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
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" groundsthose,
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