Istanbul – Bizarre Case: Turkish Chief Rabbi Accused of Grave Desecration

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    Istanbul, Turkey – A dramatic suit before the Conference of European Rabbis Beis Din alleges Rav Yitzhak Haleva, chief rabbi of Turkey, is directly responsible for the desecration of ancient cemeteries in Istanbul.

    According to the scathing claim, filed by Israeli journalist Shaul Schiff, in recent years every effort has been made to persuade Rav Haleva, 69, to refrain from grave desecration, yet the problem persists. Schiff’s attorneys assert this is the first time in Jewish history such a case has been filed, saying malevolent non-Jews were always the ones to blame for such acts.

    Read here the accusation documents HEBREW

    English here

    But in this case, which is scheduled to be heard by a bench headed by HaRav Yitzchok Ehrentrau according to a Kikar HaShabbat report, Rav Haleva has been charged with issuing direct orders to carry out various projects that resulted in flagrant grave desecration. The charges are especially troubling since the Smichas Chachomim, Machaneh Efro’im, Mishneh Lemelech and other gaonei olom lay buried in the three Istanbul cemeteries that were allegedly harmed.

    Members of a rabbinical delegation who visited one of the sites two years ago were “horrified” by the damage they witnessed, Schiff alleges. “The delegation members saw skeletal remains in a pile of dirt,” reads the account written by his attorneys. “According to two world-renown experts with decades of experience, the broken skeleton found in a pile of dirt and recently removed from its original grave was estimated to be 300 years old.”

    The rabbonim ruled on the spot that the entire pile of dirt containing the bones had the status of a meis mitzvah and immediately set about reburying the bones and dirt.

    Schiff claims that at the Ortakoy Cemetery structures were built on gravesites, at the Kuzkuncuk Cemetery graves were dug on existing gravesites and at the Haskoy Cemetery ancient gravesites were cleared to make room for the construction of a funeral parlor. In some cases gravestones of halacha giants have vanished inexplicably.

    To prevent visitors from observing and documenting the damage, at Ortakoy non-Jewish guards have been posted, a rabbinical source familiar with cemetery desecration told VIN News.

    Members of the local Jewish community claim the extensive construction work underway is not prohibited by halacha, but Schiff questions how building a road over ancient gravesites could be permissible.

    Schiff’s attorneys are asking the beis din to summon the defendants – Rav Haleva, his son Naftali and Kehillat Eitz Chaim – prohibit them from conducting burials in the ancient cemeteries, compel them to stop overseeing Turkey’s cemeteries and force them to cover renovation costs.


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