by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths
I spend the evening in an ultra-orthodox section of Jerusalem. Upon entering the neighborhood I saw one large green trash dumpster that had been overturned in one lane of the street...
Other than that, everything was perfectly normal. I asked the people I was visiting what the dumpster was about, they said there were some protesters about the grave situation in Ashkelon. Here's what they explained to me (with my interpretation and explanation added):
The Jewish religion gives great respect to the body, during life and after death. A burial place is to be respected and protected. Further, at the spiritual level, one of the five levels of the soul remains connected to the burial site (which is why it's a special location to make a connection with the deceased person). And, a burial site also is a source of a certain form of spiritual impurity - such that a kohein (the Jewish priestly caste) can not pass over such a site.
Given all these things, Jewish tradition strongly protects grave sites perpetually.
During World War II, the Nazi's (y"m) intentionally destroyed a large number of historical Jewish cemeteries throughout Europe. Following World War II, the communist countries further had little respect for cemeteries, should a road or other building project need the space. The struggle to protect Jewish cemeteries has been long and not particularly successful. And in many cases we're not talking long historical graves, we're talking even ones from just before the war (people's parents or grandparents). It's been painful.
In Ashkelon, an ancient grave site was found as they expanded the emergency service wing of the local hospital. The ultra-orthodox would like respect and sensitivity shown to the grave site, and the expansion to be redesigned to avoid the graves. The government neither wants to spend the significant extra money required nor spend the significant extra time that would be required, particularly in an area that falls under Hamas rocket fire and needs a missile hardened emergency services center as soon as possible.
Who's right? In this case even Jewish religion allows that the living have priority over the dead, and given the need for the emergency center and need for a hardened facility religious law would side with moving the graves quickly and building as soon as possible.
BUT the religious argue that this nuance will be lost on those looking in from the outside. And therefore making this practical religious decision here will lead to hundreds of Jewish cemeteries and holy grave sites in Europe to be put at risk. After all, if it's ok to move a cemetery in Israel for public works, why not pave over the cemetery of the Maharal of Prague or the Vilna Gaon if the nearby street needs widening?
That's the argument. Practically, I didn't see much going on. I think the news is hyping it up.
BS"D - בסיעתא דשמיא