Do Clothes Make the Kohen?

In the year 5017 (1257), several hundred Baalei Tosafos, led by Rav Yechiel of Paris, left Northern France on a journey to Eretz Yisroel. Rav Eshtori HaParchi, the author of Kaftor VaFarech, who lived two generations later, records a fascinating story (Vol. 1, page 101 in the 5757 edition) he heard when he went to Yerushalayim to have his sefer reviewed by a talmid chacham named Rav Baruch. Rav Baruch told him that Rav Yechiel had planned to offer korbanos upon arriving in Yerushalayim! Rav Eshtori writes that he was too preoccupied with his sefer at the time to realize that there were several halachic problems with Rav Yechiel’s plan. In Kaftor VaFarech he mentions some of his own concerns; in addition, later poskim discuss many other potential difficulties. Among the concerns raised is identifying several of the materials necessary for the kohanim’s vestments.

VESTMENTS OF THE KOHEN

The Torah describes the garments worn by the kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash as follows: “Aharon and his sons shall don their belt and their hat, and they (the garments) shall be for them as kehunah as a statute forever,” (Shemos 29:9). The Gemara (Zevachim 17b) deduces, “When they wear their special vestments, they have the status of kehunah. When they are not wearing these vestments, they do not have this status.” This means that korbanos are valid only if the kohen offering them attires himself correctly.

The regular kohen (kohen hedyot) wears four garments when performing service in the Beis HaMikdash; three of them, his undergarment, his robe, and his turban are woven exclusively from white linen. The Torah never describes how one makes the fourth garment, the kohen’s avneit, or belt, but it does mention that the belt worn by the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur is woven exclusively from linen, whereas the one he wears the rest of the year also contains techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani, different colored materials that I will describe shortly. The Gemara cites a dispute whether the kohen hedyot’s belt also includes these special threads or whether he wears one of pure linen (Gemara Yoma 6a, 12a, 69a) The Rambam concludes that the regular kohen’s avneit includes threads of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:2).

Assuming that Rav Yechiel also concluded that the regular kohen’s avneit includes techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani, his proposal to offer korbanos required proper identification of these materials, a necessary prerequisite to offer korbanos. This article will be devoted to the fascinating questions that we must resolve to accomplish this task.

ARGAMAN

What is argaman?

The Midrash Rabbah (Naso 12:4) reports that argaman is the most valuable of these four threads and is the color of royal garments. The Rishonim dispute its color , the Rambam ruling that it is red, whereas the Raavad understands that it is multicolored cloth woven either from different species or of different color threads (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13). The Raavad explains that the word argaman is a composite of arug min, meaning woven of different types. This approach appears to be supported by a pasuk in Divrei HaYamim (II, 2:6) that lists argavan, rather than argaman, as the material used in building the Beis HaMikdash (see also Daniel 5:7; Rashi to Divrei HaYamim II, 2:6). The word argavan seems to be a composite of two words arug gavna meaning woven from several colors, an approach that fits the Raavad’s description much better than it fits the Rambam’s (see Ibn Ezra to Shemos 25:4).

The Raavad’s approach that argaman is multicolored is further supported by a comment in the Zohar (Parshas Naso) that describes argaman as multicolored. However, the Radak (to Divrei HaYamim II, 2:6) understands the word argavan according to Rambam’s approach, and Kesef Mishneh similarly states that the primary commentaries followed Rambam’s interpretation. The Rekanti (Shemos 25:3) quotes both approaches but implies that he considers the Raavad’s approach to be primary.

By the way, the Ibn Ezra (Shemos 25:4) implies that argaman might have been dyed silk rather than wool, whereas most opinions assume that it is wool (Rambam, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13; Rashi, Shemos 25:4; 26:1; Rashbam, Shemos 25:4). Rabbeinu Bachya (Shemos 25:3) contends that silk could not have been used for the mishkan or the Beis HaMikdash since it is manufactured from non-kosher species. This is based on the Gemara Shabbos 28a that non-kosher items may not be used for mitzvos. I will discuss this point further below.

