Queries & Comments
Fake or Legit?
I once edited a school newspaper. When things got dull I would sometimes make up funny or outrageous letters to the editor. Do you promise that all of yours are actually letters you have received? Or are you pulling a schoolkid trick on us?
Stuart D. Robertson
West Lafayette, Indiana
Scout’s honor—all the letters are authentic. We couldn’t make up some of them even if we tried.—Ed.
Christian Archaeology Magazine Needed
I have received two issues and really enjoy what I read when it is not insulting to my beliefs. I have come to the conclusion, however, that this magazine is going to make me more angry than enlightened because besides attacking what I know as Biblical truth, your authors seem to attack Jesus himself. So, as so many others have done, I am canceling my subscription. Maybe what we need is a Christian archaeology magazine that will not attack my Christian beliefs.
Evangelical Pastor on BAR
You seem to receive so many negative letters from evangelical Christians, I felt compelled to write from the other side. Yes, I am an evangelical pastor. I affirm the inerrancy of Holy Scripture and all the other theological presuppositions that are part of my stream of Christian thinking. At the same time, I read (and have read for many years) BAR, and I must say that I enjoy it immensely. It embarrasses me that people from my own sector of Christianity are so theologically thin-skinned that they cannot encounter opposing ideas without feeling threatened. The person who only can read what he/she already agrees with must surely be intellectually insecure. If St. Paul had no hesitancy in placing his beliefs in the marketplace of ideas among the Jewish and Greco-Roman communities of the first century, both maintaining his own beliefs while showing respect, if not agreement, with theirs, we should be able to do no less.
I will continue to read BAR. It enriches my understanding of the Bible; it assists me in keeping abreast of academic issues that concern archaeologists and scholars; and it challenges my own assumptions. Thank you for wonderful articles each month from Jewish, Christian and other scholars, both those with whom I agree and those with whom I cannot.
Dan Lewis, Senior Pastor
Troy Christian Chapel
Succumbed to the Inevitable
For some time now I have been a sometimes loyal reader, occasionally purchasing BAR at the bookstore, more often perusing it at the library. I’ve longed for a “Franking Privilege” with the Xerox machine. In the absence of this, I must surrender to the inevitable and subscribe. The quality of the articles, the skill of the writers and the accuracy of which BAR is rightly proud all make yours a highly desired publication. Many articles in BAR are more than pure academic writing; you bring the strong and weak qualities of the researchers to the forefront.
W. B. “Bill” McCaslin
Can You Read This?
BAR type size has become small enough to be a challenge to read. In the September/October issue, look, for example, on page 15, “Hershel Shanks responds.” Can you read this very small, light italic type set in lines too long for readability? Or look at page 22—a full page of small, lightweight condensed type overprinted on a yellow ochre background. Can you read this? Would you waste your time trying to?
Two national publications, the Sunday supplement Parade and AARP’s Modern Maturity began 1996 with the same kind of graphics, designed to eliminate reading. 010As of October virtually all of this hyperventilated art school nonsense is gone and the publications are once again readable.
Every so often publishers are sold a bill of goods to the effect that the publication needs to become “modern,” where “modern” means artsy layouts that sacrifice readability. Readers slowly sign off.
I have been a very long term subscriber, but I will not be renewing. I have no interest in being a visual audience for first-year art-school look-how-clever-I-am graphics. I subscribed to BAR for content, and I want to be able to read the content.
Charles M. Todaro
Thanks to the “Volunteers Wanted” article in the January/February 1996 BAR issue (see “Focus on Digs,” BAR 22:01), I’ve just returned from the adventure of a lifetime: six and a half weeks on the Tall al-‘Umayri project with Dr. Larry G. Herr and at least 60 other archaeology fanatics. Where else could one get up at 4 a.m., eat a porridge and flatbread breakfast, dig dirt and rocks for seven hours in temperatures reaching 107° F, return to a cold shower, wash pottery fragments, study Arabic and have lectures by some of the biggest names in the business? I can hardly wait for next year’s dig issue.
Donald G. Mook
Here it is. Even though the Tall al-‘Umayri excavation will not be digging this summer, you can still choose from plenty of other digs. Turn to “Any Time, Any Place: A Dig for Every Interest,” in this issue, to start making your plans.—Ed.
