Battle over graves leaves no stone unturned

A Kfar Saba judge has ruled that seven bodies be exhumed and reburied after a lawsuit by two families from Kfar Malal.

It is a battle that may well raise the dead - literally. More than a decade ago, two families from Kfar Malal, adjoining Hod Hasharon, discovered that the city's Magdiel cemetery was encroaching on their land and that some burials had already taken place in the intruding section. And now, after years of legal disputes over the issue, a judge in the Kfar Saba Magistrates' Court has decided that seven bodies should be exhumed and reburied elsewhere - a legally and religiously complicated procedure, reports According to the report, the problem first came to light more than 10 years ago, when the Kislev and Malamud families of Kfar Malal, who together own some 43 dunams of land of which 10 dunams adjoin the cemetery, realized that the burial ground had encroached on their property. They began court proceedings to stop further burials and to decide what to do about the land that had already been used for graves. In November 2004, a judge ruled that the Hod Hasharon religious council and Hevra Kadisha burial society had to complete proper procedures for requisitioning the land and for obtaining planning approval by the end of 2005, or "remove their hands and especially everything belonging to them" from the disputed area. The judge also issued an injunction against any further burials in the section after it became clear that the city and the Hevra Kadisha had sold plots for future burials there. The report said that Kfar Saba judge David Gadol has now ruled that the seven graves already in the section should be relocated by this November, saying that Jewish religious law (halacha) allows a person who "finds a grave in his field" of which he was unaware to remove it and to purify the land. This leaves the Hevra Kadisha with two options: either removing the graves or paying compensation and penalties to be decided by the courts. A local rabbi said the judge's order was problematic because Jewish law prohibits the removal of graves, allowing bodies to be dug up only if they are casualties who were buried temporarily or for the purposes of bringing a body to Israel from overseas. A Hod Hasharon religious council spokesman said the burials had occurred before the current religious council was chosen and that the court action was "a joke and an attempt to extort money." He said the landowners were "not people who are short of money" and that they "want to obtain all kinds of building benefits in return for these graves." He said the religious council would continue to fight against the digging up of the graves and would try to reach a compromise with the landowners, but if things did reach a point where the graves had to be removed, the council would turn to Israel's chief rabbinate. A spokesman for Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said the matter was "extremely important" and sensitive, and the chief rabbi himself would want to assist and intervene in it. The spokesman said it was "obvious to every opinion holder" that every action had to be taken to avoid desecrating the dignity of the dead and treating them with contempt, as well as to avoid harming the feelings of their families.