Haredim spar over construction, grave desecration

Eda Haredit issues unprecedented attack on Atra Kadisha for acting against rulings of respected haredi rabbis.

Haredim 390 (photo credit: Illustrative photo/Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusale)
Haredim 390
(photo credit: Illustrative photo/Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusale)
A leading figure from the radical Eda Haredit ultra-Orthodox association has issued a broadside attack against the Atra Kadisha organization, which devotes itself to protesting against construction that might disturb Jewish graves.
Atra Kadisha (“holy place” in Aramaic) has since the 1950s protested against archeological digs and construction work that might desecrate Jewish graves, something the group considers to be a violation of Jewish laws pertaining to the respect for the dead.
In an unprecedented letter published in the haredi press on Sunday, Rabbi Moshe Shternboch, the head of the Eda Haredit’s rabbinical court and the second-most senior figure in the organization, accused Atra Kadisha of protesting construction in Beersheba against the rulings of two of the most respected rabbis in the haredi world.
In addition, Shternboch wrote that infrastructure works conducted by Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises Ltd near Ramle do not have the approval of Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, another revered figure in the ultra- Orthodox world, despite claims to the contrary by the Atra Kadisha, which says that it is supervising the work.
“The great Torah scholars Rabbi Nissim Karelitz and Rabbi Haim Kanievsky have confirmed that everything [in Beersheba] is being done with rabbinic oversight, and the Karaso contractors [carrying out the construction] should be praised for this,” Shternboch wrote.
“Regarding the Nesher works which they [Atra Kadisha] are busy with the whole time, as if they have the approval of Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, this is completely false and no [works] are permitted today, and many deceased Jews have been disturbed from their rest,” Shternboch said.
The senior Eda Haredit figure did not, however, mention Atra Kadisha by name.
Tensions between the two groups have grown of late over a construction project in Beit Shemesh where 1,500 residential units have been planned. Construction has been delayed for almost two years due to claims by Atra Kadisha that the land on which the project is planned for may contain Jewish graves.
Ahrale Yakter, the director of an organization called the Association for the Prevention of Grave Desecration, labeled Atra Kadisha a criminal gang and accused it of seeking extortion money from building contractors.
Atra Kadisha denies this claim.
“These are evil people who are harming the Jewish people, who don’t care about Torah or the opinions of the leading rabbis, but simply care about money,” Yakter said.
According to Yakter, hundreds of families have taken out mortgages for the construction of the apartments and are now facing financial problems due to the delays in construction.
Atra Kadisha is opposed to even checking the land in question to determine if there are graves in the vicinity. Inspections are due to be carried out in the coming days in cooperation with the Eda Haredit.
Rabbi Dov Lipman, an anti-extremist political activist in Beit Shemesh, said that he was troubled by the fact that the Eda only challenges the Atra Kadisha “thugs” when it affects its own interests, “but not when they are delaying construction of a cultural center in Beit Shemesh, a new emergency department in Ashkelon’s Barzilai hospital and other sites.”
Atra Kadisha conducted a long and violent campaign against the construction of the rocket-protected emergency department in Ashkelon because it believed graves at the site were Jewish.
Last year, the chief rabbi and overall leader of the Eda Haredit, Rabbi Yitzhak Tuviah Weiss, came out in support of the Atra Kadisha, despite Shternboch’s support for the competing Association for the Prevention of Grave Desecration.
Weiss declared that Atra Kadisha was the ultimate authority for the protection of Jewish graves and, in pashkaveilim [public notices posted in haredi neighborhoods], wrote that anyone hindering its operations was complicit in grave desecration.
Shternboch came out in support of the association, which also received support at the time from the then-leader of the haredi community, the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the current leader of the haredi world, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman as well as Rabbis Kanievsky and Karlitz.