Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda



Memorandum by the Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage in the United Kingdom & Ireland (CEM 37)

  Existence of this Inquiry has been brought to my attention by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. I would like to add a few brief observations to the submission already made by the Board.

  The Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage is making a systematic record of all Jewish cemeteries in Britain and Ireland opened before the Second World War. The oldest post-Resettlement Jewish burial grounds in Britain date back to the latter half of the 17th century, in London, and surviving Georgian grounds are to be found in other parts of the country, for example at Falmouth and Penzance, Swansea and Manchester. The poor condition of a number of mainly Victorian grounds is highlighted on the Survey's List of Jewish Sites at Risk that can be consulted on our Website at www.art.man.ac.uk/reltheol/jewish/heritage.

  This situation is compounded by failure, in some cases, to establish the legal title and exact boundaries of historic Jewish cemeteries due to the loss of vital records, such as title deeds and burial registers. The Survey is actively encouraging the deposit of valuable, but vulnerable, records in secure archives.

  For Jews, cemeteries are a sensitive area, given their status as sacred places in perpetuity according to Jewish law. Disturbing the dead, however long ago they were buried, is forbidden in Jewish law. Jewish communities have a clear responsibility to maintain their burial grounds and the Board of Deputies is conscientious in regard to so-called "orphaned" grounds—those, often of historic importance, which no longer have Jewish congregations living close by.

  Nevertheless, Jewish cemeteries are still under threat from neglect, vandalism and unsympathetic development. In addition, possible sites of Medieval Jewish cemeteries have in the past been partially excavated at York and Winchester, and this has aroused opposition within the Jewish community, despite the fact that their identity has not been completely authenticated. There are cases of grounds of more recent date where headstones have been displaced or removed or have completely disappeared and the site itself put in danger of extinction. Continuous monitoring is therefore necessary.

  The Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage would welcome greater statutory protection for cemeteries. The clarification of existing conservation law regarding burial sites, boundary walls and gates, ohelim [chapel buildings] and memorials would certainly help bolster our efforts.

Dr Sharman Kadish

Project Director

December 2000


 
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