Undercover Christian missionary who posed as Jew to be exhumed from Jewish cemetery, rabbis rule

In April, a family living in an Orthodox community in Jerusalem was discovered to be undercover missionaries working to convert Jews. Though they left the community after being exposed, the damage they caused is still being felt, not the least of which is the mother being buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Chief Rabbi: Exhume the body

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau published a letter on Tuesday in which he said that “every effort should be made to remove from a Jewish cemetery the body of a woman who died of cancer shortly before her family was discovered to be posing as Orthodox Jews in order to convert Jews to Christianity.

Rabbi Lau said that it was preferable the body be exhumed from the burial site in Jerusalem and be buried in a cemetery for non-Jews. 

“This is a non-Jewish woman who pretended to be an ultra-Orthodox woman, and was a missionary, and even tried to convert people away from Judaism,”  wrote Refael Altman, the head of Lau’s office, in the name of the chief rabbi. “In order to respect all the Jews who purchased a plot of land with the knowledge that it is a cemetery of Jews and were buried there based on this belief, every effort must be made to remove [her] to the area of non-Jews.”

The rabbi stated that if this were not possible, a fence should be erected between Elk’s burial place and those of Jews interred at the same place. This may be impossible as her burial site is reportedly in a multistory burial plot and the plot beneath hers contains the remains of an Orthodox Jewish woman.

Fake marriages, circumcisions, and Torah scrolls

The announcement by Rabbi Lau comes one month after  Rabbi Shlomo Shraga, a prominent Jerusalem halachic (Torah law) authority, was consulted on several issues surrounding the incident. The Christian woman’s husband who also missionized Jews while posing as an Orthodox Jew refused to allow his wife to be exhumed and removed to another site. Rabbi Shraga ruled that the Jewish woman should be removed from her grave and reinterred. Alternatively, a separation of plaster should be added under the level where the non-Jew is buried.

Rabbi Shraga was also consulted regarding issues arising from the husband posing as a rabbi, mohel (performing ritual circumcision), sofer (scribe), and as a Kohen.

The rabbi ruled that Jewish babies who were circumcised by the Christian man should undergo an additional ceremony called hatafat dam.

Rabbi Shraga ruled that  if Elk didn’t serve as one of the mandatory witnesses and there were two other kosher witnesses, there is no need for another marriage ceremony (Kiddushin) and they are considered married according to the laws of Israel (k’das Moshe V’Yisrael). If Elk himself served as a witness, another ceremony is required and the ketubah (marriage certificate) should be replaced.

Regarding any work he did as a scribe, which includes mezuzot (scrolls for the doorpost), tefillin (phylacteries), megillat Esther (scrolls of the Book of Esther), and possibly Torah scrolls, the parchments should be burned and the Christian man should be sued for the price he was paid. 

Jewish law requires Jews to respect every human requiring burial, even the most evil person. A Gentile may not routinely be interred in a Jewish cemetery but there are extreme circumstances under which it is permitted.

One such case took place in 2018 when Municipal chief rabbi of Jerusalem Rabbi Rabbi Aryeh Stern permitted Ala’ Qirresh, a Muslim who died in a road accident, to be buried in a Jewish cemetery after Palestinians prevented his burial in a Muslim cemetery for allegedly selling land to Jews.”

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