IS ARGAMAN A COLOR OR A SOURCE?

It is unclear if the requirement to use argaman thread means that the thread used for the kohen’s belt must be a certain shade of color, or whether it must be dyed with a specific dye. Rambam implies that the source for the argaman color is irrelevant. These are his words:

“Argaman is wool dyed red and tola’as shani is wool dyed with a worm” (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13). (The Rambam explains elsewhere what he means when he says “dyed with a worm.” It should also be noted that the Hebrew word tola’as, which is usually translated worm may include insects and other small invertebrates.) The Rambam’s wording implies that the source of the argaman dye is immaterial as long as the thread is red. Thus, there may be no halachically required source for the dye, provided one knows the correct appearance of its shade.

TOLA’AS SHANI

One of the dye colors mentioned above is tola’as shani. In addition to its use for dyeing the kohen’s belt and some of the Kohen Gadol’s vestments, tola’as shani was also used for some of the curtains in the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash, in the manufacture of the purifying ashes of the parah adumah (Bamidbar 19:6) and for the purifying procedure both of a metzora and of a house that became tamei because of tzaraas (Vayikra 14:4, 49).

Tola’as shani is a red color (see Yeshaya 1:18). This presents us with a question: According to the Rambam that argaman is red of a nondescript source, what is the difference between the shade of argaman and that of tola’as shani? The Radak (Divrei HaYamim II 2:6) explains that they are different shades of red, although he provides us with no details of what this difference entails.

Must tola’as shani be derived from a specific source, or is it sufficient for it to be a distinctive shade of red, just as I suggested above that argaman is a color and not necessarily a specific dye source?

The words of the Rambam that I quoted above answer this question: “Argaman is wool dyed red and tola’as shani is wool dyed with a worm.” These words imply that although argaman can be used from any source that produces this particular color, tola’as shani must be from a very specific source.

A WORM BASED DYE

Can the pesukim help us identify what is tola’as shani? The description of tola’as, which means worm, implies that the source of this dye is an invertebrate of some type. For this reason, some authorities seem to identify tola’as shani as “kermes,” a shade of scarlet derived from scale insects or some similar animal-derived red color (see Radak to Divrei HaYamim II 2:6). Support for this approach could be rallied from a pasuk in Divrei HaYamim (II 3:14) which describes the paroches curtain that served as the entrance to the kodoshei hakodoshim, the Holy of Holies of the Beis HaMikdash, as woven from the following four types of thread: techeiles, argaman, karmil, and butz, which is linen. The Torah in describing the same paroches refers to it as made of techeiles, argaman, tolaas shani, and linen. Obviously, karmil is another way of describing tola’as shani (Rashi ad loc.). Similarly in Divrei HaYamim II (2:13), when describing the artisans sent by the Tyrian King Hiram to help his friend King Shlomo, the pasuk mentions karmil as one of the materials in place of tola’as shani. Thus, karmil, a word cognate to kermes, is the same as tola’as shani (see Radak to Divrei HaYamim II 2:6).

However as I mentioned above, Rabbeinu Bachyei takes issue with this approach, insisting that only kosher species may be used for building the mishkan and the garments of the kohanim. He bases his criticism on the Gemara (Shabbos 28a) that states that “only items that one may eat may be used for the work of heaven,” which teaches that only kosher items may be used in tefillin manufacture. How does this fit with the description of tola’as shani as a worm derivative?

The Rambam states that the dye called tola’as shani does not originate from the worm itself but from a berry that the worm consumes (Hilchos Parah Adumah 3:2; see Rashi to Yeshaya 1:18 who explains it similarly).

