Schumer, Gillibrand Press Spanish Government to Halt Exhumation of Bodies Currently Underway at Ancient Jewish Cemetery in Toledo, Spain
Spanish Government Plans to Move Bodies to Non-Jewish Cemetery in Order to Construct a Gymnasium-Moving -- A Violation of Jewish Religious Tradition
Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged the U.S. State Department to act swiftly to prevent the destruction of a historic Jewish cemetery in Spain. The situation is championed by community and international human rights leader Rabbi David Niederman, President of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. According to Rabbi Niederman, exhumation of bodies is currently underway at an ancient Jewish cemetery in Toledo, Spain, in order to construct a gymnasium for the Azaquriel School. The new location chosen to move the bodies to is not a Jewish Cemetery and moving the buried there would be a violation of Jewish religious tradition. Toledo was a center of Jewish life in medieval Spain.
"It is essential that this historic Jewish cemetery in Spain is not destroyed and that a solution forged that recognizes the religious tradition of these long-deceased Spanish citizens," Schumer said. "Toledo was a center of Jewish life in medieval Spain and there is inherent value in remembering and honoring this rich part of Spanish history. The history that can be found in this one site is astonishing and to move the cemetery without forging a religiously acceptable alternative is very poor judgment. I urge the U.S. State Department to work with the Spanish government to prevent further action until a sensible solution is hammered out."
"Out of fundamental respect and integrity, we cannot stand to let this historic cemetery be moved," Senator Gillibrand said. "I have been in contact with leaders of New York's Jewish community, and they've all expressed to me that moving the cemetery is an affront to the family members today of those buried there, and to thousands of years of Jewish tradition. I'm committed to working with Senator Schumer and the U.S. State Department to make sure the respect of those buried there is honored."
Toledo was a center of Jewish life in medieval Spain. In order to respect and honor that important part of Spanish history it is vital to work respectfully today with leaders of the Jewish community to forge a resolution that respects the religious traditions of all parties. Upon exhuming the bodies, the Spanish government plans to move them to Cerro de la Horca, a site several meters from the original cemetery. However, Cerro de la Horca is not a Jewish Cemetery and moving the buried there would be a violation of Jewish religious stricture.
According to Rabbi Neiderman, since last contacting the Department of State, he has learned that the actual process of exhuming 130 bodies has already begun. Those buried at this site include prominent Spanish Jewish historical figures, such as Rabbi Yonah Gerondi and Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel. Schumer and Gillibrand are urging the U.S. State Department to review this incident and to seek a remedy that satisfies the interests of all involved.
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