Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Av 5760 - August 9, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







On Our Ancestors' Dead Bodies

by Betzalel Kahn

Today it is clear, say top ranking members of Jerusalem's Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital Dental Department: if the boxes of bones are removed from the Department's cellar and brought to proper burial, the Department might have to be closed. Dismissal of the researchers, professors, doctors and students would swiftly follow.

It all began about a month ago. Activists of the Federation for the Prevention of the Desecration of Graves entered the cavernous cellar beneath the Dentistry Department building and discovered over 250 boxes containing hundreds of thousands of human bones. The activists had arrived on the site based on a tip that had been received by Rabbi Micha Rothschild, one of the top ranking Federation activists. The presence of the bones was known for over two years. However, it was impossible to prove it and access to the area was not allowed.

Over a month ago, due to the upheaval caused by renovations at the site, Rabbi Rothschild along with a few other activists got in. Upon entering the cellar they were deeply shocked to see the hundreds of thousands of skeletons, human bones and artifacts.

The human bones in the cellar were certainly those of Jews who had been buried in different eras over the past 2000 years, since the time of Bayis Sheini. On many of the boxes the date and site of the particular excavation that had produced those bones was clearly marked. From this information, activists learned about many excavations that had taken place all over the country that they were unaware of, including a 1979 excavation in Kibbutz Hagoshrim; in Ashkelon in 1981; Pisgat Zeev in 1982; Nachal Refaim in 1983; Tiveria in 1985 and others.

This information made it clear that numerous public statements by senior officials of the Antiquities Authority that all human bones discovered in archaeological digs are brought to burial by the Religious Affairs Ministry are false. Hiding this information and these bones constitute criminal acts.

A Shocking Scene

In the wake of the discovery of the cellar, Rabbi Meir Porush was summoned to the site. When he arrived, he was aghast at the shocking scene. Here was the largest collection of human bones ever discovered in the country!

Rabbi Porush immediately summoned Professor Shmuel Shapiro, assistant director of the hospital, who in turn summoned the Dean of the Dentistry Department, Professor Yonatan Man. The two displayed understanding of the serious halachic problems involved and tried to find a solution. However, they quickly said that in the absence of other senior hospital officials, no immediate solution could be offered.

This statement led Rabbis Porush and Rothschild to inform them that they were prepared to personally remain on the site until the bones are brought to burial, no matter how long that takes. "Wešre not leaving this place. We'll sleep here and conduct our lives from here," they told the startled hospital officials.

At the end of arduous negotiations lasting a number of hours, it was decided to call in professionals to install a door in the cellar opening: the original door had been removed due to the renovations. The key was left with the Federation activists, for fear that certain individuals might try to hide the bones. An additional security lock was installed in order to prevent opening of the door prior to reaching a solution.

Over the past few years, many such disclosures of archaeologists' and researchers' criminal deeds have been made. Scientists in the Hadassah Dentistry Department freely admit that the bones and skeletons discovered in the cellars have been there for years: most for more than twenty years. The bones in the cellar can provide them with research material for twenty more years, they said.

Scores of Years

Many excavations have been conducted throughout the country since the founding of the State fifty-two years ago. Each time dedicated activists arrive at the excavation sites they struggle, plead and implore: Give us the bones for burial. At times, the archaeologists complied with the requests. In other cases, compliance was only partial: some of the bones were brought to burial while others were removed and then mysteriously disappeared. Although the surveillance was constant, the archaeologists managed to deceive the activists.

Bones which were discovered in the Dentistry Department cellars had been there for many decades. It is believed that most of the findings in excavations conducted in recent years have been transferred to other cellars and the majority has been buried. The inspection system has become tighter: today it is harder to deceive the Federation inspectors. Substantial funds are invested in this supervision. Many inspectors are involved in this mitzvah at all hours of the day. The bones discovered in the Dentistry Department cellar are not from recent excavations, but from years back, mainly twenty years ago.

