Local Jewish community in Belarus approved construction atop former Jewish cemetery

(JTA) – Authorities in Belarus defended a court’s authorization of controversial construction atop what used to be a Jewish cemetery.

The Belarus foreign ministry on Sunday said the local Jewish community of Gomel in southeastern Belarus approved of the plan because it is impossible to pinpoint where the bones are buried, in defence against criticism in international media over the planned construction in Gomel.

The consent which led to the court’s authorization was granted by the Beit Ya’akov Orthodox congregation led by Rabbi David Kantarovich, the foreign ministry said.

A judge of the Tsentralny District Court on Aug. 21 ruled not to intervene in plans for the construction of two luxury apartment buildings on the grounds of a former cemetery on Sozhskaya Street in the eastern city. The court was responding to a motion for an injunction submitted by Yakov Goodman, a Jewish-American activist for the preservation of Jewish heritage sites in his native Belarus who is outspoken in his criticism of the treatment of Jewish heritage sites in Belarus.

The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Congress and the Union of Public Associations and Jewish Communities criticized the ruling, urging authorities to hold off on any construction.

But Kantarovich’s community determined that there is no reason to fear that the planned construction would disturb human remains – a prospect that is considered a desecration by followers of halacha, or Orthodox Jewish law, the Belarusian foreign ministry said in a statement sent to JTA Sunday.

Sampling for human remains was conducted in the rabbi’s presence in March, demonstrated “absence of human remains in the land,” the statement by the ministry said. The ministry added that it takes the preservation of Jewish heritage and its sites very seriously.

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