Tel Aviv (Aug. 9)
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren says he is prepared to shut down archaeology in Israel completely if there is a possibility that ancient Jewish graves may be disturbed. Police were forced to use tear gas last week to break up a demonstration by ultra-Orthodox Jews trying to disrupt a dig at the City of David site in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Goren said in an interview with Israel Radio, recorded Friday and broadcast yesterday, that he had not yet met an Israeli archaeologist who showed any sensitivity towards Jewish law and respect for the Jewish dead. Prof. Yigal Shilo, of the Hebrew University who is in charge of the City of David dig, angrily charged Goren and the religious establishment with using the matter for political purposes.
Goren said: “They don’t care about the bones — they care only about archaeology — if they can learn something about ancient times. But they do
not care about Jewish law about those graves.” Shilo rejected this charge as an unwarranted slur on the entire profession. “Do you think we are really grave robbers? Do you think we are just excavating grounds like these just to find bones and throw them to the dogs?” he asked. “If we find human bones, we deal with them according to law, but just because you might find bones, not to excavate at all?” The Department of Antiquities confirms that human bones found are always passed on to the religious authorities for reburial.
Goren says he stopped work at the City of David site because Shilo had broken a promise to have a rabbinical supervisor constantly at the site, even though he knew all bones had been removed from the area decades ago by other non-Israeli archaeologists. He said he feared that present work might spill over to a new site where graves might be found.
Shilo responded by saying he could not carry on his research work under such conditions. “An archaeological dig or site is not like a kosher hotel or restaurant, with a mashgiach,” he said. Shilo said he would continue his work at the site, for which he has received full government approval, and charged Goren with “ulterior motives” in trying to stop the work. “They have their own reasons for declaring this site as a cemetery. They are using a religious pretext to move in a political way,” Shilo said.
Asked if this might not mean the end of archaeological research in Israel, Goren replied, “This is their problem. A place where there is a chance of finding Jewish graves will not be touched without our orders — our regulations … even if this means stopping digging in Israel altogether.”