Halachic ruling: Lives more important than bones

Removal of remains okayed to build fortified Ashkelon operating room.

barzilai 88 (photo credit: )
barzilai 88
(photo credit: )
Protecting Jews from Hamas's Grad rockets is more important than respecting the rest of the dead. That is the unsurprising halachic decision issued Wednesday by the two chief rabbis of Israel regarding the ongoing controversy surrounding foundation construction at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center. The construction is designed to fortify the hospital against Grad rockets fired by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, by adding an underground operation room. But the necessary digging will disinter Roman- or Byzantine-era graves, an act that is prohibited according to Jewish law if the bodies are Jewish - which is unclear. Last week Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger reasoned that since the digging is aimed at saving lives, and since there is a doubt whether the bones are Jewish, building the underground room takes precedence over not disturbing the deceased. The Chief Rabbinate's Governing Council ratified Metzger's decision, which was also backed by Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar. The Health Ministry announced the ruling on Wednesday night. The Chief Rabbinate made it clear that this was a one-time decision that should not be used as a precedent in other instances. It also required that the bones be transferred to an alternative burial site. According to a rabbi involved in the decision-making process, fear of the haredi organization Atra Kadisha delayed the issuance of the ruling. He also said that members of Atra Kadisha had vowed to stage demonstrations against the Chief Rabbinate. Atra Kadisha was not answering phone calls on Wednesday night. Rabbi Ya'acov Ruzah, a member of the Chief Rabbinate's Council and an expert in Jewish burial laws, said the decision was unanimous and a halachic "no-brainer." Atra Kadisha, which is connected to the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Edah Hareidit, has so far managed to hold up construction via demonstrations and lobbying. Barzilai has the $40 million in donations for the construction, but the Religious Services Ministry, under pressure from Atra Kadisha, suspended the work for the past six months. Dr. Ron Lobel, the hospital's deputy director-general, said the new facility would protect patients and staffers from rockets. The hospital pleaded for help from the prime minister, other ministers, the chief rabbis and prominent haredi rabbis for months, but until now, it was to no avail. Former storerooms are the only fortified areas currently available to the hospital, whose campus was hit not long ago by a Grad rocket that fell outdoors. However, they have room for only a few dozen patients.