Aug 26, 2009

update on the status of diggin in the tomb of Riba'l

In the ongoing saga of Mitch Pilcer's discovery of the [possible] grave of Rav Yehoshua ben Levi, the Tiberias court came to a decision to allow the Antiquities Authority access to the site to dig and examine the contents of the tomb..

The Jerusalem Post writes about the court decision, and fills in some background about the discovery...

Mitch Pilcer, who discovered the grave about six months ago, said rabbis from the haredi community in Jerusalem have instructed him to block the Antiquities Authority from excavating the grave.

While rabbis who had contacted Pilcer would not speak to the Post on the record, they acknowledged they had spoken to him and told the Post on condition of anonymity that they believe the grave, like all Jewish graves, should be left intact.

Pilcer, who agrees that the grave should not be opened, said that he kept quiet on the discovery in part because he feared that his bed and breakfast located on a peaceful hill in Tzipori would be overrun by demonstrators from Jerusalem. He also built a security barrier around the site before contacting the Antiquities Authority.


But both Pilcer and Mordechai Aviam, the director of the Institute for Galilean Archeology at Kinneret College, maintain that the site was not damaged by either the barrier Pilcer built or the nearly complete building nearby.

"The grave is in fact safer than it was," said Aviam. "He approached it in a correct way and I don't know why they are going after him."

Pilcer, who is also the head of the Tzipori security committee, said he discovered the grave while pulling rocks, which he was using for construction, out of a hillside adjacent to the bed and breakfast's swimming pool.

While digging through the mud he discovered a wall and stone door bearing inscriptions in hard rock with the name of the famous rabbi and the name of the town, Tzipori.

Pilcer said the door to the structure was ajar, and after looking inside he immediately re-covered the site with dirt and built an iron fence around the structure to protect it.

A terra cotta sarcophagus was clearly visible lying in mud inside the grave, said Pilcer.

If the grave does belong to Levi, the presence of a sarcophagus could complicate the issue for some haredim who believe Levi never died because of his attentiveness to the Torah.

"According to Talmudic tradition he rose to heaven with the righteous," Aviam wrote in a press release concerning the discovery.

Aviam, however, said he is not convinced the grave belonged to the rabbi.

The Antiquities Authority filed suit against Pilcer to force him to allow them to excavate the grave. The court ordered Pilcer and the authority to reach an agreement, and advised Pilcer to allow the authority to excavate.

Dahari, meanwhile, said that as a result of the agreement, excavation may begin in September and will be conducted in accordance with Halacha and in conjunction with the appropriate religious authorities.


  1. The City of David has been the focus of much archaeological controversy in the past few weeks. Only a fortnight ago, Palestinian experts were taken round the area, much to Israeli archaeologists' chagrin.

  2. what is the controversy, and why cant palestinians see the site as well?


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