In the meantime, efforts to find a solution to the problem of the hundreds of boxes of human bones are continuing. The ultimate solution from the standpoint of chareidi Jewry is simple: bring the bones to burial. Absolutely no compromise is possible. The researchers openly admit that if all of the bones are brought to burial, the prestigious Dentistry Department research institute will have to close. This doesn't faze the activists. Their purpose is to bring the bones to burial.

Negotiations are continuing, and until now, only a few dozen boxes have been handed over to the Religious Affairs Ministry for burial. Two hundred boxes remain in the cellars, however, which means that Kohanim are forbidden to enter the building. The heads of the Federation for the Prevention of the Desecration of Graves issued a fervent call to anyone who is able to act on behalf of the great mitzvah of meisi mitzvah to do so urgently. "All of the bones which have been discovered are from archaeological excavations which took place over twenty years ago and were kept in so disgraceful a manner until now, being used as material for useless tests by students and researchers," says the Federation.

Those on trips in the country during bein hazmanim were asked to be on the alert for every suspicious site, and to report every archaeological dig to the Federation at the following phone numbers: 052-638833 and 050-206035.

A Financial Problem

Only the will is lacking. The truth is that for a relatively reasonable fee, professional private investigators could unearth cellars chock-full of boxes of human bones all over the country. These bone collections are usually linked to university research departments, primarily anthropology.

One such warehouse was discovered over a year ago in a Tel Aviv University cellar. This discovery should have sparked an extensive criminal investigation of the Antiquities Authority, which for years has stolen human bones from burial caves all over the country.

The tedious detective work was conducted by a number of activists with the aid of a private investigator. The activists, involved in preventing desecration of ancient graves, received a tip that hundreds of boxes with ancient bones removed from various archaeological digs throughout the country had been disgracefully stored in a guarded warehouse in the cellar of the Medical Department of the Tel Aviv University in Ramat Aviv. The activists also learned that scientific research had been conducted on these bones and that the Antiquities Authority anthropologists frequently visited the warehouse.

The activists hired a special crew of investigators who observed, photographed and documented the anthropologists' activities, as well as speaking with students and university employees. Information verifying all of the expert testimony was culled over many weeks, confirming that more than a thousand ancient skeletons are kept in the University cellar.

After checking these findings, the activists of the Federation for the Prevention of Desecration of Graves, accompanied by UTJ Knesset members, proceeded to Dan Region Police Headquarters to file a complaint.

In the paper he filed, Attorney R' Meir Neuman, who filed the complaint in the name of the activists, stated that there are hundreds of human bones and skeletons in the Tel Aviv University which must be brought to burial, noting that failure do so violates paragraph 172 of the Penal Law forbidding the disgracing of human bones. The crime is punishable by three years imprisonment and violates the guidelines of the previous Attorney General, Michael Ben Yair, who determined that human bones are not antiquities.

Documenting the Cellar's Contents

Immediately after filing the complaint, the activists set out to Tel Aviv University to examine the issue firsthand. University security guards however, assisted by a special Police Department task force, barred any entry of Torah- observant Jews to the University. After negotiations, the Knesset members were permitted to enter the University, though Religious Affairs Ministry personnel -- whose official job is to deal with ancient bones -- were still forced to remain outside. The party waited outside the gates for a long time, until the heads of the university arrived and categorically refused to permit even the Knesset members to enter the warehouses where the bones were located.

At intervention of the Chief of Police of the Dan Region (today the Deputy District Commander of Jerusalem) Deputy Inspector General David Karoza and local police officers, it was decided to hold a special meeting with the University president, Professor Yoram Dinstein, and the heads of its Anatomy Department, Professors Hershkowitz and Lifschitz. At that meeting, officials also refused to let anyone visit the warehouses where the bones were stored, offering various excuses.

