Reburying the dead
Reburying the deadCourtesy of the Jewish Community of Rome

In the new "Primforta" cemetery, the remains of 38 Jews taken out of their graves during an Italian Antiquities Authority operation were re-buried in a small ceremony on Tuesday near the cemetery's first gate.

The remains were disinterred after the Antiquities Authority began digging in an area intended for commercial use, and found a medieval Jewish cemetery.

Participating in the ceremony was burial society member Rabbi Roberto De Sianni and Israeli volunteers Rabbi Shmaya Levi, Rabbi Hizkiayhu Kalmanovitch, and antiquities preservation expert Amir Janah.

"This is a huge lesson to the nations of the world," Rome Rabbi Shmuel De Sianni. "It shows them how Jews respect people, from the moment they are born until after they die.

"I thank the Antiquities Authority for their cooperation, which began the moment they discovered the remains. I hope we will continue to work together in the future.

"The location where these remains were found was known to us to be a cemetery used several hundred years ago. Tradition says we stopped burying people there approximately 370 years ago, and ownership of the land was transferred to the Italian government 140 years ago. Following this, buildings were built on top of the cemetery.

"Two years ago, a project to expand the existing building was started, and the resulting excavations revealed archaeological findings which forced the excavators to call in the Antiquities Authority. These archaeologists found remnants from the Roman period, and above those, they found human remains. There were no gravestones, just a tiny piece of stone on which the word 'kan' was written.

"The moment we found out, we notified the Antiquities Authority, which ordered us to immediately transfer and reinter the remains. The work and logistics required to identify all the remains took a long time, and today we are happy to have brought the remains of these Jews to an eternal rest, honorably, with apologies for disrupting them, and in accordance with Jewish law."

Rabbi Shmuel De Sianni, who supervised the process, also serves as Vice President for the Conference of European Rabbis.

Just under two weeks ago, Italian archaeologists found 38 Jewish graves from the 14th to 17th centuries arranged in rows, during excavations conducted prior to renovating an insurance company's headquarters.

The graves, which were part of the lost medieval Campus Iudeorum cemetery, were identified as Jewish when the archaeologists recognized the Hebrew word "kan" (literally, "here") on one of the stones.

In 1625, Pope Urbanus VIII ordered that Jews be buried under unmarked gravestones only. He also ordered existing gravestones to be removed or destroyed. During the same period, Italy's Jews suffered persecution and were forced to wear special markers identifying them as Jews. They were also forced to participate in ceremonies intended to convert them to Christianity.