Hundreds of Rabbis and concerned citizens will rally Monday at the Swiss mission to the United Nations, pleading to cancel plans to exhume a medieval Jewish cemetery in Zurich, as part of the expansion of the Kunsthaus museum.
According to the government’s own assessment, the ongoing expansion directly threatens the cemetery, a sacred Jewish heritage site. In letters to the Swiss and Zurich authorities, and in meetings with the Swiss representatives in New York, London and Tel Aviv, Jewish communities appealed to halt the ongoing desecration of the cemetery. The United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad also appealed to the Swiss government to stop the ongoing excavation. It was pointed out that the engineering plans can be amended to allow for graves to remain intact without interfering with the expansion of the Kunsthaus.
“International law, human rights, property and religious rights dictate that a cemetery should be preserved and protected there,” said Dr. Bernard Fryshman, of the Conference of Academicians for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries. “We are shocked that an enlightened nation such as Switzerland intends to violate those rights, and to desecrate our precious and revered heritage. We hope that our pleas will be heard, and the Swiss government will not cause this terrible anguish to the Jewish people.”
The prohibition against moving graves is ingrained in Talmudic law. 78 leading European Rabbis issued a decree stressing how serious a violation the removal of graves is. The impending uprooting of this cemetery is especially hurtful, given the history and sanctity of the site, which dates back over 600 years and is known to be the resting place of great sages – most prominently, some accounts have it, one of the jurist Rabbi Moshe of Zurich, of the authors of Tosefot, a major Talmudic commentary.
“This holy cemetery remains the heritage of the international Jewish community and concerns us all,” said Rabbi David Niederman, President of the United Jewish Organizations (UJO) of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn who met Swiss representatives in New York and London. “The Jewish community at large simply cannot remain silent in face of this holy site being destroyed.”
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