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Reconfiguring Diaspora: The Transformation of the Jewish Diaspora in Antiquity

Abstract: Ortal-Paz Saar

The Necessity for a Dialogue

Ortal-Paz Saar, Utrecht University, Netherlands

Jewish cemeteries, much like their occupants, have often been the target of intolerance. Their tombstones were uprooted, shattered or reused as building blocks following crusades, expulsions, political and economic upheavals, or sheer vandalism. The last decades saw the foundation of several projects intended to document and conserve what was left of these places, and obliquely, of the memories they contain. In quite a few cases, however, ancient and medieval Jewish cemeteries are uncovered by chance, as a result of modern construction projects. When this happens, severe protests arise from Jewish ultra-orthodox groups, who claim that the human remains from those places should not be moved, and if they must be, then no archaeological study should accompany their exhumation and immediate reburial. On the other hand, archaeologists and historians strongly argue for the importance of conducting scientific studies on these human remains and the surrounding burial conditions, from physical anthropology to grave-goods and tomb structure. Local authorities (secular and, usually, non-Jewish) are thus caught between the hammer and the anvil, with additional pressure from the contractors whose main priority is completing their building projects.

The background of these fierce clashes is multi-faceted. Factors related to halakha, politics, science, history, and personal sensitivities are all involved in the process. My paper explores some of these factors and attempts to contextualize them, putting forward what I believe should be the most important item on the agenda: the necessity for a dialogue.