Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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25 Iyar 5760 - May 31, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Large Bayis Sheini Burial Cave Near Mount Scopus Desecrated

by Betzalel Kahn

A large, stately burial cave, discovered about a week ago in the Jerusalem Mount Scopus (Har Hatzofim) area, has been desecrated in a most disgraceful manner by Antiquities Authority archaeologists in violation of an agreement reached with chareidi grave protection activists only hours earlier.

The Moriah municipal company recently conducted infrastructure work and paved a new road to connect the Maaleh Adumim and Jerusalem highways with an underground tunnel reaching the Mount Scopus area.

A number of ancient burial caves from the Bayis Sheini period were discovered near Mount Scopus. Last week, an additional large cave containing relics and human bones was found. Antiquities Authority employees concealed discovery of the cave but did not fully seal its opening so that they could enter it whenever they pleased. On Shabbos parshas Emor) unidentified individuals entered the cave. The Antiquities Authority claims that they were robbers, but inspectors of the Federation for the Prevention of the Desecration of Graves find this hard to believe. They say that it is quite possible that archaeologists entered the cave on Shabbos and this explains why the cave opening was not sealed on Friday.

On Sunday, Federation and Religious Affairs Ministry inspectors arriving at the site discovered that the cave had been desecrated on Shabbos. They found fragments of relics and large quantities of human bones which had been indiscriminately scattered over the ground.

The archaeologists tried to enter the cave a number of times during the day with police backing, claiming that since a robbery had taken place, they had to document the cave's contents from inside.

On Sunday afternoon, police officer Yosef Ohayon held a meeting in his office with the archaeologists and representatives of the Religious Affairs Ministry. When no agreement was reached the officer said that work would stop so that deliberations could continue the following day.

During the night, a number of avreichim guarded the cave in order to prevent its desecration as per the agreement. At 4 a.m., police stormed the area and arrested the avreichim who were guarding the caves. The police officers were accompanied by a group of archaeologists headed by regional archaeologist, John Zeligman. The archaeologists then entered the cave and continued to dig. They opened more apertures which had been sealed for hundreds of years and wreaked havoc in the cave, desecrating the bones of people buried there since the Bayis Sheini period some 2,000 years ago.

Activists of the Federation for the Prevention of Desecration to Graves claim that this was an inordinate violation of the agreement that had been reached with the police the day before. They further claimed that the Moriah company, which belongs to the Jerusalem Municipality, must demand that the Antiquities Authority stop all work in the cave immediately. They spoke with UTJ representatives in the Municipality and on the Moriah board of directors, demanding that the Antiquities Authority stop the desecration. The activists sharply criticized the police officer who enabled the Antiquities Authority to violate the agreement. They claim that the police backed the criminal behavior of the archaeologists.

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