(photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov)
Hundreds of members of the anti-Zionist Eda Haredit communal organization congregated in the capital on Thursday afternoon, to “beg the forgiveness of the holy bones” recently excavated to make way for an emergency room in Ashkelon, protest the “continued desecration of graves around Israel” and conduct a funeral procession, but not a burial ceremony, for the remains.
A simple white van with black drapes hiding its content, sent by the Ministry of Religious Services, was one of the centerpieces of the event that was held at Kikar Zupnick in the Geula neighborhood, as it contained the ancient bones that the Antiquities Authority deemed to be those of pagans and transferred to the ministry.
A ministry spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that the Eda Haredit asked to be able to recite Psalms and prayers in the bones’ presence, and that the ministry saw no reason to refuse. The opportunity to hold a religious ceremony could even have a calming effect on these components in the haredi public, the spokesman said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently decided to have the graves moved to allow the construction of a rocket-proof emergency room at the Barzilai Medical Center. The excavation work began on Saturday night, after talks between the Prime Minister’s Office and Atra Kadisha – an extreme haredi group that opposes the movement of human bones – failed to bring forth a compromise. It sparked a day of Eda Haredit protests and vandalism around the country.
The head of Atra Kadisha, Rabbi David Shmidel, who is the Eda Haredit’s expert and adviser on graves, continues to maintain that since there remains a chance that the graves, or some of them, are of Jews, they should not be relocated, and had suggested alternatives for building the ER near or above the graves. Shmidel was present at Thursday’s gathering but did not address the public.
Haredi children held signs declaring their willingness “to fill the prisons” and bearing ominous warnings that “20,000 Jewish cemeteries in Europe are now in danger,” as “the evil Zionist regime’s” recent decision might provide the justification for relocating Jewish burial sites in Europe.
After a mass recital of psalms, Eda Haredit activist Rabbi Shlomo Bloy spoke emphatically about the dangerous precedent in the Ashkelon excavation.
“They said that the Barzilai graves needed to be moved since it is a life-endangering situation [pikuach nefesh],” he said. “But now they want to relocate graves in Jaffa and Nazereth. They have no faith in the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the dead, and therefore are moving the bones. But we believe in these principles.”
Two members of the Eda Haredit’s rabbinical council (Badatz) then spoke, following which more prayers were recited, including one to “prevent the groping in graves.”
Bloy closed the event and called on the men to peacefully disperse. “Our force is in our prayers, not our actions,” he said.
The crowd then followed the van through the winding Mea She’arim streets in a mourning procession, reciting the kaddish prayer for the dead once.
At the ceremony’s conclusion, Jerusalem police reported that a few dozen haredi men began throwing rocks at officers stationed nearby. Police responded by dispersing the men, and in the melee, a police car was attacked and damaged, and a folder containing police documents was stolen from inside the vehicle.
The officer who was driving the car sustained injuries to his hand and
was taken for medical treatment. His wallet, which contained about NIS
200, was stolen, and requests for the men to return the items were
Police eventually dispersed the men.
The bones were to be laid to rest in an undisclosed location on Thursday
night by the ministry and Jerusalem’s Chevra Kadisha burial society, in
plots designated for people whose religion is not definitely known.
Meanwhile, the Antiquities Authority on Thursday announced that it had
uncovered a pagan altar dating to the Roman period while evacuating the
bones. “The discovery further corroborates the assertion that we are
dealing with a pagan cemetery,” Dr. Yigal Israel, Ashkelon District
Archeologist for the authority, said in an statement.
Abe Selig contributed to this story.
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