Friday, June 26, 2009

Medieval Jewish cemetary to remain in Toledo

Jewish bones belonging to 105 bodies that were removed from a medieval Jewish cemetery in Toledo, Spain were reinterred last week in their original graves. Because of the way they were buried, the bones, discovered six months ago during construction of a non-Jewish secondary school, are believed to be the remnants of Jews who lived between the 13th and 14th centuries in Toledo, once a major Jewish center.

A spokesman for the Conference of European Rabbis said the reburial took place during a ceremony last Sunday in Toledo attended by local Jewish leaders and regional authorities. The bones were reinterred in their original graves.

Local authorities in Toledo originally offered to reinter the bones at another site. But for religious reasons, the local Jewish federation, strongly supported by the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE), demanded that the bones be returned to their original resting place.

Earlier this year the Spanish government halted construction on the site following protests, including demonstrations by Orthodox Jews outside Spanish embassies in other countries. The site was being developed for the expansion of a school that already occupies part of the cemetery land.

CER International Relations Director Philip Carmel praised the cooperation of the Spanish government as well as the uncompromising stance of the local Jewish federation which had enabled the reburial to take place.

He said that pressure from the Jewish federation in Madrid eventually persuaded the Spanish authorities, after six months, that the bones had to be reinterred at the same spot.

"Toledo has a unique place in the history of the Golden Age of the Jews of Spain and the Spanish government understood this and constantly sought to persuade the local government to respect the sanctity of this site," Carmel said. "Throughout our negotiations with the Toledo authorities, we insisted that these Toledo Jews be buried in exactly the same graves from which they were removed. They intended this site as their eternal resting place and it was our duty to ensure they were reburied according to their wishes."

Major rabbis such as Asher Ben-Yehiel (1250 or 1259 - 1328) known by his acronym the "Rosh," and Yonah Ben-Abraham Gerundi (died 1263), know as Rabbeinu Yonah, were both buried somewhere in Toledo.

Construction on the school will continue, but building will only take place around the cemetery and the area will be marked as a medieval Jewish cemetery.