Biblical Archaeology Review 23:6, November/December 1997
Battle Over Bones

Politics—Not Religious Law—Rules Ultra-Orthodox Demonstrators

By Gabriel Barkay

Political power, not religious law, motivates the ultra-Orthodox in Israel who violently protest archaeological excavations, claiming that ancient Jewish graves are being desecrated.

Jewish religious law (halakhah) does not prohibit moving tombs, if it is done with dignity and respect. The sages were well aware of the necessity to relocate graves and their contents, as tombs are found everywhere in this continuously and heavily populated country. The Talmud even tells us about a skull that was found on the Temple Mount itself and then moved.1 Talmudic literature describes the great second-century rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai clearing the city of Tiberias of ancient tombs and purifying it.2

The talmudic sages understood that urban growth required the relocation of earlier tombs. Therefore, they said that every tomb may be exhumed and moved.3 Halakhically there is nothing against it.

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