Israeli chief rabbi calls to exhume wife of missionary who pretended to be a Jew

Representative for Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau says woman’s body should be removed from Jerusalem cemetery, or her grave fenced off

Cnaan Liphshiz is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

JTA — The office of Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi wants to exhume from a Jerusalem cemetery the body of a woman said to be a Christian who pretended to be Jewish.

A top representative of Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau outlined the plan in June to exhume or alternatively fence off the woman’s grave. Or L’Achim, an organization that tries to counter Christian proselytization in Israel, published the chief rabbi’s position as laid out by the representative, Rabbi Raphael Altman, on its Facebook page this week.

Exhumation is an extreme measure in Judaism, as Jews believe that mortal remains should not be disturbed.

The woman, who had emigrated from the United States under Israel’s Law of Return for Jews, died of cancer and was buried at a Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem, where she had lived with her husband.

In April, Israeli and international media reported that the husband had been unmasked as a Christian missionary after years of living as a rabbi and a scribe in an ultra-Orthodox community in the Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill.

The man, who was not named, told Israeli media that he had been born Jewish and joined Jews for Jesus, a movement that Jews generally do not recognize as belonging to Judaism. But he had since returned to Orthodox Judaism, he said.

But his late wife was not Jewish and should not be buried at a Jewish cemetery, the chief rabbi’s office said, because that would be unfair to the Jews buried around her and their relatives, who believed they were buried along with their coreligionists, as is customary in traditional Judaism.

“All efforts must be done to move her to a non-Jewish plot,” Altman wrote in June. “If that’s impossible, a fence should be put around the grave.”

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