Only after it became absolutely clear that UTJ would not let this serious crime continue and that a quick solution had to be found, was an agreement made with the police that the warehouses would not be touched until all those involved had met to determine how to handle the problem. A short while afterward, police investigators arrived at the warehouse and documented some of the findings. Fifty boxes of bones were transferred to the Religious Affairs Ministry, though thousands of skeletons and human bones remained.

Karoza met with gedolei Yisroel on this issue, who had asked for his immediate intervention in the affair. Karoza asked that the affair be terminated without a police investigation so that all of the boxes could be brought to burial. He explained that if he had to investigate the affair in depth it would take him hundreds of days, because then each box would have to be fully documented.

Since then, an entire year has passed. An acceptable arrangement has been made, and most of the bones have been buried, except for those which were smuggled out of the cellars by the august researchers before the arrangement was finalized.

Huge Cellars

It is estimated that over the past few decades, Antiquities Authority archaeologists have emptied tens of thousands of graves containing nearly a hundred thousand human skeletons and skulls and millions of human bone fragments. Federation activists have diaries, computerized reports and additional evidence which specify the locations of many of the plundered graves.

In Jerusalem alone, there are now five warehouses with human bones, in addition to those in many other warehouses throughout the country. In Jerusalem there is a huge, 1500 square meter (15,000 square feet) warehouse containing tens of thousands of human bones. For many months the dedicated activists, with the help of a private detective, photographed and documented every possible detail. All of the pictures and films, were shot through the warehouses windows so as not to trespass on private property.

In addition to the bone cellar discovered lately in the School of Dentistry in Hadassah Ein Karem, there is another such cellar in Kiryat Yovel underneath the Hadassah student residence.

Over a year ago, Rabbi Avrohom Weitzman, who has been involved in the issue for many years, furnished Attorney General Eliakim Rubinstein and the police with numerous findings which include pictures, films and documents. But a serious, in- depth official investigation has yet to be launched. Top ranking police officers say that they are capable of launching a top-notch investigation team to thoroughly investigate the affair.

The Cellars Are Emptied

As noted above, these warehouses, watched and logged for many months by a team of detectives, were all emptied during the past year, except for those which the archaeologists believe are sufficiently covert. The cellars were emptied after complaints were filed with the police over a year ago.

One of the activists involved in the issue, who observed the daily activity in the warehouses on a twenty-four hour basis, told Yated Ne'eman that most of the warehouses throughout the country have been emptied of nearly all content, and most of the bones, skulls and skeletons have been transferred to other, more secret places.

This investigative work led to the discovery of the cellar in Hadassah Ein Karem, in respect to which no halachic solution has yet been reached.

Chareidi Jewry has a very simple position on the remains of our ancestors: all of the bones must be buried. No compromise is acceptable.

The researchers, on the other hand, continue to claim that burying the bones will mark the end of research being conducted in the medical department.

It is clear that such a claim has no standing in halocho. There is no choice but to find a halachic solution, and the fate of the bones will be determined by halocho only, which says that the bones must be brought to immediate burial, and that desecration of the honor of the deceased must be halted.

The truth is that simple consideration of human dignity should lead to the same conclusions. All the nations of the world recognize that the mortal remains of past generations must be treated with respect and dignity and not held in cardboard boxes for years on end.

Ignoring the Law

The former Attorney General Michael Ben Yair, appointed by the Rabin government, ruled that human bones are not antiquities. Artifacts uncovered in archaeological digs are antiquities and thus under the control of the Antiquities Authority, but human bones are not and are thus supposed to be under the control of the Ministry of Religions. This opinion is binding on the government, and it means that the moment bones are discovered they must be handed over to the Religious Affairs Ministry for burial.

It should be noted that this applies to all bones, whether Jewish or not, and chareidi Jewry insists that all the remains of all human beings deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and to receive proper burial and to rest in peace.

The office of the current Attorney General, Eliakim Rubinstein, claims that if such an explicit directive exists, it is inconceivable that warehouses for the storage of bones exist at all. But there is documentary, photographic evidence to the contrary.

