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Orthodox Union pens plea for urgent action to prevent desecration of Jewish cemetery in Vilnius

Rabbi Moshe Hauer

NEW YORK - In an urgent communication, the Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union (OU), Rabbi Moshe Hauer has made a pressing plea to the President of the Republic of Lithuania, the Honorable Gitanas Nauseda, expressing the OU's forceful opposition to the development of a conference center, on the old cemetery in Shnipishok, Vilnius.

Rabbi Hauer states, "The Old Jewish Cemetery contains the remains of thousands of Jewish residents of Vilnius, with gravestones dated as early as 1487. Amongst those buried in this historic site are some of Vilnius’ greatest authors, whose works are studied to this very day by the many thousands of students in the Talmudic academies – established to perpetuate the Lithuanian Talmudic scholarly tradition - here in the United States, in the State of Israel, and the world over."

The letter underscores the widespread international opposition which has been voiced, since the Government of the Republic of Lithuania together with Turto Bankas and the City Council of Vilnius announced their plan to build the conference center.

In his letter Rabbi Hauer states, "This plan has been opposed and denounced by Jewish leadership the world over. It represents an affront to the international Jewish community and our historic heritage and is a violation of basic human dignity. It has thus been opposed not only by the Jewish community, but by Senators and members of Congress of the United States."

The letter is significant because as Rabbi Hauer states, "The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America - is the largest umbrella organization of orthodox synagogues and affiliated agencies and groups in the United States and Canada. Our members, over 400,000 individuals, are located across the United States and the world and are active in all aspects of civic and political life. Our leadership meets regularly with bipartisan members of Congress as well as with White House officials, and we are engaged on an ongoing basis on issues involving domestic and international affairs."

In a separate turn of events the Congress of European Rabbis (CER) and the auspicious Rabbi Nissim Korelitz's rabbinical court in Bnei Brak, officially revoked the authority of the CPJCE (Committee for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe) to act on behalf of the European Jewish community. See FULL DETAILS.

The CPJCE originally provided the developers of the proposed conference center with a green light for the project. An agreement was inked by which the CPJCE would supervise construction of the conference center. That supervision, the CPJCE claimed, would ensure that the developers complied with Jewish law and heritage considerations, as required under Lithuanian law.

Because the announcement by the CER and ruling by the rabbinical court precludes the CPJCE from conducting any communication with the Lithuanian government and bans the committee from participating in the development, the CPJCE has effectively been removed from the equation. As Lithuanian law demands that the cemetery, a protected site, requires that developers comply with Heritage Protection considerations, the exit of CPJCE as the governing ombudsman, renders the development unlawful.

The notion that a conference center could be developed on a Jewish cemetery is at the outset, prohibited in Jewish law. Therefore, the CPJCE's proposal raised eyebrows and wide spread condemnation.

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