Knesset Defers Action on City of David Excavation

The Knesset decided today to refer the issue of the two Chief Rabbis’ ban on further excavations at the City of David to the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. The debate, for which the Knesset was called back into special session during its summer recess, was remarkably quiet and short, unlike the controversy over the last few weeks between the religious and scientific communities.

Labor Alignment spokesmen said they feared the ruling by the Chief Rabbis, based on the contention that there are ancient Jewish cemeteries at the site but disputed by archaeologists and academics, heralded an assault by the religious leaders on scientific inquiry.

Education Minister Zevulun Hammer appealed for restraint and compromise. He said he was against any interference with archaeology in Israel, which was helping Israel discover its roots and lend additional support for Israel’s return to its historic homeland.

RABBINICAL COUNCIL WANTS TO HALT DIG

While the Knesset was discussing the City of David dig, the Chief Rabbinical Council was in session to discuss the same issue. The Council announced that it was urging the government to halt all excavations there immediately, remove the archaeologists from the site, cancel the excavation license and officially declare the entire southern slope of the Temple Mount and ancient Jewish cemetery now in the hands of the chief rabbinate.

Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren told Israel Radio after the meeting that yesterday’s press conference in Jerusalem by distinguished academics “made me somewhat skeptical about modern scientific and academic research.” The academics presented documents, with texts and maps to shore up their contention that there were no Jewish graves at the dig site.

Goren brought politics into the issue by saying he was sure that Hammer, a leading member of the National Religious Party, would obey his religious injunctions as he represented the religious community “who are the only ones to have voted for him.”

Hammer’s reaction to the Chief Rabbi’s instruction to him to withdraw the City of David excavation license and halt work there at once was to say he would immediately ask the Attorney General for a ruling on who gives orders for such matters. Pending the Attorney General’s reply, he would take no action in the matter Hammer said.

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