Where Do They Come From?
We agree with your position (“How to Stop Illegal Excavations,” BAR 22:05) that a government-sanctioned market in the sale of “low-end” antiquities is likely to reduce the incentives for both black market sales of low-end artifacts and some illegal excavations. However, we disagree that such a market would curb the destruction of archaeological sites.
Most people would agree that the overriding rational for archaeological resource protection policies, such as a barrier to trade in antiquities, is the conservation of knowledge about our past. All antiquities make some contribution to our total stock of knowledge. In your classification, and leaving aside questions of aesthetic value or political significance, “high-end” antiquities make a larger contribution than “low-end” ones. In economic terms, the value of the information contribution of a low-end object to the total stock of knowledge is 011small relative to the cost to society of preserving it. Thus it may make sense to relax barriers to trade in the low-end antiquities market so that, for example, more resources might be made available for the preservation of high-end antiquities.
At the end of your editorial, you imply that a beneficial side effect of a market in low-end antiquities will be the reduction of site looting. However, because there will be no sanctioned market in high-end antiquities, the incentives of finding them will remain. This will be true even if (or perhaps because) the discovery of high-end antiquities is fortuitous. Those who play the lottery or pick stocks exhibit the same kind of behavior.
Porter Hoagland and Nils Tongring
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Hershel Shanks responds:
Illegal diggers have little incentive to dig for high-end antiquities. This is simply because high-end antiquities are so rare as not to create much incentive. Rarely acknowledged or even discussed is that high-end antiquities—ostraca, seals, bullae—probably come from legal excavations. These high-end antiquities are pocketed—stolen—by workers before they are discovered by dig directors. High-end antiquities are also stolen from museums. All this is difficult to prove, but talk to people in the business and to field archaeologists. Or better yet, ask yourself where things like the ivory pomegranate from Solomon’s Templea or the hoard of bullae that included a seal impression of the prophet Jeremiah’s scribe came from.b Do you think things like this, which surfaced on the antiquities market, came from an illegal excavation? Or is it more likely that they—and other high-end antiquities from the Holy Land—were stolen from a Jerusalem dig?
Flood the Market with Forgeries
Selling copies of small duplicate items is not going to stop the trade in rare and significant artifacts and, I think, sends the wrong message anyway. Let’s try and figure out a way to educate more people about the real value of an ancient site, the part that cannot be duplicated—the information!
Perhaps we should flood the market with fakes so that it becomes too difficult to separate the real from the forged. Maybe then people would realize that without the provenance information they are only buying aesthetics.
I hope you continue to present alternative and controversial viewpoints. I’ll try and let you know when I think the horse is already dead.
A Reward for Reporting New Sites
I agree with your editorial comments about the sale of common ancient artifacts. However, there is one modification that I believe would make the plan you outlined even stronger.
Many of the looters do so because looting provides them with more income than other sources or, in some cases, because it’s their only source of income. Drying up the low-end illegal artifacts market will, for many looters, mean an economic crisis. This crisis may force some of these people to look harder and to destroy more archaeological sites in an effort to find antiquities that would feed the high-end market.
However, a portion of the money from the governmental sale of ancient artifacts should be set aside to pay a reward for reporting the location of sites that have not been subject to modern looting. This further reduces the incentive for looting. In other words, pay the (former) looter a reward for reporting new archaeological sites to the appropriate authorities.
Richard F. Daley
Milton Freewater, Oregon
Include the Old Finds, Too
Congratulations! You’ve finally come out for government sales of artifacts, and a compelling case it is.
While you fend off the outraged protests, may I suggest that you deal equally boldly with the other and equally important aspect of the problem: the resale of artifacts already in private collections. If you were to advocate that the government also become the buyer and seller (or licenser of sales) of artifacts now on the open market, you would complete the process. Such a policy would mean that the goals advocated in my letter printed in your July/August 1996 issue would be realizable: government supervision of artifacts, from old and new collections, institutional and private, rare and common (Queries & Comments, BAR 22:04). Without this policy, government sales would be in competition with private sales of existing collections of antiquities, to which the more unscrupulous dealers would add newly dug artifacts.
License the old finds as well as the new.
