Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau suggested in a letter on Tuesday that the body of a Christian missionary who posed as an ultra-Orthodox Jew should be removed from a Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem.
“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,” wrote Refael Altman, the head of Lau’s office, in the name of the chief rabbi.
The letter suggested that if it is not possible to remove the body, “then a fence… must be built between the plot and the Jewish deceased” surrounding the grave.
The letter is referencing the case of Amanda Elkohen, the wife of Michael Elkohen, who posed for years as ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood, while secretly working as Christian missionaries. Amanda Elkohen died of cancer in early 2021 and was buried in in the Givat Shaul cemetery on Har HaMenuchot in Jerusalem.
The letter from Lau’s office was responding to a request for advice from the director of the Jerusalem Chevra Kadisha, or burial society, on how to handle the situation.
News of the family’s undercover activity shocked the French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem when the story first emerged in April.
Michael Elkohen had posed as a rabbi and a kohen (priest) and worked as a scribe and a mohel, conducting ritual circumcisions. However, it was discovered that the family was actually not Jewish, but a Christian family from New Jersey, and had reportedly forged documents to show they were Jewish in order to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.
Community members expressed shock, noting how involved the family was in the community, so much so that after the wife died, neighbors set up a fund for the family and had been helping to support them.
Israeli law only expressly forbids the giving of money or gifts in order to encourage conversions to another religion. Missionary activities are usually closely monitored by the authorities and are offensive to many Israelis.
The law also forbids “missionary or proselytizing activity directed at minors, without the permission of their parents.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.