Although this is probably the primary approach we would follow in a halachic decision, we cannot summarily dismiss those who identify tola’as shani as kermes or a different invertebrate-based dye. Although Rabbeinu Bachya objects to a non-kosher source for tola’as shani, those who accept that its source is kermes have several ways to resolve this issue. One possibility is that this halacha applies only to a substance used as the primary item to fulfill the mitzvah but not if it serves only as a dye (Shu”t Noda Bi’Yehudah 2, Orach Chayim #3).

Others resolve the objection raised by Rabbeinu Bachya by contending that the color derived from these non-kosher creatures may indeed be kosher. Several different reasons have been advanced to explain this approach. Some contend that this coloring is kosher since the creatures are first dried until they are inedible or because a dead insect dried for twelve months is considered an innocuous powder and no longer non-kosher (see Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 3:96:2). (The halachic debate on this issue actually concerns a colorant called carmine red that is derived from a South American insect called cochineal. This color, which is derived from the powdered bodies of this insect, is used extensively as a “natural red color” in food production. To the best of my knowledge, all major kashrus organizations and hechsherim treat carmine as non-kosher, although I have read teshuvos contending that it is kosher.)

A similar approach asserts that kermes dye is kosher since it is no longer recognizable as coming from its original source (Pesil Techeiles, pg. 48 in the 1990 edition). This approach is based on a dispute among early poskim whether a prohibited substance remains non-kosher after its appearance has completely transformed. The Rosh (Berachos 6:35) cites Rabbeinu Yonah who permitted using musk, a fragrance derived from the gland of several different animals, as a flavor because it has transformed into a new substance that is permitted. The Rosh disputes Rabbeinu Yonah’s conclusion, although in a responsum (24:6) he quotes Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach approvingly.

It is noteworthy that this dispute between the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah appears to be identical to a disagreement between the Rambam and the Raavad (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 1:3) in determining the source of the mor, one of the ingredients burnt as part of the fragrant ketores offering in the Beis HaMikdash (see Shemos 30:23). The Rambam rules that mor is musk, which he describes as the blood of an undomesticated Indian species. (Although the Rambam calls it blood, he probably means any body fluid.) The Raavad disagrees, objecting that blood would be used in the Beis HaMikdash, even if it was derived from a kosher species, certainly of a non-kosher one. In explaining the Rambam’s position, Kesef Mishneh contends that once musk is reduced to a powder that bears no resemblance to its origin it is kosher. Thus, the disagreement between the Rambam and the Raavad as to whether a major change of physical appearance changes the halachos of a substance may be identical to the dispute between Rabbeinu Yonah and the Rosh. It turns out that the Radak, who implies that tola’as shani derives from non-kosher invertebrates, may also accept the approach of Rabbeinu Yonah.

Some authorities have a different approach that would explain how tola’as shani may be acceptable for Beis HaMikdash use even if it derives from a non-kosher source. They contend that the rule prohibiting the use of non-kosher items applies only to tefillin and other mitzvos that utilize kisvei hakodesh, holy writings, but does not apply to most mitzvos or to items used in the Beis HaMikdash (Shu”t Noda Bi’Yehudah 2, Orach Chayim# 3; cf. Magen Avraham 586:13). This approach requires some explanation.

The Gemara states that tefillin may be manufactured only from kosher substances, deriving this halacha from the following verse: Limaan tihyeh toras Hashem b’ficha, in order that the law of Hashem should always be in your mouth (Shemos 13:9); i.e., whatever is used for the Torah of Hashem must be from kosher items that one may place into one’s mouth. In order to resolve a certain question that results from the Gemara’s discussion, some authorities explain that this halacha refers only to items that have words of the Torah or Hashem’s name in them, such as tefillin, mezuzos or a sefer torah, but does not include the garments worn by the kohen hedyot in the Beis HaMikdash, which do not contain Hashem’s name (Shu”t Noda Bi’Yehudah II, Orach Chayim #3). (The halacha requiring kosher substances would still apply to the tzitz and the choshen, garments of the kohen gadol, both of which have Hashem’s name.)