To prove that they indeed obey the ruling of the Attorney General when it was issued several years ago, the Antiquities Authority transferred a thousand boxes of bones to the Religious Affairs Ministry a few days later. However, the sad truth is that there are tens of thousands of additional boxes still in warehouses, which adds up to hundreds of thousands of human skeletons, hundreds of thousands of skulls, and millions of bone fragments languishing away in boxes.

This also means that hundreds of burial sites were destroyed throughout the country: the bones that were found were placed in numbered plastic bags under the very eyes of the director of the Anthropology Department of the Antiquities Authority, Yossi Nagar. After the data was computerized, the bones were stored in huge warehouses.

In truth, it would seem that the Anthropological Laboratory of the Antiquities Authority should have closed down, at least officially, as soon as Ben Yair's order was issued. The laboratory, instead, was transferred to another, more clandestine place, and since then, countless numbers of ruses have been employed to hide the fact that it indeed exists.

After an initial examination, the human bones are placed in boxes, then taken to warehouses. There they remain, instead of being brought to burial.

This situation will continue until all the cellars are discovered (as in the Hadassah and the Tel Aviv University cases). Only then will the bones be brought to Jewish burials.

Government To Finance Rescue Excavations

Justice Dalia Ganot of the Rechovot Magistrate's Court has ruled that the Antiquities Authority acted without authorization when it demanded hundreds of thousands of shekels for survey and rescue excavations at the Museum Hill project in Rechovot. She wrote: "In granting building permits only upon condition that the landowner finance survey and "rescue" digs, the Antiquities Authority operated without any basis. As a result, all these aforementioned unauthorized activities are null and void. This includes the compromise agreement that is the subject of the current claim: an agreement signed through coercion, force and compulsion. In light of this and in accordance with the authority of this court, the Antiquities Authority will return to the claimant a sum of NIS 1,000,000 with [cost-of-living] increments."

High Court Justice Yitzhak Zamir, had harsh criticism of the Antiquities Authority's practice of charging landowners for "rescue and survey excavations," and granted the courts the right to oversee the situation, obligating them to take the necessary measures to stop this phenomenon. "The Antiquities Law can be interpreted in such a way as to mean that the Antiquities Authority is obliged to examine whether an area contains antiquities within a reasonable amount of time from when it is asked to do so. It must itself finance the operation and not impose the costs (including digging) upon owners of the site. If this law is interpreted this way, the impact on the ownership rights will be only relative . . . If the law is interpreted (according to the Antiquities Authority's interpretation) the impact on the ownership rights is very strong, that is, the Antiquities Authority may defer the inspection of the site for a long time from the date of the request and may also bill the owner for the costs of the inspection (including digging). If the law is interpreted this way, it is fitting that declaring an area as an "antiquities area" would need [some sort of checks and balances] to properly safeguard the rights of ownership.

"Since the petitioners and the respondents have revealed to the court that the practical methods used by the Antiquities Authority, and the methods used by the Authority are not reasonable, there is concern that the silence of the court on this issue will be regarded as a sign of support, and the practical procedures that have been followed for so many years despite criticism by the State Comptroller and the report by a special committee established to investigate this issue -- will continue to be used until the coming of a Redeemer to Zion."

In the same ruling, Zamir wrote: "The Antiquities Law contains no explicit directive obliging payment for survey excavations by owners of the property. There is also no explicit directive authorizing the Antiquities Authority director to demand payment by the owners for such investigations. In the absence of an explicit legal directive, it is proper to grant the law a narrow interpretation that will reduce the damage to the property rights of the owners and such an interpretation would not obligate the owner to defray the costs of "rescue operations." The conclusion is that the director of the Antiquities Authority is not authorized to make the building permit dependant on the conduct of an investigation at the property owners' expense."