Edward Von der Porten
San Francisco, California
Circulate the Artifacts
Your recent article concerning a possible means for preventing illegal excavations is not a new idea, but one that seems to elicit a plethora of emotions. I still remember the first and only time I asked about a similar concept while working on my first excavation. During a break, the staff and volunteers were sitting around discussing possible means of obtaining support for the excavation and the sponsoring museum. Since I had seen the large collection of common pottery, lithics and other artifacts contained in the sponsoring museum’s collection, I innocently asked why the museum did not just sell those artifacts, which they had in abundance. What a tongue-lashing I received from the senior archaeologist! I quickly dropped the subject.
It seems to me that your proposal should, at least, be looked into. If it is, I would recommend a few additional criteria concerning the purchaser. First, I would recommend that the purchaser is able to prove that he can properly safeguard the artifact. This does not mean an elaborate 015display, complete with electronic devices to prevent robbery, but rather appropriate environmental and storage conditions required to ensure the safety and longevity of the artifact. Second, I would recommend that the purchaser be willing to allow approved scholars access to the purchased artifact at appropriate times. Finally, I would recommend that the purchaser also be required to provide annual written reports stating the artifact’s condition, which scholars examined the artifact and any other appropriate information.
What I really like about the proposal is that it would get the artifacts out of the collection bins in museums and into the hands of interested people in the community. This might also have the added bonus of increasing the interest in archaeology in general.
I also have an additional recommendation concerning museum artifacts. Why not lease curated artifacts that are not on display to people who have a desire to display them in their private homes and or offices. I know this has been done for some of the more exotic artifacts, but why not the common artifacts as well? This could raise needed funds for continued research and excavations.
BAS should convene a conference on these topics, develop a working document describing how the process would work and then get museums interested in using the plan. This proposal’s time has come.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Reclaiming the Feminine
I appreciate William Dever’s acknowledgment of the existence of the goddess Asherah (“Is the Bible Right After All?” BAR 22:05).
Dever also says, “We ought to expand on the idea of Asherah as a consort.” What we should expand on is the recognition that the people in the land of Canaan honored the creator in the feminine form for many centuries and chose sacred groves on the hilltops as a place to express their reverence for the earth’s bounty. To classify Her only as a “consort” is to repeat one of the ancient attempts to deny Her importance by making Her an appendage.
Iris J. Stewart
An important question was raised in the interview with Bill Dever: Why does the “enormous groundswell of popular interest 066in archaeology … not translate into new positions in seminaries or universities”?
The problem is that this “groundswell” breaks on what I call the “Church is for Children” philosophy at the parish level. The problem is that people do not want to think at an adult level about Bible-related issues as they pertain to the church. People who grow up in the church hear the well-interpreted Bible stories until they know them by heart, then leave the church when they become adults, only to return later to bring their children to hear the same stories interpreted in the same way. Alternative interpretations are heretical. Hence the interest Dever refers to is among the viewers of the Discovery Channel, A&E, TLC and the readers of the popular news magazines around Christmas and Easter and not necessarily among practicing Christians.
I’ve been a Christian for 36 years (equally divided between Southern and American Baptist churches), and it bothers me that we have so much trouble rising above the banal to pursue the kind of scholarship so excellently provided to us by publications like Bible Review and BAR. It’s worth the effort. Now I know not only what I believe, but why, and my faith is strengthened by the endeavor.
James R. Sandifer
Rochester, New York
Let’s Have More Examples
Your interview of William Dever was superb. I was particularly interested in the pym example Dever gave in the second part of the interview as one of the many “convergences” he has found over the years between the Bible and archaeological evidence. How I would like to read in depth about all “hundred examples”! What a shame it would be if Mr. Dever never got around to sharing all of these “convergences” with the public. I hope you will encourage him to publish his “convergences” in BAR in the very near future.
George L. Bailey
That Sinking Feeling Is OK
“There is one problem with the theory” that a balsam-manufacturing plant has been found at Ein Gedi, you write (“The Balm of Gilead,” Strata, BAR 22:05). The problem, you say, is that balsam is heavier than water and would sink instead of rise to the top, where it would be collected. “If [excavator] Hirschfeld is right about the process of producing the oil, then he may be wrong about its being balsam,” you conclude.