TECHEILES

The next material or shade we need to identify, the techeiles, is also a factor in the wearing of our daily tzitzis. Indeed, the Torah requires us to wear techeiles threads as part of this mitzvah. Nevertheless, Jews stopped wearing techeiles about 1300 to 1500 years ago and with time its source became forgotten. Although the Gemara (see Menachos 42b) mentions a creature called chilazon whose blood is the source of techeiles and even discusses how to manufacture the dye, the use of techeiles ended some time after the period of the Gemara. The Midrash states that “now we have only white tzitzis since the techeiles was concealed” (Midrash Tanchuma, Shelach 15; Midrash Rabbah, Shelach 17:5), which implies that Hashem hid the source for the techeiles. Indeed some poskim interpret the writings of the Arizal as saying that techeiles should not be worn until moshiach comes (Shu”t Yeshuos Malko #1-3).

ATTEMPTS TO IDENTIFY THE TECHEILES

In 5647 (1887), the Radziner Rebbe, Rav Gershon Henoch Leiner, zt”l, published a small sefer, Sefunei Temunei Chol, which concluded that the mitzvah of wearing techeiles applies even today. In his opinion, the Midrash quoted above means that techeiles will become unavailable, but we are both permitted and required to wear it. Based on his analysis of every place the Gemara mentions the word chilazon, the Radziner drew up a list of eleven requirements whereby one could identify the chilazon and concluded that if one locates a marine animal that meets all these requirements, one may assume that it is the chilazon. He then traveled to Naples, Italy, to study marine animals that might meet all the requirements of techeiles, and concluded that a squid-like creature called the cuttlefish, which in many languages is called the inkfish, is indeed the chilazon from which one produces techeiles. The Radziner then published his second volume on the subject, Pesil Techeiles, in which he announced his discovery of the chilazon and his proofs why the cuttlefish meets all the requirements of the chilazon. Subsequently, the Radziner published a third volume, Ayn HaTecheiles to refute those who disagreed with him.

The Radziner attempted to convince the great poskim of his generation to accept his thesis, particularly, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector (the Rav of Kovno and the Posek HaDor at the time), the Beis HaLevi (then the Rav of Brisk), Rav Yehoshua Kutno (author of Yeshuos Malko, the Rav of Kutno), the Maharil Diskin (who had been Rav of Brisk and was living in Yerushalayim), and Rav Shmuel Salant (the Rav of Yerushalayim). None of these Rabbonim accepted the Radziner’s proposal, although the Maharsham, the posek hador of the time in Galicia, felt that the Radziner’s approach had merit and wore a talis with the Radziner’s techeiles, although apparently only in private. Nowadays, only Radziner Hasidim and some Breslever Hasidim wear the techeiles that the Radziner introduced.

Some later authorities have attempted to identify the techeiles as being one of several varieties of sea snail, although the objections raised by the generation of poskim of the Radziner’s own time apply to these species as well. (Several years ago, I discussed their position and the position of their opponents.)

Among the many objections to both of these identifications of the chilazon is the contention that neither the cuttlefish nor a snail could possibly be the source of the techeiles since they are not kosher. In addition to the reasons I mentioned above, the Radziner presents a novel approach to explain why techeiles may derive from a non-kosher source. He contends that although the flesh of a non-kosher fish is forbidden min hatorah, the blood of a non-kosher species is forbidden only miderabbanan. Since min haTorah one may eat this blood, it is permitted as a source for a kosher dye.

It is noteworthy that a nineteenth century posek, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, contended that the garments of the kohen do not require chilazon as the dye source, only the color of techeiles. In his opinion, chilazon dye is only necessary for tzitzis. (He based this approach on the wording of the Rambam in Hilchos Tzitzis 2:1-2.) In Rav Kalisher’s opinion, one may dye the threads of the avneit the correct techeiles color and perform the service. However, not all poskim accept this interpretation but require the specific dye source of chilazon to dye the vestments (Likutei Halachos, Zevachim Chapter 13, pg. 67a in the original edition).

