The rabbi's burial place in Jerusalem.
The rabbi's burial place in Jerusalem. Photo by Emil Salman
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The body of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi disappeared from his Jerusalem grave a few days ago, after eight years of undisturbed interment. The suspected culprits are the man's own family, who apparently had the support of several leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

The body was removed from the Sanhedria cemetery one night last week, without the knowledge or consent of the cemetery's burial society. The empty grave was only discovered on Monday.

The family, which belongs to an extremist splinter group of Bratslav Hasidim, had been demanding for some time that the deceased be moved away from his neighbors in the burial plot, on the grounds that said neighbors weren't on his same "spiritual level." Putting their father in such company, his children insisted, constituted "contempt for the dead." Thus, they reburied him in the Mount of Olives, near his father's burial plot.

"There's no lack of crazies," commented one of the directors of the burial society as he stood near the empty grave Monday.

The story was first reported on Kav Hahadashot, a Haredi telephone news service. The late rabbi, who died of an illness at a relatively young age, had bought his original gave himself. But according to Kav Hahadashot, his relatives were perturbed that he was buried next to a woman, and near others whose level of religious observance was "dubious."

In fact, both the people buried next to the rabbi predeceased him, so he likely knew who they were, and evidently didn't object.

What makes this story most remarkable, however, is that the family received permission to move the grave from leading rabbinic authorities, including the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who died last month. Moving a body to another grave is rarely permitted under Jewish law, but Elyashiv, gave his consent before he was hospitalized about six months ago.

A video clip posted on the Haredi website Behadrei Haredim showed Elyashiv responding affirmatively when the family asked whether they are required to move their father's bones from a place that constituted "contempt for the dead." The clip is dated just five days before Elyashiv was hospitalized.

The video also shows another rabbi explaining to Elyashiv that after the man was buried, his relatives "suddenly saw that next to him were buried people who may have been Sabbath observant, but certainly weren't careful about keeping the commandments. All the families come from terrible licentiousness."

In addition to Elyashiv, the family also reportedly received permission from rabbis Shmuel Halevi Wosner, Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss and Eliezer Berland. Those three apparently approved the move some years ago, but their decision was bolstered when the rabbi's father died and was buried on the Mount of Olives, as Jewish law considers it desirable to bury a man beside his father.

About six months ago, the family asked the Kehilat Yerushalayim burial society to move the grave, but it refused. Hananya Schorr, its director, told Haaretz that he knows the family approached at least one other Jerusalem burial society, but it also refused. Who finally did the job remains unknown.

Schorr said the burial society doesn't plan to take any action against the family.