I am no expert on balm production at Ein Gedi, but it does not seem to me to be an insuperable obstacle that the balsam would sink to the bottom rather than run out the channel at the top of the tank into the vat outside. If the production problem is the separation of two liquids, one heavier than the other, what difference does it make which is on top? They will still be separated.
In fact, it would make a lot of sense to keep the very precious oil inside a place “built like Fort Knox” and let the vastly less valuable water run out. Further, while the oil was being collected (a process that might well take a considerable time), the layer of water on top of the oil would seal it from the air, preventing loss by evaporation of the very volatile elements that give it its worth.
Yizhar Hirschfeld responds:
Don Martin has raised a good point. In fact, this matter is going to be a subject of research by one of the Ein Gedi expedition staff members. Similar installations at sites around the Dead Sea, such as Jericho, Qumran and Ein Feshkha, and sites in southern Arabia will be compared to that at Ein Gedi. We hope to have more information in the coming season of excavation at the site (January 1997). We welcome interested volunteers and visitors.
A Fragrant Text
Yizhar Hirschfeld’s discovery of the tower in Ein Gedi sheds light on a somewhat more obscure passage in the Song of Songs, which may in turn confirm Hirschfeld’s identification of the tower as a site for balsam production.
Song of Songs 5:13 describes the face of the lover and uses the phrase “migdlot merkahim.” “Migdlot” is the plural of “migdal,” Hebrew for “tower.” The word “merkahim” is derived from the root “rkh,” whose principal meaning in the Bible is mixing fragrances. (See, for instance, Exodus 30:25, 30:35, 37:29, and also 1 Chronicles 9:30). “Migdlot merkahim” could thus be rendered as “towers of fragrances” or “towers for mixing fragrances.”
This interpretation is even more appealing given the strong association between Ein Gedi, the Song of Songs and fragrances. Of the six references to Ein Gedi in the Bible, one occurs in the short Song of Songs, and the various fragrances (“mor”-myrrh, “bosem”-balsam, “levona”-labdanum [?] and others) appear numerous times in the Song of Songs, as perfume, love potions, etc. (In fact, three fragrances are mentioned in the very same verse [5:13] that refers to the towers.) The scents and perfumes for which Ein Gedi was famous are a key ingredient in the sensuous atmosphere pervading the Song of Songs—no wonder the rabbis of old attributed such aphrodisiac qualities to them.
The discovery of eight dog skeletons by Dr. Helen Sader of the American University in Beirut in a late Persian context in central Beirut is an exciting find (“The Phoenicians’ Best Friend?” Strata, BAR 22:05). However, we would like to comment on some statements that appear in your report. Chemical analysis cannot be used to determine the species of dog in question because only one domestic species of dog exists, Canis familiaris. DNA studies may be used to determine degrees of relatedness to past and modern dog varieties as soon as genetic profiles for the latter have been constructed. Until then, gross morphological analysis and comparison to past and present dog skeletons will remain a standard method to identify physical types. We discuss this in detail in our analysis of the Ashkelon dog material in “Pampered Pooches or Plain Pariahs? The Ashkelon Dog Burials” (Biblical Archaeologist, 56/2 , pp. 55–80).
The Ashkelon burials do not number 1,000 carcasses, that is to say, individual dogs. Many of the burials were incomplete, having been disturbed by subsequent burials. In these cases, only partial skeletons or a few bones at best are preserved, which may or may not represent a single animal. Presently there are more than 1,700 “dog finds,” a number that will probably decrease 20–30 percent once all of the skeletons are studied and the phasing worked out.
Additionally, we think the word cemetery is being misused; it connotes a bounded space set aside for interment of the dead. Persian period deposits occurred in three large, separate fields at Ashkelon; all these areas contained dog burials. This dispersal of the burials precludes them from being characterized as a cemetery.
In the Beirut example, eight individuals hardly comprise a cemetery, though it is similar in size to the collection recently recovered from a site near Ben Gurion Airport.
There are not a few instances of dog burials in the Syro-Palestinian and greater Mesopotamian regions that we discuss in our article. Only the huge accumulations of mummified remains found in Egypt in Hellenistic and later contexts are anywhere near the scale of the Ashkelon phenomenon.