In review, we know for certain is that the regular kohen (kohen hedyot) wears four garments when performing service in the Beis HaMikdash, including the avneit, or belt, which the Rambam rules includes threads of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani. In identifying these materials, however, we have a dispute whether the techeiles derived from chilazon is necessary for offering korbanos, or merely dyeing clothes the appropriate color, a second dispute whether the chilazon has been hidden until Moshiach comes, and a third dispute whether the chilazon must be kosher or not. In identifying the argaman, we are faced with a dispute between Rishonim whether its color is red or a mix of different colors. And in identifying the tola’as shani, we face a dispute whether its source is a berry that worms eat or a worm of some type. All these questions will need to be resolved before we can again manufacture kosher bigdei kehunah, either by having Eliyahu Hanavi teach us how the bigdei kehunah were made or by having the poskim of Klal Yisroel determine what the halacha is.

Several earlier poskim devoted much time and energy into clarifying the correct procedures to offer korbanos because of their intense desire to bring sacrificial offerings. Do we too have such a burning desire to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? May we soon merit seeing the kohanim offering the korbanos in the Beis HaMikdash in purity and sanctity, Amen.

May a Cohen Go to the Dentist?

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This article was originally published in Yated Neeman.

Yankel Katz (*Names are fictitious) called me recently with a very surprising shaylah:

“I am scheduled to have a dental implant placed in my mouth.
My dentist told me that the procedure may require the insertion of cadaver bone
around the implant. Since I am a cohen, I
immediately realized that I may have a serious halacha problem on my hands, or
more accurately, in his hands and my mouth. May I have these products inserted?
May I even go into the dentist’s office knowing he has these remains (parts of
a corpse) on hand? Maybe I cannot even enter the building?”

I admit that I was more than a bit incredulous that human
remains are commonly used today in basic dentistry and medicine. I did some
research and discovered that indeed, Yankel’s information is accurate. Many
forms of dental, oral, podiatric and other kinds of surgery utilize cadaver
derived products. Surgeons and dentists use these human products (typically
bone, skin, and heart muscle) in various grafting procedures. Similarly, many
podiatrists use human remains in the construction of foot implants. Because of
this, most periodontists (gum specialists) and
dentists specializing in implants store human muscle and bone in their offices.
Thus, Yankel’s shaylah is realistic:
May a cohen enter an office building
knowing that there is probably a dental or foot clinic somewhere in the
building that contains human remains? Does this prohibit a cohen from freely entering large office buildings? Furthermore, a
non-cohen who causes a cohen to become tamei will also be violating
the Torah. Obviously, the ramifications of these shaylos are ominous, and the potential repercussions could be
catastrophic for people employed in most cities. Because of these
considerations, I researched this shaylah
with utmost seriousness.

There are three potential halacha issues involved in this shaylah:

I. Benefiting From Human Remains (Issur Hana’ah)

II. The Mitzvah of Burial

III. Tumah.

To answer these questions, I first needed to gather some
factual information. I began by asking Yankel’s dentist the following
questions:

1) How extensively are these bones
and muscle used?

2) How much material does a
dentist keep in his office?

I received the following answers:

1) Every periodontist and oral
surgeon has this material in his office. In addition, many general dentists
have it too if they perform gum surgery or implant surgery.

2) There is no practical way to answer
this question accurately. Specialists such as oral surgeons probably have a
lot. I keep between 2-10cc. They are usually stored in 0.5, 1, and 2cc bottles.

And now some background to the
halachic shaylos involved:

I. BENEFITING FROM A CORPSE

May one benefit from a corpse or
from human remains?

The Gemara rules that one may not benefit from a corpse (Avodah Zarah 29b). However, the Gemara
does not discuss whether this prohibition applies only to the remains of a Jew
or also to those of a non-Jew.

Why should it make a difference?

