2000-Year-Old Stumbling Blocks between France and Israel
In Jerusalem, access for Jewish pilgrims to the Tombs of the Kings, a large archeological site belonging to the French Republic, is a source of uncertainty as to the site’s future.
Benjamin de Tudèle, the Rabbi of Saragossa, traveled to the Holy Land in the middle of the 12th century. Upon his return from Jerusalem, he told of the recent discovery of what was considered at the time to be the tomb of Kings David and Solomon.
In modern times, excavations were resumed under the leadership of the French archeologist Félicien de Saulcy, considered to be one of the fathers of biblical archeology. His goal was to confirm that these were indeed the tombs of the two most illustrious kings of Juda.
While the excavations proved this hypothesis to be false—it is in fact a mausoleum built either by Herod Agrippa or by Queen Helena of Adiabene nearly 2000 years ago—the name of the tomb remained, and orthodox Jews still venerate the memory of their glorious past at the site.
Presently situated in East Jerusalem, the Tombs of the Kings belong to France, and public access to the site has been forbidden since 2010 due to ongoing restoration.
The question of reopening the site came up in 2018, but there was some fear the mausoleum would become a pilgrimage site and the French sovereignty might be lost. Groups of pilgrims can often be seen gathered before the entrance gate to ask for permission to enter and pray in what they consider a holy place.
France, according to the newspaper Haaretz on December 21, 2018, has laid down two conditions for reopening the Tombs of the Kings: Israel must first officially recognize that the site is French property, and the government must promise not to file any new suits against France.
The ball is now in the Rabbinical courts.
Sources: Le Figaro / Haaretz / FSSPX.News – 2/9/2019