Maimonides gravesite
The locked gate at the Maimonides gravesite yesterday. Photo by Gil Eliahu
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The Israel Electric Corporation has cut power to the grave site of the preeminent philosopher and Torah stage Maimonides - also known as the Rambam - in Tiberias, a site visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year.

The lack of electricity has forced the organization that operates the site to close it down in the evening.

According to the IEC, the state-sanctioned religious preservation agency responsible for the grave has run up a NIS 40,000 debt, which it has so far refused to pay.

"A debt has indeed been amassed due to electricity consumption over the course of many months," the IEC said in a statement. "The debt has not been paid, and thus the IEC has been forced to discontinue the flow of electricity to the area. We will be happy to resume the supply of power following repayment of the debt."

The deputy director-general of the preservation agency, Rabbi Israel Deri, confirmed that his organization does in fact owe the electricity company money.

"The debt we are being asked to pay is upwards of NIS 40,000," he said. "This is a debt that has accrued over the course of only 10 months, and we do not understand how it accumulated. The cost of electricity at the Rambam's grave site runs somewhere near NIS 1,000 per month. We will look into this matter and once we receive answers, we will then settle the debt."

"We are not able to pay this amount of money," Deri added. "We asked the IEC to check if somebody rerouted power from the grave illegally. If this is so, then that person needs to pay the bill."

Maimonides is believed to have died in Egypt in 1204, with his remains relocated to present-day Israel for burial seven years later. According to legend, his students loaded the body onto the back of a camel and followed it until it reached Tiberias.

Many visitors who make pilgrimages to the Rambam's burial site do so after sundown as part of a series of stops at the grave sites of famed Jewish sages. Last week, hundreds of Chabad devotees visited the site to celebrate the reading of Maimonides' famed work Mishneh Torah.

"The worshippers discovered, to their surprise, that the electrical supply to the area was cut off," said Haim Hatzav, a Tiberias native and one of the visitors to the site. "This was a huge crowd, which had to wander to the site through darkness."

"This was truly embarrassing," Hatzav continued. "It was difficult to explain to the devotees how this important grave site in the heart of Tiberias doesn't have electricity."