The Torah pasuk
teaching that one may not benefit from a corpse refers to a Jew. Thus, many poskim conclude that the prohibition is
restricted to the remains of a Jew (Tosafos
and Rashba, Bava Kamma
10a; Nekudos
HaKesef
and Gra, Yoreh Deah 349; Shu’t Radbaz #741; Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 14:21). Others rule that remains of
either Jews or non-Jews are equally forbidden (Shu’t Rashba 365; Shulchan
Aruch
, Yoreh Deah 349:1). Still
others compromise between these two positions, contending that the prohibition
to use a gentile cadaver is Rabbinic, whereas not using a Jewish corpse is
prohibited min haTorah (Pischei Teshuvah ad loc.).

In a circumstance of pikuach
nefesh
one may of course benefit, as is true with virtually all mitzvos of
the Torah. The question is that tooth replacement is not a case of life
threatening urgency. However, it may be very important to allow the patient to
use the best quality dental implant.

To quote Yankel’s dentist, himself an observant Jew:

“In my opinion, the severity of this
halachic issue should hinge on the detriment caused by tooth loss. Clearly
losing one tooth or even all the teeth will not result in death. However, tooth
loss often results in dietary/nutritional issues. People who have a difficult
time chewing will not have a proper diet. Although people who lose their teeth
can still eat, they tend to eat soft foods, which are usually high in
carbohydrates and low in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Foods that are high
in protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as meat, poultry, grains, and fresh
fruits and vegetables, tend to be harder to chew. Consequently, people who eat
mainly soft foods may become undernourished. I have seen many cases where
people receiving their first set of dentures lose a lot of weight due to the
difficulty involved in learning how to use them. Some people adapt and those who
do not often seek implants if they can afford it. The only thing preventing
most people from having implants is the exorbitant cost, since insurance does
not usually pay for them at this time.”

At this point, I think it is important to explain the
difference between dentures and implants. (I admit that I was unaware what
implants are until I was asked this shaylah.)

DENTURES VERSUS IMPLANTS

Dentures are removable appliances that replace some or all
of the teeth. They are usually not firm enough to allow a proper bite and chew,
and thus a patient using dentures usually regains only a very partial ability
to chew. In addition, they are often uncomfortable.

To install dental implants, the
dentist utilizes a surgical screw to which he cements crowns or bridges.
Alternatively, he uses the implants as anchors to hold complete dentures in
place. In either instance, the resultant bite is much stronger than dentures
and allows the patient an almost total ability to chew a regular diet.

Dental researchers introduced implants in the ‘60’s, and
they became mainstream practice in the ‘90’s. The last few years have seen a
huge surge in patient awareness and acceptance of the use of implants. Most
people consider them the “standard of care” for tooth replacement.

Therefore one can understand the practical importance of
using high-quality implants, assuming, of course, that no compromise of halacha
results for either the patient, the dentist, or other cohanim in the vicinity.

USE OF HUMAN TISSUE

Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote a teshuvah concerning transplanting human remains in non- lif e-threatening situations (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:229, 230). Clearly, one may
transplant such organs as kidneys, livers, and heart because of pikuach nefashos ( lif e-threatening
emergency). However, transplanting items such as bone, cornea, muscle, and
ligament are not usually for lif e-threatening
situations. As explained above, dental implants relieve a non- lif e-threatening emergency, although one could argue
that these situations are considered choleh
kol gufo
, where halachic rules are somewhat relaxed. Nevertheless, treating
a choleh kol gufo does not permit
violating a Torah prohibition.

We noted above that there is a dispute whether one may use
remains of a non-Jew; Rav Moshe concludes that under extenuating circumstances
one may rely on the lenient opinions. A second question now presents itself,
which is whether one may assume that the remains used are those of a non-Jew,
since using remains of a Jew is certainly prohibited min haTorah. Again, here also Rav Moshe ruled leniently that one
may assume that the remains are of non-Jewish source, since most people are not
Jewish (Mishneh LaMelech, Hil. Aveil 3:1).

