Chief Rabbinate delays Barzilai bone move

Under haredi pressure, construction of underground operation room in Ashkelon hospital put on hold.

Under pressure from a group of prominent haredi rabbis, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the chief rabbis asked the Prime Minister's Office this week to postpone the disinterment of Byzantine-era bones at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center. Movement of the bones is needed for the building of an underground operation room to protect doctors, nurses and patients from Grad rockets fired at Ashkelon by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. The Chief Rabbinate had already okayed the movement of the bones over a week ago. However, after intervention by a group of highly respected haredi rabbis - Nissim Karelitz and Shmuel Halevi Vozner of Bnei Brak and Yosef Shalom Elyashiv of Jerusalem - the Chief Rabbinate agreed to search for an alternative solution. "If we can find a solution that is acceptable to all sides why shouldn't we?" a spokesman for Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger said on Thursday. In a meeting on Tuesday evening with Prime Minister's Office director Ra'anan Dinor and Chief Rabbinate director-general Oded Weiner it was agreed that unearthing the bones would be delayed for two weeks to enable the Chief Rabbinate to investigate other options. Just last week a majority of the Chief Rabbinate's Council ruled, in accordance with Metzger's halachic decision, that saving Jewish lives took precedence over protecting the sanctity of the dead. In Metzger's 30-page decision, he argued that since there was doubt whether or not the remains were of Jewish origin, and since moving the bones was for the sake of saving Jewish lives, it was permissible. But what was a halachic no-brainer for Metzger and a cadre of rabbis was seen as a deviation from Jewish tradition and "the uprooting of the Torah" for other rabbis. "Since the benefit for saving lives will be realized only after a long period of time [construction of the underground operation room will take about two years]... justifying the act [of disinterring bones] is a distortion that leads to the uprooting of the Torah," Karelitz and Vozner wrote in a halachic opinion printed in the haredi daily Yated Ne'eman on Wednesday. "According to the investigations and data presented to me, there is no room to permit the evacuation of the dead from the hospital in Ashkelon," Elyashiv wrote. A group of haredi extremists called Atra Kadisha (holy place in Aramaic) was the driving force behind the publication of the halachic opinion in Yated Ne'eman, according to a source in the Chief Rabbinate. "The men associated with Atra Kadisha are the most extreme zealots of the haredi community in Mea She'arim," a source in the rabbinate said. "They can single-handedly stop the digging in Ashkelon by gathering together about 200 people and blocking the work with their bodies." Atra Kadisha's main claim was that disinterring the bones would set a precedent in other instances where there was no real need, the source said.