Tiveria is again the site of a struggle over the sanctity
and dignity of ancient graves. Once again the cry goes out
to leave the bones of our ancestors in peace.
There is no question that the site, now owned by the Church
of Scotland, was a Jewish cemetery up until 300 years ago,
about a century after the Church of Scotland was founded by
John Knox. Up until then, for many years the area had served
as the burial ground for the holy Jews who lived in the
area, one of Judaism's four holy cities in Israel.
About three centuries ago Jewish settlement in Tiveria
underwent a revival, and a new cemetery was founded that is
still in use today. The old one fell into disuse and was
bought and sold several times until the current owners
acquired it. The Church of Scotland built a small hospice in
the cemetery, and recently decided to embark on a much more
ambitious $20 million development scheme to renovate their
hospice and to build a 140 room hotel.
Unfortunately, the plans were filed and approved following
normal procedures and no one realized the problem. It was
only after construction began and, according to the Church
of Scotland, a substantial sum was already invested, that it
was discovered that the area is full of graves. The
Antiquities Authority heard about it and demanded to conduct
"rescue digs." The Church at first tried to prevent this,
but the Authority prevailed.
At this point the Committee for the Prevention of
Desecration of Graves also entered the picture and tried to
secure the cooperation of the Church of Scotland in order to
find a way to avoid desecration of the graves, whether
through construction or by the "rescue" digging. They
appealed to various members of the church hierarchy, but met
only outright rejection. Ironically, when they pointed out
to the Church that in Scotland it is illegal to build in a
cemetery, they were told curtly, "But the law is different
in Israel and we are allowed to built there."
Intensive efforts are continuing to prevent the digging and
the construction. The city of Tiveria has offered the church
an alternate site, but the Church rejected that as well.
Apparently the main objection is the expense involved in
redesigning at the new site. At the current site, according
to an archaeologist of the Ministry of Education, "there is
not one centimeter that has no graves."
The problem of desecration of ancient graves is chronic in
the State of Israel. The State and its institutions have
little sympathy for the rights of dead Jews, and it is left
to the chareidi community to struggle, alone, for the
elemental respect that our ancestors deserve.
Maran the Steipler and ylct"a Maran HaRav Shach,
shlita, wrote on one of the many other occasions that
the issue arose: "Woe to us that this has happened in our
day, and sinners have the audacity to desecrate the graves
of our forefathers, and thereby put the entire Jewish
settlement in Eretz Yisroel in danger, as explained in the
words of Chazal. Therefore we issue this heartfelt call to
everyone who can do something, to warn and prevent in a
timely fashion this despicable act, so that their plans are
not executed . . . "
As the rabbonim said last week: "It is a holy obligation
upon all the tzibbur to . . . do whatever they can .
. . and to pray before our Creator that He have mercy upon
His people and his inheritance and that their plans are not