Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

14 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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











Despite Protests, Desecrating Digging Took Place in Haifa Burial Caves
by Aryeh Zisman

Despite intense efforts by activists to avoid it, this past Monday (12 Shevat) the Antiquities Authority conducted excavations on Yaffo Road in Haifa, while desecrating human remains. Starting in the small hours of the morning, many demonstrators against the desecration of the bones arrived at the site. The demonstrators said that they saw bones on the disinterred earth. That earth was collected in bags and the bones will be brought to burial on the site. Rabbi Moshe Gafni spoke with the director general of the Antiquities Authority, Yehoshua Dorfman, and succeeded in preventing further excavations in the three other burial caves discovered in the area.

Although Haifa's mayor had originally promised to stop all digging if bones were found, he did not keep his promise at the crucial moment.

The rav of the chareidi community of Haifa, HaRav Yechiel Yosef Halevi Bamberger, also arrived on the scene with a large group of Haifa's residents, as did HaRav M. Rauchberger the rav of the Ramat Hadar neighborhood of Haifa and a member of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate. UTJ's representatives in the Haifa municipality , Rabbi Aryeh Blitental and Rabbi Chaim Williger, were also present at the site from the early hours of the morning. They were later joined by council member Rabbi Avrohom Weitzman and the representative of the chief rabbis, Mr. Benny Hesse, the general director of the Chevra Kadisha and a member of the city's religious council.

When the archaeologists arrived on the site, they began to dig, protected by the police and security companies. The police dispersed the demonstrators brutally. Only the members of the City Council's Religious Bloc were permitted to remain on the site and to supervise the digging. The representatives of the Federation for the Prevention of the Desecration of Graves said that the earth which was dug up was full of bones. The earth was collected and placed in bags which will be buried on the site.

Rabbi Moshe Gafni was very involved and he demanded that the director general of the Antiquities Authority, Yehoshua Dorfman, stop the digging and at least guarantee that the additional burial caves, which are not necessary for the road work, remain untouched. In the past, the Antiquities Authority refused such requests and whenever it began digging it would also dig up and desecrate any additional places and burial caves discovered in the course of their excavation. Dorfman promised not to conduct excavations anywhere else in the area, and also to build a cement wall to preserve the additional burial caves that were discovered but not unearthed.

During the demonstration, the police arrested four demonstrators with much force. Later on they were released. The representatives of the Religious Bloc as well as deputy mayor Moshe Shtetman informed mayor Amram Mitzna that they objected to the conducting of the digs. They also noted that it was important to stop them, and not to dig needlessly in the additional burial pits. "This achievement is only the prevention of what could have been worse. There is no doubt that without protests, the additional caves would have been unearthed, desecrating many human bones," the activists stressed.

The local activists, and especially the representatives of UTJ in the city, waged the struggle against the desecration with much mesiras nefesh, stopping all of their other involvements in order to devote themselves to this mission.

On Sunday, 11 Shevat, Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna convened the representatives of the Religious Bloc of the Municipal Council and told them that he had decided to permit the excavations. During recent weeks, attempts had been made to prevent the excavations, out of fear that bones of the deceased would be desecrated. The project is called the Yaffo Bypass, and it is located on the approaches to the city.

The site, part of Haifa's ancient Jewish cemetery, contains a burial cave where amoraim and rishonim are buried. Rav Avdimi demin Haifa is buried there. In ancient sources the site is known as the Cemetery in the foothills of the Carmel. Many rishonim are buried there, including the Rash of Shantz, the Ramban and some Baalei Tosafos.

Last week, Mayor Mitzna and local rabbonim appointed chairman of the Chevra Kadisha and member of the Haifa Religious Council, Benny Hesse, to negotiate with the pertinent parties and to reach a suitable solution. At a joint meeting with all of the parties, it was decided to implement the Yaffo Bypass project only in a way which would not damage burial caves. However, the agreement made at the meeting did not take into consideration the opposition of the Antiquities Authority, which announced that if bones were found, they would not stop their excavations in mid- work.

The representatives of the Religious Bloc of the Municipal Council asked the UTJ Knesset members and others to ask the director of the Antiquities Authority to accept the agreement and stop excavations if burial caves were found. On Sunday, however, Mitzna announced that he had consulted all pertinent parties, and that the excavations would take place Monday morning on the terms of the Antiquities Authority.


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