High Court Justice Eliyahu Orr wrote: "The entire method through which the municipality demanded and collected money as a levy for public structures from those requesting building permits does not conform to proper administrative procedure . . . It is inconceivable that a public authority should function in that way."

Two suits filed with the court during the past two years, along with a number of judges' comments concerning the status quo, led the government to issue a decision several weeks ago that sets down the responsibility for financing rescue digs.

If the site was allocated or marketed [by the government] after it was declared an antiquities site, it should be an explicit condition in the contract that the one receiving the land must defray the costs of the "rescue excavation." Concerning the finding of antiquities on sites not previously declared as antiquities sites, the law says that the obligation to report the findings falls upon either the project developer or the landowner, but the costs of the excavations will be borne by the Antiquities Authority.

In addition, the ruling obligates the Education Ministry to enact the necessary regulations as soon as possible, in order to anchor in law the obligation for payment for "rescue" operations that falls to those who already own sites where antiquities are located.

This government decision was accepted in response to the pressure of the courts.

Two rulings, in two different instances, were issued. The first came in the wake of an appeal filed by representatives of the estate of the late Lilly Denkner of Kfar Shemaryahu. A large section of the estate grounds was declared an antiquities site, and as a result various restrictions applied to it, such as a prohibition against building without a permit from the Antiquities Authority director. The petitioners argued that the law does not allow classification of the area as an antiquities site unless antiquities were actually discovered there. However, no antiquities were discovered on this estate nor in any other plots in Kfar Shemaryahu. As a result, the petitioners demanded cancellation of the classification of the area as an antiquities site for the entire area or at least their plot. This was the main question before the judges of the High Court, which ultimately rejected the suit, but nonetheless established a definitive ruling concerning payments by landowners to the Antiquities Authority. In the ruling, Judge Yitzhak Zamir determined that the Antiquities Authority may not demand that a landowner whose land has been declared an antiquity site pay for archaeological digs or "rescue" excavations.

Judge Zamir added, "Both justice and logic dictate that the expenses of an investigation meant to serve the public should not be imposed randomly just because one owns the land." Zamir asks, "Under the existing situation, if the Authority is obligated to pay for the investigation, will that seriously harm its functioning, perhaps preventing it from fulfilling its job properly due to the fact that it lacks sufficient funds? It is possible that Antiquities Authority income from taxes and other payments will not suffice to defray the costs of the investigations. It is possible, of course, to increase the funding via the State Treasury. This is merely a matter of the priorities of the government and the Knesset."

The second suit was filed with the Rechovot Magistrates' Court. The Rechovot company Museum Hill Ltd. basing itself upon Zamir's decision, asked for a refund of the monies it had paid to the Antiquities Authority over the past ten years for rescue digs. Representing the company, Attorney Michael Rozen recently told Ha'aretz, "When work on the site began ten years ago, they spoke about something like 100 thousand shekels. In the end, however, the Authority demanded more work, with proportionately greater expenses. The result was that more than a million shekels were paid. Since the maximal claim one may make in the Magistrates' Court is one million shekels, we just asked for that amount."

The Magistrates' Court found: "The Authority functioned without authority in conditioning the permit upon payment for the investigation and rescue digs. Therefore, all of the actions taken without authority are null and void. This includes the compromise agreement, which is subject of the current suit: an agreement which was signed under pressure, constraint and compulsion. In light of this and in accordance with the authority of this court, the Antiquities Authority will return to the claimant one million shekels, in addition to [cost- of-living] increments and legal interest."

The government felt a certain degree of pressure from the judges' ruling, and decided about six weeks ago, as noted above -- about two months after the ruling of the court in Rechovot -- to issue regulations about the payments.

Ha'aretz writes that the meaning of the new regulations is twofold. Since all lands which have yet to be sold are owned by the State, at least in respect to future sales of land, the obligation to pay for rescue excavations will fall on the state, or else be explicitly transferred to the buyers. Second, for the first time, the regulations officially fix the obligation of the owners of the sites where antiquities are found to pay.


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