Come on dad, we’re moving: Family transfers grave because of inappropriate ‘neighbors’

Two sons secretly exhume their rabbi father’s remains eight years after his death

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

An ultra-Orthodox couple at a cemetery (illustrative photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
An ultra-Orthodox couple at a cemetery (illustrative photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Eight years after they laid their father to rest, two sons of a Jerusalem rabbi secretly transferred his remains to a different burial ground in the city because his “neighbors” in the original cemetery were not religious enough.

The bizarre saga, reported by several Hebrew news sites on Tuesday, apparently started some months ago when the sons visited their father’s grave at the Sanhedria cemetery in Jerusalem. On their way to pay their respects and pray at the grave of their father — who had died from an illness at quite a young age — they noticed for the first time the markings on the immediate neighboring headstones. On one side, a woman was laid to rest. On the other, according to the inscription, they deduced that a secular man was buried. Other graves in the area were also deemed to be those of secular Jews.

According to a report in Haaretz, the family belongs to a particularly zealous stream of the Breslov ultra-Orthodox sect. The father had purchased the burial plot himself. When the sons told the rest of their family what they had seen, they decided to ask leading rabbis for permission to transfer the body, fearing the burial arrangement could “offend” their father’s spirit.

In a video uploaded to the ultra-Orthodox website Behadrei Haredim, the leading Ashkenazi Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv can be seen approving the request, only months before the 102-year-old Torah scholar died. The Ynet Hebrew news site reported that other rabbis, including chief Sephardi rabbi Ovadia Yosef, agreed to the move.

Haaretz reported that the relevant Hevra Kadisha — the religious organization in charge of burials — refused a request from the family for a reburial. When it learned that someone had uprooted the body anyway, an official commented that “there are many crazy people.”

The rabbi’s family secretly transferred the body to the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, next to the grave of the dead man’s father, who passed away after him. That choice of presumably truly final resting place would potentially explain rabbinical approval for the unusual transfer, since Jewish law supports family members being buried near each other.


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