NOT THE NORMAL
USE

Some poskim permit
the use of human remains for non-life-threatening emergencies because of a
different line of reasoning. The Gemara (Pesachim
25b) rules that someone who is ill, but does not have a life threatening
condition, may apply a balm made from arlah
fruit (that grow in the first three years of a tree’s growth),
notwithstanding that the Torah prohibits benefiting from such fruit.

Why is this permitted where the situation is not life
threatening?

This is because many prohibitions that are asur b’hana’ah (forbidden to benefit from),
are prohibited min hatorah only
when the prohibited item is used in its normal way. Smearing fruit on one’s
skin is not a typical, normal use. Since arlah is prohibited min
haTorah b’hana’ah
only when used in its normal way, smearing arlah fruit
as a balm involves only a rabbinic prohibition, which is relaxed for an ill
person.

However, this leniency does not apply to all prohibitions. For
example, the Torah prohibits using kilayim (that is, those of a
grapevine) min haTorah even in an atypical way. For this reason, an ill
person may not smear kilayim as a
balm, even though he may smear arlah
balm.

Where does the prohibition to use human remains fall? Is it
like arlah, and is permitted for an ill person to use in an atypical
manner, or like kilayim and prohibited.

The poskim dispute
whether the prohibition not to use human remains applies to using them in an
atypical way, Shu’t Radbaz #979 and Mishneh
L’Melech, Hilchos Aveil
14:21 are lenient, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger (notes
to Yoreh Deah 349) prohibits. If it is permitted, then there would be a
basis to permit the use of human remains from a Jew for someone who is ill, but
not life threatening. Rav Moshe rules that min
hatorah
one may not use human remains in an atypical way, although other poskim are lenient (Shu’t Har Tzvi,
Yoreh Deah
#277). Following the latter approach might allow using muscle
and bone even from a Jewish cadaver for implants.

However, since there are alternative sources for implants, such
as bovine tissue, it is halachically unclear whether this justifies use of
human implants when one can use non-human sources. Although some dentists feel
that the cadaver-based material is superior, others do not agree. Therefore,
someone who is considering cadaver implants should ask a shaylah from his or her Rav, whether or not one is a cohen.
In addition, although the dentist may have asked a shaylah and been told that he or she may use human implants, the
patient’s Rav may feel otherwise. Thus I believe that a frum dentist who received a psak that he must use human
tissue should advise his frum patients to ask their own shaylah.

II. THE REQUIREMENT TO BURY THE
DEAD

Is one required to bury a small amount of human remains?

The poskim dispute
how small an amount of Jewish remains requires the mitzvah of burying. Some
contend that one must bury even an amount as small as a k’zayis (Tosafos Yom Tov
to Shabbos 10:5). Others contend that
one is required to bury only that which could represent an entire body (Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 14:21). However, it seems that all agree that there
is no Torah mitzvah to bury the remains of a gentile, except due to tumah concerns. Thus, this question
would not affect our shaylah once we
assume that the remains involved are of a non-Jew.

III. TUMAH AND A COHEN

A human cadaver (meis)
of either Jew or gentile conveys
tumah when a person touches remains
or carries them. Although these halachos do not affect most Jews nowadays, a cohen is still forbidden to come in
contact with human remains in a way that he will become tamei.

Jewish remains convey tumah
through ohel, which means that a cohen may not be under the same roof or
in the same room as the remains. However, if all the doors and windows in the
room holding the remains are closed, the tumas
ohel
is probably contained within that room (see Nekudos HaKesef on Taz, Yoreh Deah 371:3; see also Shu’t Noda BiYehudah, Yoreh Deah #94).
However, there is a lesser form of tumah,
called sof tumah latzeis (lit., the tumah will eventually leave), that
extends beyond the closed doors or windows, though only in the direction that
one will eventually remove the tumah.

