Archaeologists on Monday unearthed two Second Temple burial caves in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood, triggering fears of renewed unrest in the haredi, or fervently Orthodox, community over profanation of the dead.
This latest find came less than a week after an earlier controversy surrounding such graves was resolved with the reinterment of bones and coffins as demanded by the haredim and Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Kolitz.
In his eulogy at the burial ceremony last Friday at Har Hamenuhot cemetery, Kolitz asked forgiveness from “our sainted forefathers,” the unknown persons whose bones and coffins were being unearthed and reinterred.
The controversy led last week to three straight nights of mass street violence in the Jerusalem haredi neighborhoods of Geula and Mea Shearim.
At issue was whether the sarcophagi would be buried with the bones within, as the rabbis insisted, or kept for scientific study, as the archaeologists demanded.
In the end, the head of the Israel Antiquities Department, reserve Lt. Amir Drori, gave in to strong political pressures. He was strongly criticized for doing so by the newspaper Ha’aretz as well as archaeologists.
Regarding the caves found Monday, the archaeologists said it is up to the municipality to decide whether an overpass planned for the area would be built over these caves. If the construction is to go forward, the Antiquities Department is required by law to excavate the area first. Another possibility would be to redesign the overpass, moving it away from the controversial area.
Meanwhile, residents of the outlying suburb of Pisgat Ze’ev have warned that any delay in building the overpass will trigger massive demonstrations by them, since they are adversely affected by constant rush-hour traffic jams in French Hill.
“The haredim aren’t the only ones who can demonstrate,” local activists warned.