Rav Avraham Froehlich, a member of the Vaad of Five dealing with the renovations at Kever Rashbi in Meron agreed to be interviewed by HaKol BaKol. Following are excerpts of the interview.
HB: Shalom to the representative of the Eida Chareidis on the Vaad of 5.
HB: Of late, we are witness to pressure in Meron, with workers carrying on renovations and the radicals are protesting. Police have arrested two, with one being an Eida representative to the site.
RF: Let me straighten out the facts here please. I am certain you will be pleased to hear what actually occurred.
HB: You are referring to incidents that are the result of the reality. Permit me to explain. There is necessity to explain to the tzibur what exactly is taking place so it is understood. The building in question is not just another antiquities site but it is the number one building in Eretz Yisrael. The kever is holy, the place next on line following the Kosel. It is the number 2 place in Israel in the number of visitors. The entire site is halachically defined as a cemetery, as has already been written in tens of halacha seforim.
I have one such p’sak halacha dating back 100 years discussing how they wished to accommodate wagons coming to the site from the Galil area. At that time, the rabbonim wrote the site is “chezkas beis kvuros”, halachically regarded as a cemetery, and therefore, the ground mustn’t be disturbed. The yid who had this p’sak halacha brought it to my attention, and now, the supervision must be that much more stringent.
More than this, it is simply forbidden to tamper with anything, but in reality, the community has grown and what sufficed decades ago is no longer sufficient due to the size of the tzibur of visitors. I am not exaggerating if I tell you that then, only about 5% of the number of visitors came to the site. If in the past ten visitors arrived daily, today we are taking thousands per day. Therefore, we are compelled to carry out renovations, but this must be done with maximum care since there are graves on the site. In addition, the building itself was according to tradition built by Rav Avraham Gallenta, about 300-350 years ago.
The base was during the time of the Ari, some 450 years ago. Nevertheless, Rav Gallenta was among the great mekubalim in Eretz Yisrael in his day. He was also extremely wealthy, and he built this building which according to tradition was intended to resemble the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash. First there is the courtyard when one enters but then it becomes increasingly narrow if one takes notice, and then one enters the Heichal of the Rashbi zy”a and R’ Eliezer zy”a.
We may not touch these things. We are not permitted to move a stone. Yes, we may plaster and paint but after all, it is a burial cave, not a hotel, not a Hilton or a living room. This is not a suitable location for sparkling ornaments. This is not a shul on which we recite “Ze Keli V’anvehu”.
Until about 50 years ago, there was not a permanent Sefer Torah on location. This has resulted in the Lag B’Omer minhag, at which time many many people come. By the way, the “many many” who visited on Lag B’Omer then is the amount visiting on a regular day today. Anyway, then they had a procession with a Sefer Torah from Tzfas to Meron. The minhag of bringing the Sefer Torah from the Abu Shul in Tzfas was because they only brought a Torah once a year, compelled to do so because of the many visitors. Today there are many aronot kodesh and many Sifrei Torah. There are dozens of minyanim daily. This place has kedusha and therefore, we must be extremely cautious.
To our sorrow, there are those who simply are distant from this concept of kedusha. They believe this is simply a historical site and as such, one must preserve the site and that’s it. They fail to comprehend the deep emotion attached to this holy site. Therefore, when we explain that a number of steps must be replaced under the watchful eye of our mashgiach, and under a step we find bones, possibly human bones, all work must halt.
And now we come to the person responsible for the work. There was a dispute and then a man bearded man with payos arrives, and he instantly becomes the new mashgiach of holy sites. After a short inspection he gives the word, that work may resume. Then the regular mashgiach introduces himself to the newcomer.
Such an occurrence would not take place anywhere in the world but here we are dealing with a matter of such importance and kedusha. They bring a man from a nearby city who they summon quickly, and he finds a heter and gives the word, and in an instant, they are returning to work.
HB: So that’s when the protests began?
RF: Then came those precious Jews from Yerushalayim, who are willing to sacrifice of themselves. They literally prostrated themselves over the excavation site and prevented them from continuing to work. These are yidden who understand mesirus nefesh, Jews who came into the world to serve Hashem.
We must give due respect to these individuals who literally prevent digging with their bodies. Police arrested some of them. This is what has been occurring during recent weeks.
HB: What are you asking?
RF: Chareidi Jewry is not chas v’sholom asking to halt all work. We are of the opinion that that which must be redone must be refurbished. There are things that must be repaired, and if there is a need to add facilities or to divide between shuls and learning areas, so be it, we are in agreement.
Go to what is called the Marpeset Kohanim (Balcony for Kohanim): We agreed to what must be done, with caution and care. We are asking two things. The professional committee; the architects, engineers and contractors, and by the way, we no longer trust the present architect so we are asking for an engineer, someone the chareidi community trusts, someone who exhibits an understanding for the religious sensibilities involved. He will be the person on whom we rely to understand what is going on.
I do not feel that there can be a more legitimate request. Let’s take for an example a mosque, and Jews decide they wish to carry out refurbishing, arriving with their own architect and engineer. The Arabs would say with all due respect, our man, an Arab, a member of Islam would follow the team because we trust him. Who could argue with this for after all, it is elementary and logical.
We have absolutely no faith in the architect responsible for the project. We are demanding a building engineer who is trustworthy and looks out for our interests. He must also be an expert regarding the preservation of antiquities sites.
What is taking place is simply a catastrophe. While carrying out renovations they are destroying everything, not necessarily items of kedusha or related to the cemetery. They are destroying items that have been in place for hundreds of years and today, we simply do not understand why it was built this way or that.
We found a chareidi architect who studied in a French institute specializing in restoration of historic sites. We are asking that he be brought in, included into the professional committee. If they agree, the then the situation will be rectified and the chareidi world will have little to report regarding renovations at Kever Rashbi.
(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)