Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Tammuz 5761 - June 27, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Rescue Digs in Tiveria Cemetery Postponed
by Y. Ariel

"Rescue" excavations slated for 3 Tammuz in the ancient cemetery in Tiveria were postponed. Following a meeting by Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz and Chairman of the Knesset Interior Affairs Committee Rabbi Moshe Gafni with the Education Minister, under whose auspices the Antiquities Authority operates, it was decided to postpone excavations for a week. During this time, attempts will be made to reach a compromise acceptable to all parties.

On Friday, the first of Tammuz, maranan verabonon issued a statement decrying the intention to demolish graves in the Tiveria cemetery, wherein many kedoshei elyon are buried. In a call for speedy activity before it is too late, maranan verabonon appealed to all those capable to do their utmost to prevent these excavations, for they endanger the entire country.

The Antiquities Authority was due to begin excavations on Sunday, 3 Tammuz. Large police forces were summoned to the site to guard the Antiquities Authority workers. The Israel Police also planned to evict anyone with a chareidi appearance approaching the site. A number of demonstrators had been arrested during the past few weeks on the alleged claim that they had threatened workers of the Church of Scotland -- owners of the site -- with firearms.

However, on Friday, the UTJ Knesset members Rabbi Ravitz and Rabbi Gafni asked the Education Minister to prevent start of the work. At the same time, Chezi Shnelzon, advisor to the Education Minister, appealed to Antiquities Authority director Yehoshua Dorfman not to begin excavation. Rabbis Ravitz and Gafni stressed the seriousness of the issue, noting that the gedolei Yisroel have instructed the community to do everything possible to prevent such excavations which would without fail inflict damage on the deceased buried in the ancient Tiverian cemetery.

In the wake of the many appeals, the Education Minister issued orders to postpone the excavation by a week, to enable all concerned parties to reach an acceptable solution. The director of the Antiquities Authority complied with the request and issued orders to freeze work on the site until the issue is settled.

The brunt of the criticism is directed at the heads of the Church of Scotland who refuse to alter their plans to build a hotel on the site, although it is absolutely clear that the site is an ancient Jewish cemetery. Negotiations have been continuing with heads of the Church for over a year, but to no avail.

Residents of Tiveria attest that the site slated for the building of the hotel was a Jewish cemetery used until 300 years ago. At that time, Rav Chaim Abulafia came to Tiveria to help rebuild the city, and a new cemetery was erected near the entrance to the city. The fact that the site served as a Jewish cemetery is acknowledged by all parties.

During the period of Ottoman rule, the area was put up for sale. It covers a large area, beginning at the Rambam cemetery. The site changed ownership several times, landing up in the hands of the Church of Scotland.

A year ago, the Tiveria Municipality innocently signed all the necessary building permits, and construction began. But it was then learned that the area contains numerous graves. Every scoop of the bulldozer produced human bones. When this became known to the Antiquities Authority, it demanded, as always, to hold "rescue excavations" on the site before continuing construction. The Church of Scotland attempted to oppose thee excavations, which would delay building, claiming that the area was autonomous. However the Antiquities Authority managed to prove that it had authority to hold rescue excavations on the site.

Negotiations between the heads of the Federation for the Prevention of the Desecration of Graves and concerned parties were held throughout the year in an effort to prevent the excavations. Various activists contacted heads of the Church of Scotland both in Israel and in Scotland. However, all appeals were met with flat refusals to cooperate.

The Tiveria Municipality tried to rectify its error and offered the Church of Scotland an alternative site for its hotel. However, the Church heads refused to reopen discussion on the issue, preferring to rely on the permits already in their possession.

Yated Ne'eman has learned that certain parties asked Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres to approach heads of the Church of Scotland in Scotland. Peres asked for three days in which to try to solve the problem on a diplomatic level. Education Minister advisor Chezi Shnelzon also tried to arrange a meeting between all sides, including Foreign Affairs Minister Peres, Education Minister Livnat, Religious Affairs Minister Asher Ochana and representatives of the Church. However, Peres asked for additional time in which to try to find a way to suspend excavation on the site.

In addition, many concerned parties, including Lev L'Achim, have warned that the Church of Scotland may really be planning to build a missionary center in the guise of a hotel. "At a time when hotels in Israel are in very difficult straits, building another 140-room hotel seems to be an exercise in futility. The impression is that the designers have totally different plans."

In Tiveria as well as throughout the country, activists have been placed on alert. It is feared that attempts to excavate and then build on the cemetery will continue, even when it is clear to all that every shovel or pickaxe in the ground inflicts direct damage to the remains of the kedoshei elyon of Tiveria.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.