Monday, December 29, 2008

Barcelona: Museum hosts Jewish cemetery seminar, January 15-16

The City History Museum of Barcelona will host a two-day conference - Archaelogical Intervention on Historical Necropolises: Jewish Cemeteries - on January 15-16, 2009.

Considering the current controversy about the medieval Jewish cemetery in Toledo, this is a timely topic.

The museum's mission "is the reassessment of the historic heritage of Barcelona, whether the items are movable or immovable. In other words, the museum is responsible for the conservation, research, and dissemination of the objects and buildings that are significant for our collective history and that exemplify the city's past... the best city museum is the city itself, and that it is in its streets, squares, and buildings where we can interpret the passage of time and the interaction of the men and women that have made, throughout the centuries, today's Barcelona possible"

The seminar has been organized because artistic, historical and cultural heritage forms an asset which, following its institutional recognition and classification, is safeguarded by the public administrations.

This heritage, formed by elements and ensembles which the successive historical legacies have left in a territory,consists of very different types of cultural goods in which the respective collectives as a whole recognise themselves. In the case of the medieval Jewish legacy, Barcelona has recently opened the Barcelona Jewish Quarter Information Centre and the city also possesses an important Jewish necropolis on Montjuic hill. These are historical expressions of a period in the city's past when the Jewish community played a highly significant role.

The Jewish inheritance is a valuable legacy of Barcelona which is being added progressively to the city's visible heritage. For this reason, before acting on the necropolis of Monjuic, it is appropriate to sediment [sic] the legal and scientific arguments which will allow action to be taken there will all due rigour and the necessary sensitivity. This conference, which is open to all interested persons and which will be welcoming experts and professionals from different places in the world, proposes to analyze the vicissitudes experienced in other actions on Jewish necropolises, and then to approach the case of Barcelona from the legal and scientific standpoints.

While there is a need for such forums throughout Spain to discuss issues related to documentation, protection, preservation and presentation of Jewish heritage, I fear, however, that the views expressed by the invited experts may not reflect a representative sample of opinion. The very wording of the statement of purpose of the seminar, which sets out to examine the question of the Barcelona Jewish cemetery from a "legal and scientific" standpoints suggests that others approaches - religious, ethical, moral, historical and cultural - may get short shrift. I hope not. These approaches need to be considered as part of archaeology, too.

The seminar will prsent distinguished speakers, although the majority are by archaelogists - some of whom are on record as being dissatisfied with resolutions where human remains from medieval cemeteries have been re-interred, or those in the field of heritage site management. There is no presentation of Jewish law or tradition from a scholar or authority on Jewish burial practices to provide appropriate balance.

To read much more about the conference, my views and concerns covering religious aspects and other related Jewish cemetery issues, click here.

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