Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Spain: Excavation for Construction on Site of Medieval Jewish Cemetery in Toledo

Spain: Excavation for Construction on Site of Medieval Jewish Cemetery in Toledo

By Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Dominque Tomasov Blinder and David Stoleru of the Center of Studies ZAKHOR in Barcelona report that excavation for new construction is taking place on the site recognized as the medieval Jewish cemetery of Toledo, Spain. There is already a school on the site, built in the 80’s that destroyed a great part of the cemetery. The new excavation is for expansion of the school.

This past week, Atra Kadishah (Israel) traveled to Madrid together with a delegation of American Rabbis. A series of meetings have taken place with government officials form the United States, and the Department of Religious Affairs of the Spanish Ministry of Justice, and other officials.

Blinder and Stoleru visited the site to meet with the archaeologist in charge and with the Director of Landmarks of the region of Castille-La Mancha, to explain the significance of cemeteries in Judaism and that Jewish grave – no matter when they are from – are considered inviolate except in extreme circumstances. ZACHOR’s intention is to find a solution for the site with respect for its meaning and to avoid irreversible damage. To my mind the only solution in such a case must be to halt new excavation in any area that can be confirmed to hold graves. It is possible that some surface construction can be allowed that would ultimately protect the graves.

According to Blinder, “Toledo is the city where the three cultures flourished in the Middle Ages reaching at times exemplary levels of "Convivencia", where the famous School of Translators produced great pieces which contributed to the intellectual development of the world, a city where even very important Rabbis from Catalonia and from Germany chose to live. Today, besides two synagogues (of the 10 that existed at the time) which can be visited today as Museums, the ancient cemetery is the only other landmark which remains of the Jewish community which once lived there. This community certainly deserves respect for their tradition and beliefs.”

"This cemetery definitely transcends the city of Toledo, as the descendants of Jews from Toledo now live in the five corners of the earth. Urban growth in the last century has destroyed most of its extension. Now there is a small portion, with about 85 tombs that is vulnerable to construction and will disappear forever if nothing is done to prevent it.”

It should be noted that Toledo is among the most visited cities in Spain for its Jewish heritage. It is home to two medieval synagogues that can be visited, as well as the Museo Sefardi, located at the Samuel Ha-Levi Synagogue. The Museum contains many old gravestones, some of which presumably came from the old cemetery site.

I will continue to follow this story as more information comes in.

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