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Vilna Gaon's Student's Grave Found on Mt. of Olives

Discovery of 200-yr-old gravesite on Mt. of Olives was particularly moving for Knesset Speaker Rivlin, a descendant of a colleague of the deceased.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 7/22/2010, 3:51 PM

Itzik Harari, Knesset Spokesman's Office

The discovery of a two-century old gravesite on the Mt. of Olives was particularly exciting for Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin, a descendant of a colleague of the deceased.

The City of David (Ir David) Association, working to uncover the Ashkenazi section of the Mt. of Olives cemetery, discovered the gravesite under a pile of earth that covered it since the times of the Jordanians, between 1948 and 1967. The hand-chiseled gravestone states: “This is the burial site of the holy pious one, R’ Saadiah Ashkenazi of holy blessed memory, died on the 25th of Av, 5513.”  The deceased is none other than the famous Rabbi Saadiah of Shklov, the top student of the Gaon of Vilna.

Rabbi Saadiah immigrated to the Land of Israel, together with other students of the Vilna Gaon, at the behest of his teacher in 1809. Among others who immigrated at that time and created a strong Ashkenazi presence in the Holy Land were Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, author of Pe’at HaShulchan, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Shklov, for whom a street in Har Nof, Jerusalem is named, and Rabbi Hillel Rivlin of Shklov – ancestor of present-day Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin.

Speaker Rivlin paid a visit to the Mt. of Olives cemetery on Wednesday, and said that he was very moved to be standing at the gravesite of Rabbi Saadiah. “It was Rabbi Saadiah who basically established the first Ashkenazi settlement in Jerusalem,” Rivlin said. “He was a legendary figure in my eyes, and the uncovering of his grave after 197 years under a landslide of earth is very moving and exciting for me.”  

Rivlin lit a memorial candle at the site and recited several chapters of Psalms. He said that it is told about Rabbi Saadiah that his son, Natan Neta, became very ill, and Rabbi Saadiah prayed to G-d that he be taken sick instead. And so it happened: Within a few days, Rabbi Saadiah became ill, and died soon afterwards, while his son recovered and lived.”