A dispute over remnants of the 13th century Jewish cemetery
discovered in downtown Prague during construction three years
ago is heating up again, despite a compromise reached in
March that was intended to end the controversy.
International chareidi organizations have renewed their
protests against the planned construction of an
administrative building, fearing it would disturb the
In March, leaders of Prague's Jewish community, the Czech
government and Ceska Pojistovna, the insurance company that
owns the land, reached an agreement that had appeared to
resolve the argument. But over the past week, at least a
dozen chareidim from the United States, England and Belgium
entered the construction site and were arrested and fined by
the Czech police.
The protesters insist they found destroyed graves and bone
fragments on the ground. "They found skulls, teeth and other
things," said Rabbi Edgar Gluck of the Committee for the
Preservation of U.S. Heritage Abroad. He accused the company
of "shocking desecration of the graves."
The representatives of Ceska Pojistovna denied this and
called the protesters behavior "unprecedented."
"We are not touching the graves, of course," said Michal
Urban, the company spokesman. "On the contrary, we are
preparing the site to make sure that the renewed construction
will not disturb them."
The cemetery, once the largest Jewish burial site in the
Czech kingdom, was desecrated in the 15th century. The
discovery of its remains when Ceska Pojistovna began
construction of a new office building came as a surprise to
archaeologists who believed it had been completely destroyed
At the heart of the dispute lie some 200 boxes of skeletal
remains, now stored in a Jewish mausoleum in Prague. The
company has postponed reburial till September, upsetting some
"Every day that these bones are unburied defiles them," said
Rabbi Lazer Stern of the United States-based Society for the
Preservation of Jewish Holy Sites.
"It was only because of our desperation to bury them at once
that we and other Jewish groups agreed to construction in the
Under the March agreement, Ceska Pojistovna agreed to fortify
the block of land containing the graves with concrete,
incorporate it into its office building and build an atrium
with a memorial plaque above it. But the chareidi rabbis,
some of whom approved the plan in March, say they have been
cheated and now oppose the construction.
"The company broke the agreement," said Rabbi Gluck. "Our
understanding was that there would be no building under or
above the site."
He was among the foreign rabbis who agreed to the compromise
in March. He said a large demonstration is planned for early
this week outside the Czech consulate in New York, following
protests by hundreds of Jews in some European cities,
including London and Brussels.
The dispute has opened a rift between the leaders of Prague's
small Jewish community and foreign activists who, the Prague
leaders say, come to the Czech capital and hold protests
without even contacting the local Jews. The protesters
counter that their Czech counterparts are not competent to
handle the delicate matter of deciding what to do with the
"All this is very damaging to the Czech Jewish community and
to the image of Jews here in general," said Tomas Jelinek,
vice chairman of the Prague Jewish Community.
The community, which has about 2,000 members, is still
struggling to gain recognition in Czech society, which after
decades of Communism is strongly secular.