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Chief Rabbis Permit Exhumation - If No Jews Remain

Israel's Chief Rabbis permit the exhumation of the 48 bodies buried in Gush Katif - but only if "no Jewish residents remain and the experts feel that the graves will be vandalized by our enemies."
First Publish: 6/15/2005, 2:46 PM / Last Update: 6/15/2005, 5:05 PM


In a letter to Ilan Cohen, Director-General of the Prime Minister's Bureau, Rabbis Amar and Metzger write that in principle, it is forbidden to exhume a body - unless the exhumation is done for the "honor of the dead."

"In this case, however," the rabbis write, "where the chance exists that the [enemy] will abuse the dead and will vandalize their graves, in the event that the plan is implemented and the graves are left alone, Heaven forbid - it is clear and simple that it would be a matter of respect for the dead to take them to another place where they may rest in peace, and will not be given to abuse, Heaven forbid."

The rabbis emphasize that this should be done with the full cooperation and consent of the families. They also make clear that no graves may be exhumed while Jews still live in Gaza - as opposed to the opinion of some in the government who proposed that the bodies be removed before the actual disengagement.

Rabbis Amar and Metzger raise the proposal that the dead should be re-interred in the ancient Mt. of Olives cemetery, opposite the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Moshe Tzuriel, author of many Jewish-legal works and formerly of Yeshivat Shaalvim, expressed his opposition to the ruling. Speaking with Arutz-7 today, he said that the fear that gravestones may be vandalized does not justify removing the bodies. "We have seen on Mt. of Olives and in Hevron before 1967, that the Arabs do not desecrate the bodies, but only the gravestones," he said.

"Furthermore," Rabbi Tzuriel said, "whether the families agree or not does not change the prohibition of exhuming bodies. We see that there are many Jewish cemeteries in foreign and Arab countries, and there is no immediate demand to bring the bodies here... The rabbis should have simply said outright: The uprooting is forbidden, period, and the exhumation as well."

Rabbis Amar and Metzger begin their letter with, "First of all, we wish to clarify that we are not discussing the issue of the disengagement at all, and certainly that which we write below is not an expression of opinion on this matter, Heaven forbid... This is a matter of sharp dispute among the military and political experts, and we don't see ourselves as worthy to express an opinion on it... but we call upon the public to pray before G-d to save us and save our forefathers' inheritance, with salvation and mercy."

Gush Katif spokesman Eran Sternberg responded with disappointment to the rabbis' ruling. He said, "In the framework of the collapse of the various institutions of the regime in the country, the Chief Rabbinate has now fallen like another domino in the general downfall of the Knesset, the government, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, and more."