Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Trying to Resolve Crisis over Graves

Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Kolitz is trying to come up with a solution to the worsening crisis over 2,000-year-old Jewish graves that has pitted fervently Orthodox haredim against city officials trying to build a key overpass.

Kolitz visited the site at French Hill on Monday, viewed the half-dozen ancient burial caves uncovered so far and consulted with engineers and city officials.

“Of course we have to take account of the needs of the living,” Kolitz told reporters, referring to the daily traffic jams in the northern part of the city that should be relieved by the construction of an overpass at the controversial site.

“Otherwise there would be no problem,” he said. “But we have to find a way to do so without offending the honor of the dead.”

Informed sources said the rabbi wanted several days to study the issue.

A great many hopes are pinned on Kolitz reaching a solution acceptable both to residents of the northern suburbs of Neveh Ya’acov and Pisgat Ze’ev, who drive into town through the clogged arteries each day, and to Athra Kadisha, the haredi organization that specializes in protecting graveyards.

Mayor Teddy Kollek said Monday he was hoping for an amicable solution both at French Hill and at another potentially explosive site, the Mamilla project in the center of the city, where archaeologists say graves have been found belonging to Christians, not Jews.

Demonstrations of haredim took place at both sites this week, but on a relatively small scale. The rabbinical court of the fervently orthodox Eda Haredit has, however, ruled that the remains at French Hill be protected “by all means.”

On the other side, the Archaeological Association, in conjunction with the secularist organization Hemdat, has asked the High Court of Justice for an order against the Israel Antiquities Authority, aimed at preventing a future handover of ancient coffins for reburial. They said ossuaries and sarcophagi ought to go to museums.

Their action follows the Nov. 20 reinterment at a Jerusalem cemetery of 16 stone ossuaries found earlier at the French Hill site, when archaeologists carried out a rescue dig before work on the overpass.

Violent demonstrations by haredim and the defacement of the grave of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin prompted the government and the rabbinate to reach a compromiseover the sarcophagi.

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