Historical reconstructions of why the dogs were buried, including Professor Stager’s proposal involving the animal’s curative powers as avatars of Phoenician gods of healing, do not account for the specific archaeological patterns presented by the burials—the age of the animals, the casual abuse they suffered while alive, the lack of concern for previously interred individuals, the absence of litters when so many individual puppies are present, the association or disassociation from monumental architecture, and the presence or absence of grave accompaniments, to name a few. Until these empirical facts are more satisfactorily explained, historical overlays only act to confuse the issue, making it all the more difficult to integrate texts and archaeology.
Paula Wapnish and Brian Hesse
University of Alabama
The Battle Over Bones: An Exchange
We Cannot Cave In to Fanatics
As one who has been actively involved in the struggle between the ultra-Orthodox and the anthropological community over the issue of human skeletal remains, the recent article in BAR (“Death Knell for Israel Archaeology,” BAR 22:05) is, in my opinion, the best treatment of the subject in years. The article is well balanced and exposes the fanatical extremism on the part of the ultra-Orthodox.
Several years ago I approached a well-known and respected Orthodox Jewish physician in hopes of gaining his support in our efforts to examine, before reburial, human skeletal remains for research on ancient disease. This research is widely supported by the medical community because it gives us an opportunity to determine if diseases of the present appeared in antiquity. The physician replied that he strongly supports our efforts, which in the long run can be beneficial to humankind; however, as his son was studying in a haredi [ultra-Orthodox] yeshiva, such a position would result in expulsion and/or ostracism for years to come. He was unable to come out in public in support of our research.
Two significant issues that were not addressed are the cynical rulings of the ultra-Orthodox whereby non-Jewish skeletal remains suddenly become “Jewish” for political reasons. A case in point is the tomb in Mamilla road, which contained thousands of skeletons of Christians who had been massacred in 614 A.D. by the Persians (see Ronny Reich, “God Knows Their Names,” BAR 22:02). For political reasons, the tomb, adjacent to a Byzantine church and having a large cross on the lintel, was deemed “Jewish.” The ultra-Orthodox fomented a violent confrontation over the issue. The remains were given a Jewish burial.
The other issue is the rampant cynicism when human remains are accidentally uncovered in areas that are slated for haredi housing, as in the newly constructed housing development north of Jerusalem. Tombs were accidentally discovered with Jewish ossuaries; the ultra-Orthodox deemed it convenient to ignore this issue, as it might delay their housing project.
Humans have been in this small country for 1.4 million years. If one were to calculate the number of people who have lived and died on this small piece of land, one must conclude that there simply is not enough land to accommodate all of those who have died here. Tombs and human remains are found unexpectedly everywhere. If one were to live by the fanatical rulings of the ultra-Orthodox, then all construction in this country would stop, lest we “disturb” another grave.
What is occurring now is that building contractors, not wanting to incur the wrath of the ultra-Orthodox, simply destroy tombs. The loss to archaeological, anthropological and medical research, not to mention the dignity of those buried there, is incalculable.
Curator of Anthropology/Archaeology
Israel Antiquities Authority
“Ultra-Orthodox” Is Like the “N” Word
Having read your article “Death Knell for Israel Archaeology?” I can’t help but have mixed emotions about the topic. Your general conclusions are not unreasoned and not without some merit, but your thinking employed some stereotyping and disingenuous language.
As someone who is Orthodox, I can tell you that labels such as “ultra-Orthodox” are not intended to be descriptive, but prejudicial. As any dictionary will explain, “ultra” implies extreme and beyond the pale of acceptance. This term is used by those trying to isolate and demonize not just their stated targets but all observant (i.e., Orthodox) Jews. It has become the modern equivalent of the “N” word for African Americans, but far more respectable. I did not see the term “ultra-secularist” used anywhere.
You seem unfazed by Orthodoxy’s requirement that bones be handed over immediately rather than handled in ways that are considered disrespectful. For one, I do not want my ancestors’ bones broken, sampled, chemically treated or worse. I do not think you would want such official desecration, either.
This is the crux of the problem. The process of archaeology is held as “pure,” scientific and unassailable. Scientists are no less “impure” than others with motives of publishing, investing, gaining fame, etc. What price desecration, intended or otherwise? And who should decide—secular scientists or the religious?
If the unique circumstances in Israel (a nation defined by the Bible and not by a constitution) require different levels of sensitivity by archaeologists, so be it.