OHEL AND A NON-JEW

The poskim dispute
whether non-Jewish remains convey tumah
through ohel; that means, will
someone who is in the same room as non-Jewish remains become tamei? According to those who contend that non-Jewish remains convey tumas ohel, a cohen may not enter a room containing a gentile corpse or part of a
corpse. Thus, a cohen should be
careful not to enter any hospital except for a life-threatening emergency, since
there is likely to be human remains somewhere in the hospital. Similarly, a cohen may not enter a museum without carefully
verifying that it does not contain any human remains — an unusual
circumstance. According to those who contend that non-Jewish remains do not
convey tumas ohel, a cohen may enter a hospital when one may
assume that it contains no Jewish remains.

The Shulchan Aruch
rules that non-Jewish remains do not convey tumas
ohel
, yet a cohen should still be
machmir not to be in the same ohel
as gentile remains. Thus, a cohen
should not visit someone in the hospital unless there is an extenuating reason,
i.e., there is something important that only he may accomplish. Similarly, a cohen
should not enter a museum without verifying that it does not contain human
remains. [This discussion is limited to a case where the remains in the
hospital are of a non-Jew. In a situation where there are likely to be Jewish
remains in the hospital, a cohen would
be allowed to enter the hospital only for a life-threatening emergency (pikuach nefashos).]

Thus, if we assume that the remains contained in the dental
office are a non-Jew’s, then a cohen
entering the office would not entail a halachic violation, but would be something
that should be avoided (according to the above ruling of the Shulchan Aruch).
However because of other halachic factors (too complicated to explain in this
article), there is a basis to be lenient and enter the dentist’s office and
certainly the building. Personally, I would encourage the dentist to store the
remains in a way that guarantees that there is no tumas ohel, a procedure that
I will gladly explain to any dentist on an individual basis, but that is too
complicated to elucidate in this article.

WHAT ABOUT YANKEL KATZ’S
IMPLANT?

So far we have discussed whether one may use human remains
as an implant and whether a cohen may
enter the office. Assuming that Yankel’s Rav rules that he may rely on the
remains being of a non-Jew and that one may use gentile remains, the shaylah is still not completely resolved. Because Yankel has the bone
graft installed in his mouth, he will now be touching and carrying the remains,
and a cohen may not touch or carry
non-Jewish remains. Is there any possible solution to this issue, or must
Yankel opt for a non-human product? The answer to this question lies in a
different direction.

IS THERE A MINIMUM AMOUNT OF
REMAINS THAT CONVEYS TUMAH?

Here the issue is, how small an amount still conveys tumah? Although the amount of flesh that conveys tumah is one k’zayis, the
amount of human bone that conveys tumah in this situation may be as
small as a k’se’orah, the size of a barleycorn, which is tiny (Ohalos
2:7; Rambam, Tumas Meis 4:4).

How big is a k’zayis?
The estimates of the poskim range from
as little as 3 cc. to as much as 25 cc. A dentist typically uses less than this
amount in a patient, although sometimes he might use a larger amount. Thus, one
should verify this information in order to ask a shaylah. However the
amount of bone used is certainly greater than the size of a barleycorn, thus
precluding a cohen from receiving a dental implant of human origin.

There is one other aspect about dental offices that one
should know: Some dentists keep a human skull on hand for explanation and
education. A cohen should clarify in advance before visiting a dentist whether
he is a skull-bearer, and should make similar research before scheduling an
appointment at the podiatrist and other physicians, who often also use human
remains in their surgeries or have cadaver models on hand for visual explanations.
A concerned practitioner will procure plastic replicas rather than genuine
human parts to mini miz e difficult
situations for a cohen.

A cohen has the
privilege of blessing the people, in addition to serving in the Beis HaMikdash, may it be built speedily
in our day. Concurrent with these privileges come many responsibilities,
including the requirement of avoiding tumah.
This necessitates an awareness of possible tumah
situations and being constantly aware of new developments in our rapidly
changing society.