Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan has requested funds from the government to finance the provisions of hundreds of concrete bomb shelters for synagogues, ritual baths and cemeteries in communities across southern Israel.
The Religious Services Ministry recently filed the request, saying that much of the infrastructure providing religious services to the general public is unprotected from the constant barrage of rocket and mortar shell fire from Gaza.
On Friday, a rocket hit a synagogue in Ashdod, injuring three people.
Ben-Dahan’s office described the lack of protection for religious services infrastructure as “a failure,” and said they had been without protection at such sites for 14 years.
The deputy minister singled out the Shas party in particular as responsible for the failure, noting that it had been in charge of the ministry for many years and had not provided the requisite bomb shelters.
“For the last 13 years, Shas controlled the Religious Services Ministry and did nothing to protect religious sites,” Ben-Dahan’s office said in a statement to the press. “So the guidelines from the Home Front Command for procedures during a rocket attack are for people to move close to a wall or a nearby gravestone and lie down while covering your head with your hands.
On Kibbutz Be’eri, after years without protection, the residents decided to protect the local synagogue by themselves with two layers of sandbags.”
Shas did not respond to the comments.
The ministry emphasized in particular the dangers posed to grave diggers in cemeteries, noting that they have to work in open ground without bomb shelters close by, and that their work is time-consuming, increasing their exposure to rocket attacks.
In total, the ministry estimated that within a 40 km.
radius of Gaza there are 122 cemeteries, 166 mikvaot, or ritual baths, and 1,481 synagogues.
It said it was aware of the large cost of bomb shelters for such a large number of installations, and asked that initial funds be allocated for 50 such structures, including 16 medium-size shelters for regional cemeteries at NIS 36,000 each; another 13 medium-size shelters for large synagogues in the designated region; and 21 small shelters for ritual baths at a cost of NIS 28,000.
The total cost would amount to NIS 1,632,000.
“Even during these difficult times, the ministry for religious services and the local religious councils are continuing to fulfill their tasks as much as possible, including marriage registration, [supervision] of immersion in ritual baths, burial of the dead, and other services, while synagogues in cities and small communities continue to hold services as much as possible” the ministry said.
It added that earlier requests made to relevant government authorities and ministries have not yet been answered.
“So far, some 200 synagogues have turned to us on this matter due to the fact that during previous operations, Pillar of Defense and Cast Lead,” the matter was not dealt with,” said Ben-Dahan.
“I very much hope that we will succeed in obtaining as many shelters as possible to allow people to continue praying in synagogues and to continue their daily schedule.”