Why not convene a board of Orthodox rabbis (the other Jewish movements are usually not interested in Jewish law) to work out a political-halakhic [relating to religious law] resolution. This board would ensure that the state properly buries the bones of our sainted ancestors and that needed expansion continues.
I pray I did not offend you personally; if so, you have my heartfelt apologies. But I am sick and tired of open-season Orthodox bashing. I will not cancel my subscription. I still gain much from your magazine (it is the best around). However, you owe an apology to all Orthodox people for casting us in such an unbalanced light.
East Windsor, New Jersey
Why Violence Occurs
Hershel Shanks errs in attributing the concern for Jewish graves only to Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Actually the issue is relevant to every Orthodox Jew. It’s just that the Ultra-Orthodox are willing to spearhead the fight.
The rabbis certainly don’t condone violence at demonstrations, but rather teach the ways of peace. But one must realize that in every large crowd there will be people whose tempers flare easily and whose emotions cannot be controlled, especially when provoked by police who show very little sensitivity or sympathy for religious concerns and who sometimes even use excessive force when trying to maintain order. When push comes to shove, people lose themselves and react emotionally. Indeed, it is undeniable that there are provocateurs among the demonstrators who come to promote violence. They are a small minority, however, and are condemned within the Orthodox community—even though Orthodox leaders refuse to accommodate their critics by playing the media game. While I go on record and clearly condemn any type of violence, I am not surprised to see extremists on both sides flying off the handle.
Please realize that religious Jews see no need at all for the study of these bones for historic or any other purpose, and therefore the tampering with them is absolutely forbidden except in special circumstances. We regard a body as sacred, and we are taught that the righteous are considered “alive” even after they pass away, for their spirit remains alive.
Historically, archaeologists have shown utter contempt and shameful disregard for the sanctity of bones. For them to have any jurisdiction over them, or to determine the proper halakhic status to be followed when they are discovered, is like asking the fox to 013guard the chicken coop. When archaeologists take them without proper rabbinic permission, they are no different than grave robbers trying to steal our own parents’ bones in the dead of night.
Can you condemn observant Jews when they lose their cool?
Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum
Director, Torah Communications Network
Brooklyn, New York
Asra Kadisha Peaceful—With Very Few Exceptions
As the author of the two pieces in Jewish Action that you so heavily rely upon in your discussion of gravesite excavations in Israel, I feel constrained to add some corrective comments.
While your article on excavations makes some interesting points, it most assuredly is not only the “ultra-Orthodox” who oppose disinterment of bones. Although some individual rabbis in the “Religious-Zionist” camp do adopt a somewhat more lenient position, many eminent rabbis and scholars from all sides of the Orthodox spectrum have sharply condemned gravesite excavation and have supported the Asra Kadisha’s goals, which, with very few exceptions, have been peacefully pursued. Your statement that no religious law forbids the excavation of graves is false. Chapter 363 of Shulchan Aruch, Yore De’ah, the authoritative code of Jewish law is captioned “The Prohibition of Removing a Corpse or Bones from Its Place.” This law may indeed be subject to some qualifications and exceptions in order to prevent a greater desecration of the corpse, but in the absence of extenuating circumstances, the halakhic prohibition is explicit, not merely inferable from a general rule against desecration.
I also want to make clear, for the benefit of your readers who have not seen my Jewish Action article, that while you have every right to use the sources I cite to make what you term “a very strong case” that “excavation of gravesites is often not only permitted but required by halakhah,” that is your case, not mine. Indeed, the whole tenor of my Jewish Action piece runs in the opposite direction.
As an excellent attorney, you devised a hypothetical case in which I conceded that if the only alternative to removal and reburial would be to destroy or discard the bones, the former would be halakhically preferable. Agreed. This, however, does not in any way derogate from the religious and moral obligation to find a third alternative: letting the bones and souls of our ancestors rest in peace, even at the expense of some archaeological and/or commercial development.
Finally, Amir Drori’s linkage of the Asra Kadisha to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin is a totally unwarranted ad hominem attack that is deeply offensive and hurtful to myself and thousands of other halakhically committed Jews who condemn and abhor violence but who also oppose the desecration of ancient burial sites.
