapter 364/5) and Maimonides Code (* Impurities * chapter 8/5-6), along with later-day halachic decisors such as Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli – all support, even mandate, the removal for burial elsewhere of graves or an entire graveyard, that stand in the way of an important roadway already under construction.


There’s no need to enter into complicated and expensive halachic solutions for such graves, such as shifting the roadway aside or burying the bones deep under special halachic air-holes covered with concrete, they maintain. Graves that “damage the public” can be moved, they formally assert.


With solid, respectful halachic backing like this — even if the rulings are disputed by others — explain to me please why the secular authorities of Israel have to kow-tow to the most radical, least accommodating interpreters of halacha? Where is the coalition of moderates, rabbis and secular politicians, that should be coming together with sensitive solutions on this issue, for the greater good of building the Land of Israel and the glory of Jewish law?


Less you think my judgement of ‘Atra Kadisha’ and those behind it too harsh, consider the following anomaly. How and why is it that the hareidim haven’t found any graves whatsoever in the neighborhoods they build for themselves – Har Nof, Shuafat, Sanhedria, Ramot and Neve Yaacov, for example? Or Har Homa. The archaeologists are * certain * that Shuafat is built all over graves. Curious, isn’t it?


The explanation is that the ‘desecration of graves’ has become a hareidi call-to-arms, a rallying cry drafted into use when convenient, usually during the hareidi summer fundraising season and during government budget cycles. Or before Jerusalem municipal elections, which might explain Olmert’s reluctance to push for a just, fast settlement.


Beyond all the above, I have a problem with the die-hard stance taken by some Ultra-Orthodox on behalf of the dead. Always the dead. They do wonderful work in the * chevra kadisha * societies, compassionate and difficult work in * Hesed Shel Emet* groups after terrorist bombings, and battle for the dignity of the very-long-since dead.


But what about the living? Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Ultra-Orthodox turn out in the hundreds of thousands to demonstrate solidarity with the movement for the protection of the environment, or enlist en masse in the Israel Cancer Society’s drive to stamp out smoking? I ask: isn’t there a distortion of priorities and values in the absolute and sometimes-seemingly-exclusive concern for the dead?


Tradition and our past are very important. But what of our shared future?