Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5759 - June 9 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Do You Have to be Religious to Respect the Dead?

It seems that there is broad support -- and almost universal sympathy -- for the goal of bringing the sailors who died when the ill-fated Dakar submarine sank over 31 years ago to a Jewish burial. No sooner was the wreck found less than two weeks ago, than calls were heard to raise it, mainly to bring the remains of the 69 sailors on board to a decent burial -- "kever Yisrael" as it is called in the Hebrew press.

Though the wreckage lies in 2900 meters of water -- more than a mile and a half below the surface -- and it broke into three parts from its three kilometer fall through the water, many voices were raised asking the government to spare no expense to raise the ship, for the primary reason of burying the remains. "Israel must make every effort, and pay any price, no matter how high it is, in order to raise the submarine and bring its crew home." This is a quotation from the lead editorial last Sunday in the mass circulation Israeli daily Ma'ariv. Though not everyone agreed with this approach, there was universal sympathy for it.

Even then it was known that the price could be very high. In the only comparable case on record, at the height of the Cold War the United States raised a Soviet submarine for its intelligence value. Even then the water was only about half as deep and the expenses ran very high -- reportedly into billions of dollars!

In truth, the value attached to giving a proper burial to the remains of those who die is deeply etched into the Israeli soul. The Army makes unusual efforts to recover the remains of its fallen, and has often paid a considerable price for its sensitivities in this area. However, no one questioned these efforts or their cost.

The dead in this case were from more than 31 years ago, but that did not apparently lessen the impact and the understanding for it was widespread. But when we go back a little further, to the dead of hundreds of years ago, the situation is entirely different.

When we struggle to preserve the graves of generations past, we are branded as a primitive and dark force that wants to block the progress of enlightened science. We are denounced and vilified, and the press has not the slightest doubt that we are entirely in the wrong.

The truth is that we have nothing against archaeological research. On the contrary, no one is more interested than we in insights into the history and way of life of our ancestors. We are always eager to connect to our heritage and grateful for any additional information about our forebears and their lives.

What we are against is the cruel and heartless grave robbing that crushes and scatters the bones of good people who rested in peace for hundreds or thousands of years, or stores them unnecessarily and illegally for years in cellars in Tel Aviv and Yerushalayim. We have reported about this in the past, and expect to publish more along these lines in the future.

Why is a State and a society that is so sensitive to the dead of 31 years ago, so heartless when it comes to the dead of 1,000 years ago?

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