Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5766 - June 21, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The International Cohen Committee

by A. Cohen

"An Organization that Addresses the Unique Issues of Modern Cohanim"

A special flight from the U.S. to Israel, kosher for Cohanim * Access to hospitals for Cohanim * Roads and highways forbidden to Cohanim * A talk with the head of the International "Vaad Hacohanim" - The Committee for the Preservation of the Purity of Cohanim *

The background: The more complex modern life becomes, the more intricate and involved are the halachic questions which face cohanim. These are partly miderabbonon, some involve aspects of laws mide'Orayso — all the way to absolute prohibitions from the Torah. Editor's Note: We have used both "c" and "k" in writing the various words since there is no established usage.

A few years ago, a group of enterprising kohanim decided to establish a body, a union, as it were, which they called, Iggud Taharas Hacohanim. Ever since its founding, those involved have the feeling that there is a receptiveness among the public at large and a willingness from large groups to come to the aid and serve the needs of cohanim.

Recently, this organization merged with a similar one based in the U.S. called Vaad Mishmeres Kehunah. Among the founders abroad were/are cohanim Torah leaders such as R' Avrohom Yaakov Pam zt'l, R' Avigdor Miller,zt'l, and ylct"a, R' Yechezkel Roth, R' Shlomo Gross and R' Osher Anshel Katz. The members of the World Committee Beis Din for Kohanim, in Eretz Yisroel are: Hageonim shlita R' Boruch Shmuel Deutsch, R' Shlomo Kahn, R' Nosson Kopshits; and abroad: R' Shlomo Gross, R' Osher Anshel Katz (the rov of the Vienna community). Working in tandem with the Committee is an active beis horo'oh in Jerusalem, which addresses halachic questions related to cehunah from all over the world.

To prepare this article, we met in the home of HaRav Boruch Shmuel Deutsch, a member of the rabbinical board of this organization, together with HaRav R' Dovid Cohen Munk, the man behind the organization and a member of the rabbinical board of the Beis Horo'oh leCohanim.

Q. What is the ultimate purpose of this union of kohanim? Why was it founded?

The purposes are manifold: to rouse the tribe of kohanim to the laws pertaining to their status; to clarify the state of affairs in the modern world with regard to these laws; to provide a halachic body to answer the various questions that arise regarding individual cases and circumstances. The underlying function is to assure that kohanim be constantly on guard against violations of their sanctity and purity.

Halachically speaking, the tribe of kohanim are an elite stratum, the most prestigious of our people. The Ibn Ezra states that the commandment of "vekidashto" (you shall sanctify him) that is said about Kohanim applies to thought and speech as well as to action. There are many areas where this tribe is especially commanded to maintain purity and isolate itself from possible violation of laws mide'Orayso. Due to ignorance, however, many kohanim unfortunately transgress severe laws.

It should be stressed here that the commandment of "vekidashto" refers precisely to Israelites, who should sanctify this priestly tribe.

An important aspect of this vigil is clarification of the actual state of things, of the situation as it is today, where there is wholesale desecration and violation and very common stumbling blocks and obstacles. The moment the facts become public and the need for vigil and amendment becomes known, these problems can begin to be properly and adequately addressed.

Q.Can you give an example of an improvement that was instituted?

The Ben Gurion airport. A new terminal was completed a year and a half ago. Huge sums were invested in its planning, trying to consider every detail.

At an advanced stage of the construction, the Taharas Kohanim Organization learned that the halachic needs of kohanim had not been taken into account, especially since many deceased are being transported for burial in Eretz Yisroel. The organization's rabbis tackled this problem to make the necessary changes.

They went to Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita and laid the problem before him. At one point, it seemed as if there was no way that kohanim would be permitted to be present at all, in the entire precinct of the terminal. In the end however, the matter was arranged.

This is only one example of how a staunch stand upon principles and a consistent vigil and effort can produce the proper results in negotiating with the authorities.