Yitzchok A. Breitowitz
Associate Professor of Law
University of Maryland
Hershel Shanks responds:
Rabbi Breitowitz says that “with very few exceptions,” the Asra Kadisha has pursued its goals “peacefully.” He thus admits that the Asra Kadisha sometimes pursues its goals other than “peacefully”; that is to say, by violence.
This comes as no surprise. This is the same crowd that throws rocks at passing cars on Shabbat (Saturday). These are the people who spit on women who haplessly walk into the wrong neighborhood wearing sleeveless dresses in August.
Their violence in connection with archaeological excavations was extensively described in a letter from the director of Israel’s Antiquities Authority, quoted at length in my article, and is pictured on p. 49, where the ultra-Orthodox are violently clashing with police at an archaeological site.
As the letter from Joe Zias of the Israel Antiquities Authority documents, the ultra-Orthodox have even been violent when the graves are clearly not Jewish, although supposedly they are concerned only with Jewish graves.
Unfortunately, none of the Orthodox supporters of Asra Kadisha in the United States have condemned this violence. Alas, Rabbi Breitowitz observes only that it occurs in “very few” cases. We may disagree on how widespread the violence is, but shouldn’t it be condemned even if it occurs in only “very few” cases?
As to Jewish law (halakhah), I really do not see any disagreement between Rabbi Breitowitz and myself. He likes to put the law on the subject in two sentences: (1) The law prohibits disinterment. (2) Exception: Where the bones would be destroyed or discarded, reburial is permitted.
I simply stress a single sentence because that is what is applicable here: If there is a significant possibility that the bones will be desecrated, reinterment is permitted.
If Rabbi Breitowitz will admit that I am correctly stating (or restating) the law, then the only question is a factual one: whether there is a significant possibility of desecration unless reinterment occurs. Rabbi Breitowitz does not address this question. Instead, he suggests a third alternative: Let the bones “rest in peace, even at the expense of some archaeological and/or commercial development.”
But Rabbi Breitowitz fails to consider whether this third alternative is a practical one—unless he means to suggest stopping all archaeological activity and all commercial development. As I stated in my article (and as Joe Zias confirms in his letter), bones (graves) are almost always encountered accidentally. The question is what to do then. Once they are encountered in an archaeological excavation, the word inevitably gets out, and the graves become subject to vandalism. In the case of commercial development, if the developers know that their development will be permanently stopped, they simply bulldoze the graves, throwing the bones hither and yon, to avoid the consequences of notifying the authorities. These are the incontestable facts. Does Rabbi Breitowitz doubt that there is a significant chance that, unless reinterment occurs, many of these graves will be vandalized?
Rabbi Breitowitz states that it is not only the ultra-Orthodox who oppose disinterment and reburial, implying that mainstream Orthodoxy is also opposed. Since the publication of my article, however, considerable resentment has been expressed in the modern Orthodox community that their official institutions in this country have been enlisted in this cause without adequate consultation and consideration. Some have also questioned whether an American congressman (Rep. Ben Gillman [R-NY]) should be sending an emissary to Israel to report to him on the situation. The basic problem is that the modern Orthodox community in this country has never had the true dimensions of the problem and an analysis of the issues presented to them. And, sadly, Rabbi Breitowitz, too, seems to be resisting this.
Finally, contrary to what Rabbi Breitowitz claims, Israel Antiquities Authority director Amir Drori did not link the Asra Kadisha to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The man who did do this is none other than Congressman Gillman’s emissary, American Rabbi Ronald Greenwald. It was Rabbi Greenwald who took the occasion of Rabin’s assassination to attempt to link the assassination to the Asra Kadisha’s position on the excavation of graves. Rabbi Greenwald, gratuitously and falsely, wrote to Drori stating that the slain Rabin would have supported the Asra Kadisha’s position. Drori simply responded to Rabbi Greenwald—and in no uncertain terms. I believe, on this point, Rabbi Breitowitz owes Amir Drori an apology—and so does Rabbi Greenwald.
A Note on Style
B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era), used by some of our authors, are the alternative designations for B.C. and A.D. often used in scholarly literature.
Fake or Legit?
I once edited a school newspaper. When things got dull I would sometimes make up funny or outrageous letters to the editor. Do you promise that all of yours are actually letters you have received? Or are you pulling a schoolkid trick on us?