Lithuania said it has rejected a request from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to move the remains of the Vilna Gaon, a famed 18th-century rabbi, from Vilnius to Israel for reburial.
The issue was raised during talks between Netanyahu and his Lithuanian counterpart Saulius Skvernelis in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Skvernelis’ national security advisor Arnoldas Pikzirnis told AFP.
“We received a kind request to consider whether the remains of the Vilna Gaon could be relocated to Israel,” Pikzirnis said.
The request was denied, he said, because “ the Vilna Gaon is an inseparable part of Lithuania’s Jewish community and Lithuania history.”
Jewish community leader Faina Kukliansky, who also attended the Jerusalem talks, stated that removing the rabbi’s remains from Vilnius was “out of the question.”
Kukliansky said the legacy of rabbi and scholar Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, known as the Vilna Gaon, was a crucial part of the history of Lithuania’s once thriving Jewish community.
The Vilna Gaon spent most of his life in Vilnius, then a hub of Yiddish intellectual life known as the “Jerusalem of the North.”
He died in 1797 at the age of 77, and was buried in the Snipiskes cemetery in Vilnius.
His remains were moved to a new cemetery on the capital’s outskirts in the 1950s.
Before World War II, Lithuania’s vibrant Jewish community numbered around 200,000 people.
Over 90 percent of them perished between 1941-1944 during the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis and their local collaborators.