An additional instance connected with flight: Our organization has toiled a long time to arrange for the flight from the U.S. to be permissible for kohanim, without any human remains in the cargo. The community of kohanim had to bear considerable expenses as a result of changes in flights and alternate flights. We were able to organize one flight per day leaving New York for Israel in the afternoon which, kohanim knew, would be kosher for them.

When HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner learned of this arrangement, he was overjoyed and repeatedly said, "This is a day of good tidings!" and blessed all those who had been involved in achieving this milestone. It is to be noted that the rabbi of the airport, R' Almaliach, and the rabbi of El Al, R' Avshalom Katzir, were instrumental in making it possible.

It is also noteworthy to mention how important it is to have a comprehensive knowledge of the laws involved. A question arose regarding a road on the eastern flank of the Har Habayis that is used by the Egged buses to the Kosel. For a long time kohanim refrained from using those bus lines because of the problems involved. The question reached HaRav Eliashiv, who studied the matter and said that it was completely permissible for them to travel this road. The sidewalk facing Har Hazeisim, however, is forbidden territory for kohanim.

Q. In what area in particular do problems arise?

Actually, on many fronts. But the most prevalent is in medicine and hospitals. To be sure, when it is a matter of pikuach nefesh there is no question. In fact, "whoever asks is considered as spilling blood."

But there are certain tests that do not enter the category of pikuach nefesh, for instance after surgery. These can be made outside the hospital, but are very costly when they are done that way. In the hospital, there is coverage from Kupat Cholim. In such cases, the patient must ask a reliable posek what to do.

In a large conference held last year in which hundreds of kohanim participated, HaRav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas Chevron, told how he had to undergo a certain test which, if done in Shaarei Zedek, would not cost him anything. Maran HaRav Eliashiv told him to bear the expense of having the test done in a private laboratory and not to enter the hospital.

A major principle in making hospitals "kohanim- friendly" is to isolate different components as much as possible. That way the tumah in one part does not spread. It is especially important to isolate clinics that serve an outside population — that includes kohanim on the one hand, and has virtually no problem of tumah — from the main buildings of the hospital which experience patient deaths on a regular basis.

A major hospital in the central part of the country accommodates a large number of outpatients. It would have been possible to make this clinic completely separate from the rest of the hospital, isolating it with double doors. That would have kept any tumah inside the main hospital from reaching the clinic and any of its patients who are kohanim.

In another large hospital, the eye clinic is completely detached from the main building, yet there is a wide tunnel connecting it to the main building. This serves as a conduit for tumah. Double doors at some point would make it permissible for kohanim to visit this clinic.

Rabbi Munk tells that a kohen approached him and told him that once his son had required a routine test. He asked the doctor to come out to them in the hospital parking lot to do the procedure — and he agreed! It goes to show that if one tries hard enough, one can succeed.

Rabbi Munk continues to relate that the official rabbi of a certain hospital once asked him to investigate the kashrus of the hospital where he worked, vis-a-vis kohanim, since he was not particularly knowledgeable about those intricate laws. "We traveled there and discovered that all of the hospital's different wings were covered by one huge outside roof, which meant that any tumah in one wing automatically spread to the others."

HaRav S. Deutsch tells the story of a man who suffered from an acute, painful ingrown toenail for many years. The doctor treating him insisted on seeing him on the hospital premises but the patient, a kohen, refused. Eventually, he had the procedure done privately.

They tell us that one of the members of the organization, R' Yochonon Lombard, is not a kohen, but is nonetheless extremely learned in the pertinent halochos. This makes him very helpful in being able to visit problematic sites without personal risk, and determining their status for kohanim.

Q.How can a solution be found on this subject?

HaRav S. Deutsch says: The better known this issue becomes, the more general awareness there is generated on this topic and the easier it will be to address the issues. The general opinion is that the priestly tribe, the kohanim, are not numerous. And yet we saw that last year when we held a convention it was attended by many hundreds.

Incidentally, this convention was graced, among others, by the presence of the rabbonim shlita: HaRav Sholom Cohen, rosh yeshivas Porat Yosef; HaRav Shraga Feivel Cohen from America, author of Badei Hashulchon; HaRav S. D. HaKohen Gross, rov of the Gerrer chassidim in Ashdod; HaRav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas Chevron and other rabbonim from the organization. As soon as this body becomes well publicized, it will carry much more clout and it will be possible to make many more improvements.

