Chief Rabbinate Calls for Exhumation of Missionary Who Pretended to Be Orthodox Jew

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Rabbi David Lau, who is requesting Amanda Elk's remains be reburied elsewhere, in 2014.
Rabbi David Lau, who is requesting Amanda Elk's remains be reburied elsewhere, in 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has called for the exhumation of an undercover Christian missionary whose husband passed himself off as an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem for the better part of a decade.

Amanda Elk, who was also known as Amanda Elkohen, died of colon cancer this February and was buried in Jerusalem’s Har HaMenuchot cemetery. Her husband Michael Elk was subsequently outed as a missionary who had performed circumcisions, officiated weddings and worked as a scribe while pretending to be a rabbi in the capital’s French Hill neighborhood, where he lived for a period of seven years.

According to press reports, Elk, who was ordained online, also ran a seminary in which he disseminated his teachings. The couple had moved to Israel on forged identity documents which falsely identified them as Jews.

The revelation that the family were missionaries caused shock and dismay among their friends and neighbors, with local rabbi Shlomo Shraga ruling that the circumcisions Elk had performed were not acceptable according to Jewish law and would require an additional symbolic bloodletting in order to considered kosher, ultra-Orthodox media outlet Vos Iz Neias reported.

Shraga also called for all ritual objects prepared by Elk in his role as scribe, such as mezuzot and tefillin, to be burnt and said that Jews in burial plots adjacent to his wife should be disinterred so as not to be buried near “a wicked person.”

In a letter to Rabbi Moshe Shimon, the head of the Kehilat Yerushalayim Burial Society, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau’s bureau chief Rafael Altman wrote that since Elk was a “a non-Jewish woman who pretended to be ultra-Orthodox” and “even tried to convert people away from the religion of Israel,” it was a matter of respect for those who bought adjoining plots assuming that they would be buried among Jews to disinter her and make “every effort” to transfer her body to “a non-Jewish plot.”

“If this is not possible,” Altman wrote on behalf of Lau, “then a fence of ten hand-breaths must be made between [her] and the Jewish deceased who are within four cubits of the grave.”

During a 2011 appearance on MorningStar TV, Elk – decked out as an ultra-Orthodox Jew in side-curls, a bushy beard and a black hat – prayed that the peoples of the Middle East would convert, declaring “when Jesus walked the earth, he was Jewish, but then something happened called the resurrection, and he became first of the new humanity.

“We need them to understand that god isn’t Jewish. He doesn’t have the Israeli flag flying next to his throne,” he continued. “He’s got a worldwide focus, and he wants a whole new humanity. Paul says that the church, the non-Jewish part of the body, is supposed to stir us to jealousy. Stir the Jews to jealousy.”

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