(JTA) — Carved into the rock on the side of a mountain directly under the Har HaMenuchot cemetery here lies the entrance to Jerusalem’s newest necropolis, a city of the dead that its designers hope will relieve a shortage of burial space in the capital.
A local engineering firm and Jerusalem’s largest burial society have devised a plan to radically change how Jerusalemites dispose of their dead by building a modern system of burial caves, a throwback to a practice discontinued some two millennia ago.
During the Second Temple period, it was common to briefly inter bodies in caves and after a time rebury the bones in niches carved in tunnel walls. Rolzur Tunneling and the Chevra Kadisha Kehilat Yerushalayim don’t plan to revive the exhumation part, but they are carving crypts again in tunnels. The partners expect to soon open the first section of a massive underground complex that they claim will eventually hold more than 20,000 bodies.
Jerusalem’s burial crunch is driven by a growing population, increasing urban density and high demand for burial in Judaism’s holiest city. At Har Hamenuchot, located at the western entrance to the city, the dead already are buried in multi-tiered structures rising several stories above the hills and dominating the approach from Tel Aviv. The structures have alleviated the problem somewhat, but they are expensive to build and still take up a considerable amount of space above ground.