Rabbi Deutsch says that we cannot let the matter rest upon the shoulders of just a few individual activists. This is why we need a public body, a unification of forces. When they come as an organization to Kupat Cholim, for example, or to hospitals and other public bodies, they can ask for their cooperation as representatives of a substantial number of people and not just as private people. This is why it is so important for all kohanim to join this union. In order to register, call: 02-502-2596.

Q.Are there other areas of which the public should be aware?

There are some public places which are problematic for kohanim. It is important that they be made aware of this.

There was one wedding hall where a problem arose regarding tumas kohanim. It was a wintry day with pouring rain. Among the guests was HaRav Yosef HaKohen Roth zt'l, who was a member of this rabbinical organization and an ardent supporter of the activities. He remained outside and called 02-5862153, the number of the Beis Horo'oh, and was told not to enter. He requested that the chosson and the parents come outside so that he could convey his Mazel Tov wishes to them.

This story had widespread repercussions and HaRav Y. Roth took it upon himself to see that the necessary repairs and changes be made to accommodate the future entry of kohanim to this hall from the halachic aspect.

Then there is the problem of roads and highways. In Tiberias, which many people visit during bein hazmanim, there are some roads which are forbidden to kohanim. Those tourist or bus companies who are aware of the problem can circumvent those roads. The Beis Horo'oh is helping to update a road map for the Tiberias area. The bus traveling the Bnei Brak-Tiberias route passes over forbidden roads and kohanim traveling on that line have to get off before reaching Rechov Hameginim.

Haifa has a section of railroad that is forbidden for kohanim to travel. Highway 444 connecting Kiryat Sefer with Elad has a sign marking a cemetery on the side of the road — and under that very road lie ancient graves. Kohanim traveling this road must take care to use the right-hand lane.

Museums can also be problematic. For research purposes some museums keep human bones and organs which really require burial. Forbidden, of course, are kivrei tzaddikim and funerals and funeral homes. Kohanim must remain outside.

In Petach Tikva, there are large trees which spread their branches over the Beilinson and Kaplan hospitals and also over nearby roads. Thousands of cars and buses pass underneath them. After careful scrutiny together with the local rov, HaRav Salomon, these trees were duly pruned to eliminate the problem.

At the entrance to Har Hamenuchos there are also trees spreading their branches over the road and it is advisable for kohanim to get out and remain by the guard's post at the entrance.

Q.What are the activities of the Beis Horo'oh

Very practical questions find their way to the Beis Horo'oh, some of them rare and very interesting. Take the question that came from Russia about an old woman who was cremated. Could her ashes be transported via airplane?

A man from the U.S. who had had a kidney removed wished to know if he could bring it along on the airplane. And a man from Jerusalem asked if he could keep a human bone in his home!

HaRav S. Deutsch notes that the Maharsham has a responsa dealing with a cohen whose finger had been amputated and who wished to preserve it for eventual burial with his own remains. How should he do this?

Young kohanim husbands ask about visiting their wives in the hospital after birth. There are questions raised about miscarriages and abortions. Questions about people passing away in a building that houses kohanim. All these require expertise in the subject to be applied to each particular case.

The Beis Horo'oh is in continual contact and consultation with HaRav Eliashiv, as well as with the geonim R' Shmuel Halevi Wosner and R' Nissim Karelitz.

Q.What is the particular message which you wish to convey to the public of kohanim?

R' S. Deutsch replies: The public must know that as soon as there is an organization uniting and representing thousands of kohanim, it will be so much easier to deal with all the problems. Aside from this is the important task of generating heightened awareness among kohanim of their responsibilities; this can be done through special ongoing classes and large rallies in various population centers so that there be increased consciousness to the various laws and problems.

We must have a beis din of kohanim, a beis din of kohanim doctors. No kohen can foresee the situations and circumstances that may some day arise and he should be made to realize that each one is a public matter since he belongs to a very large segment of the population that should be amalgamated and unified into one fused body.

