DOCUMENTS | 2023 “WORKING GROUP” ON VILNA CEMETERY | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY AT PIRAMÓNT | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER | THE “CPJCE” LONDON GRAVE TRADERS | CEMETERIES & MASS GRAVES | LITHUANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY AFFAIRS | HUMAN RIGHTS
VILNIUS—On the eve of today’s scheduled meeting here of the international “Working Group” or commission assembled by the prime minister of Lithuania’s office, comprising distinguished international figures, to determine the fate of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt in Shnípishok (in the Šnipiškės district of this thriving EU capital), four of the world’s leading Heads of Lithuanian Yeshivas together issued an edict making clear the status of the cemetery in Jewish law. For reference and background, see annotated minutes of the last Working Group meeting, and, in reverse chronological order, other very recent developments.
The original Hebrew edict representing the view of Lithuanian rabbinic Jewry worldwide, and a working translation widely circulating today are available in PDF format. The following is the text of the working translation. It is followed by an image of the historic edict in the original Hebrew.
- 14 Kislev, 5784
- November 27, 2023
A Public Proclamation
- Due to a profound concern for the preservation and protection of the older Jewish cemeteries in Europe — the resting places of our beloved ancestors and our distinguished rabbis — and due specifically to the ongoing deliberations regarding the fate of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Shnipishkes in Vilnius, we have undertaken to clarify what is essential for their preservation and protection.
- 1. All Jewish communities are obligated to concern themselves with their local abandoned and desolate Jewish cemeteries and — in consultation with experts in Jewish law — do whatever is possible to preserve and protect them. In particular, descendants of the deceased are obligated to concern themselves with the upkeep of the cemeteries of their ancestors. This obligation of concern for the well-being of cemeteries applies equally to Jewish cemeteries that are presently standing and have not been damaged.
- 2. A Jewish cemetery retains its sacred status for perpetuity, whether or not its tombstones are standing in place. The common folk, who think otherwise, err. In general, so long as remains of the dead remain in place, the cemetery retains its sacred status, and the graves remain a place for prayer by the living. Any other use of the cemetery grounds is prohibited and desecrates its sanctity, even if no tombstones remain in place.
- 3. A Jewish cemetery belongs to the persons buried in it, for perpetuity. Every grave is acquired by, or assigned to, a particular person on thecondition that he or she will rest in peace, in that place, until the end of time. Not even a descendant of the deceased may disturb his or her ancestor’s resting place (without a special dispensation from the halakhic authorities).
- 4. At present, we are especially concerned with the Old Jewish Cemetery in Shnipishkes in Vilnius. The cemetery was stolen from the Jewish people during the Holocaust and its aftermath. It needs to be returned to its rightful owners. The Sports Palace that was constructed over the Jewish cemetery, desecrates it. It is prohibited to use the space covered by the Sports Palace for any purpose other than maintaining the graves and the grounds of the Jewish cemetery. No museum or memorial complex of any kind, and by any name, or any similar building, may be constructed on the cemetery grounds. The world-wide Jewish community is obligated to restore the Old Jewish Cemetery to its former glory, to rebuild the boundary wall that once surrounded it, and to repair whatever can be, and still needs to be, repaired.
- 5. Any earth mixed with human remains that has been removed from the Old Jewish Cemetery during excavation and construction in previous years, needs to be returned to the Jewish communal authorities for proper reburial in the Jewish cemetery.
- Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch
- Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Slobodka, Bnai Brak
- Rav Reuven Feinstein
- Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva of Staten Island, New York
- Rav Osher Eliyahu Kalmanowitz
- Rosh Yeshiva, Mirrer Yeshiva, New York
- Rav Elya Baer Wachtfogel
- Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva Zichron Moshe, South Fallsburg, New York
◊Gilui Daas 27 Nov 2023