Bones of Jerusalem Dead Rattle Even the Haredim of New York
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Bones of Jerusalem Dead Rattle Even the Haredim of New York

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The battle over ancient burial caves in northern Jerusalem has now reached Israeli Cabinet level and overflowed to the streets of New York.

The brouhaha continued Wednesday as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was trying to find a way to build a much-needed highway in Jerusalem while satisfying fervently Orthodox Jews, or haredim, over the disposition of 2,000- year-old bones that were found buried in caves along its route.

In New York, an estimated 20,000 haredim stood in pouring rain outside the Israeli Consulate on Wednesday afternoon to condemn an Israeli government that “desecrates our holy gravesites.”

They heard speeches denouncing Israel from Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, rabbi of the anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidic sect, among others.

“Let our sages rest in peace,” read placards carried by the demonstrators, whose march across Manhattan’s busy 42nd Street, from Fifth Avenue to Second Avenue, caused massive traffic backups.

Motorists watched more in curiosity than impatience as the demonstrators, mostly men in long black coats, filed by carrying coffins shrouded in black.

In Jerusalem, the High Court of Justice banned work at the disputed site pending hearings Sunday on an application filed by Athra Kadisha, the society for preserving Jewish burial sites.

Athra Kadisha wants the court to order the city and the Israel Antiquities Authority to show cause why work should not be halted at the site.

The Antiquities Authority is interested in the ossuaries in which the bones were found, which contain vital information about Jewish burial practices at the time of the Second Temple.

Archaeologists haredim and municipal authorities all have their own agenda for the ancient bones.

Archaeologists had been called in to carry out a legally mandated rescue dig after road workers stumbled on the Second Temple period burial caves.

Prime Minister Rabin has had to bear in mind the sensibilities of one of his two coalition partners, the fervently Orthodox Shas party, as the debate over the bones intensified. He appointed a ministerial committee to seek a compromise to the deadlock.

But his intervention triggered an angry response from Mayor Teddy Kollek, who said there is no solution for the residents of the city’s northern suburbs other than to build the road as planned.

Well-placed sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Rabin’s intervention came at the behest of Shas spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The revered rabbi, although hospitalized with pneumonia, telephoned the premier and urged him to act after an estimated 40,000 haredim demonstrated at the site on Monday, led by the Hasidic rebbe of Ger, Pinchas Menachem Alter, as well as a noted religious legal authority, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman-Auerbach.

(Contributing to this report was JTA student intern Lainie Blum-Cogan in New York.)

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