HaRav Munk notes: It is imperative that we clarify the halochoh in all aspects of this subject. Awareness should be heightened in hospitals regarding the needs of kohanim. Roads should have proper signposts indicating where it is forbidden for kohanim to go and how to reroute. There should be a current, updated Information Guide for Kohanim published periodically.

All this requires funding. We do publish pamphlets from time to time with news on these matters. But as soon as there is a single organized body with a membership list of kohanim, it will be so much easier to work systematically.

It is told that the Tana R' Shimon "purified the city of Tiberias." There is the possibility today of purifying other places, of making necessary emendations, repairs, corrections, improvements for the benefit of the public of kohanim. If we only had the means and the possibility, how much could be done! And to be sure, it is our collective prayer that these kohanim be restored to their duties in the Beis Hamikdosh speedily and in our day!

We enjoy the hearty blessings of gedolei Yisroel shlita: Maran R' Eliashiv, R' Shmuel Halevi Wosner, R' Nissim Karelitz, R' Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, R' Yitzchok Tuvya Weiss. In the name of Hashem, may we succeed and truly merit that time when our eyes will behold His return to Zion in mercy so that we can again service Him in awe and reverence.

"You Have No Permission to Question Me"

"This is the statute of the Torah — since Satan and the nations of the world confront the Jews [regarding the poroh adumoh] saying: What kind of a commandment is this? What reason lies behind it? [The answer is:] This is a statute. An arbitrary mandate. You have no permission to question it." (Rashi)

Actually, this is not only referring to the commandment of poroh adumoh; it is an paradigm for the entire Torah, for all the laws and statutes which have no seeming reason behind them, especially when there are so many deterrents and obstacles in keeping them. But one who is stringent in keeping them deserves all the more reward therefore.

A statute is a law without explanation; it is (apparently) arbitrary. And herein lies the greatness in keeping the Torah and its laws.

Torah which is studied with sweat and toil becomes an everlasting acquisition; it becomes part of a person. R' Chaim Vital passed down to us in the name of his master, the Ari z'l, as follows: Know that the deed of a person cannot be measured only according to his point in time, to his generation, for a seemingly insignificant deed in one generation can outweigh many great mitzvos performed in another generation.

One has no sanction to question a statute in the context of trial and difficulty, when one lacks the will or sees no rationale in those commandments. That is precisely the time to toil wholeheartedly in Torah study, for according to the effort is the reward!

This is the lesson of the chapter of poroh adumoh. To find a perfectly whole red heifer with all of the necessary requirements is a difficult thing. Notwithstanding, it can be found. There were such creatures in history. And in the same manner, so can every commandment, no matter how seemingly difficult, be observed in full.

"In everything, the determining factor is one's dedication, devotion, sacrifice. One must throw himself wholly, body and soul, into fulfilling a mitzvah, for the more difficulties that are presented, the greater chance it has of becoming a permanent acquisition by him. No one, in our generation, is expected to reach the lofty level of Moshe Rabbenu. But everyone must attempt to maximize his potential, his G-d- given talents. And if he devotes himself completely to acquiring Torah, it will be his; he will merit it" (HaRav A.Y.L. Shteinman; Yimolei Pi Tehilosecho II, p. 68).

How marvelous is the commentary of Maran R' Yechezkel Abramsky zt'l regarding the gemora in Pesochim 50a, that in the World of Truth, everything is topsy-turvy to what we know here. What is up is down and what is down is up. Up There, a person is judged according to the effort he expended in this world, the days and nights he devoted to study [and not necessarily what he achieved]. How great is one who exerted himself in Torah study through great effort and serious application, who sacrificed sleep in order to acquire a true understanding and to have Torah become an integral part of his makeup, of his way of life. Such a man pleases Hashem far more than one who was born with innate talents and acquired knowledge with much less input of effort.

Poroh Adumoh is a statute for which a rational basis is revealed. It also is one that is most difficult to keep because of the deterrents and obstacles involved. And yet . . . we are not permitted to question it.


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