A Tale of Four Islands

A brief introduction is in order so as to explain why I chose this topic for this week. A few years ago, as a kohein, I had to change my travel plans, and instead of flying from Ben Gurion airport to Newark, I had to fly via Haifa to Larnaca, Cyprus, and then to London and Reykjavik to reach my destination. The trip whetted my appetite to find out more about Cyprus, and this article is a result.

Those who want to read about that trip can access From Haifa to Reykjavik here. Since this week’s parsha includes most of the laws of tumas meis, which was the reason why I needed to travel via Haifa, I decided to share this article.

Question #1: When in Crete, do as the Cretans do?

“I was told that when I am in Crete, I should separate terumos and maasros from the vegetables and avoid the fruit, because of concerns of orlah. Is this halachically accurate?”

Question #2: Which esrog?

“Is it better to use an esrog from Corfu, from Corsica, or from the mainland in between?”

Question #3: Which minhag should I observe?

“I am of Greek/Sefardic background, but my immediate ancestors were not observant. Should I follow Sefardic custom or Greek custom?”

Introduction:

Among the many beautiful islands that grace the Mediterranean Sea, we will discuss four whose English names all begin with the letter “C.” Although none of these four – Corfu, Corsica, Crete and Cyprus – is currently home to a sizable Jewish community, at one time each figured significantly in Jewish history. I’ll provide a short description of the location and history of each of these islands, and then address the unique role that each had in Jewish history and halacha.

Cyprus

The largest of these four islands, Cyprus, is the third largest island in the Mediterranean. (The two largest islands in the Mediterranean are Sicily and Sardinia. Although they are both sounded with what phonetics calls a “soft ‘c’,” since both islands are spelled in English with the letter “s,” we will discuss their halachic significance in a different article.) Cyprus is located only forty miles south of Turkey, east of Greece, west of Syria and Lebanon and north of Egypt. Of the four islands that we are discussing, it is the closest to Eretz Yisroel, with a distance of less than three hundred miles.

Jews in Cyprus

We know of Jews living in Cyprus as early as the time of the Chashmonayim, over 2200 years ago. The Jewish population of Cyprus has waxed and waned; at times there was a substantial Jewish community there. When the traveler Binyamin of Tudela visited the island in the 12th century, he discovered three Jewish communities: a halachically abiding kehillah, a community of Kara’im, and yet another group that kept Shabbos from the morning of Shabbos until Sunday morning but desecrated it on Friday night.

Neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim

Although historians usually group all Jews into either Sefardim or Ashkenazim, this categorization is simplistic and inaccurate. For example, there are several different groups of Italian Jews who are neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim, but have their own distinct customs and practices. Similarly, although the Jewish communities of twelfth and thirteenth century Provence (southern France) are often referred to as Sefardim, they followed practices of neither Sefardim nor Ashkenazim but had their own unique way of doing things. For example, they began reciting vesein tal umatar on the 7th of Marcheshvan, which is the practice of Eretz Yisroel and not of either Sefardim or Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz.

Greek Jews

The original Jewish population of Cyprus followed neither Ashkenazic nor Sefardic practice, but rather the very distinctive practices of the ancient Jewish communities of Greece, which is called Romaniote (not to be confused with Roman or Romanian; According to my research, the origin of the term Romaniote goes back to the days when they were part of the Eastern Roman Empire, usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire, after the fall of Rome.) They have their own unique nusach hatefillah, their own tune for reading the Torah and many other halachic practices that are different from both Sefardic and Ashkenazic custom. At one time in history, the customs of the Romaniote communities were widespread throughout Salonika, Athens, and other places in mainland Greece, and among the various Greek islands, including Cyprus, Crete and Corfu. However, the massive influx of Sefardic Jews after the Spanish expulsion caused many of the Greek communities to adopt Sefardic practices. Today, few communities, if any, left in the world follow the Romaniote nusach, although some Romaniote practices are still observed by some shullen in places as diverse as Eretz Yisroel and New York.

One common Romaniote shul practice is that Aleinu is recited not at the end of davening, but at the beginning. Another is that the shulchan for reading the Torah is placed towards the back of the shul, not in the middle.

Corsica

Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located due west and very close to the Italian Peninsula. It is probably most famous for its native son, Napoleon Bonaparte. Historically, it has been ruled by Greeks, Romans, Goths, Byzantines and Arabs; and later by Pisa, Genoa and many others. French rule is relatively recent, only since the 18th century, and the original, native Corsican language is really a dialect of Italian. Although Corsica is legally part of France, it is both physically and culturally much closer to southern Italy than to France. For this reason, there is a troubled relationship between the French mainland and Corsica, which benefited the Jews during World War II, as we will soon learn.

Corsica was the last of the four Mediterranean islands of our article to have an organized Jewish community. Nevertheless, there is some relevant history related to Jews and Corsica, which we will discuss shortly.

Crete

Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean and the largest and most populous of the islands of Greece. It is located southeast of mainland Greece, in the southern part of the Aegean Sea, and it is less than 600 miles from the coast of Eretz Yisroel.

Crete’s known archeological history is possibly the most ancient in the world – it dates back to the time of the dispersion after Migdal Bavel. Later, Crete was the home of the ancient Minoan civilization. Afterward, it became part of the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire. It was conquered by the Arabs, the Crusaders, and in 1204, by the Venetians, who ruled it for over four hundred years, until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Muhammad Ali (the founder of the modern Egyptian dynasty, not the boxer) desired control over it as payment for his military services to the Ottoman Empire in the Greek Rebellion (1820s), in which case it would have become part of Egypt, but he did not succeed in procuring the island.

Jewish Crete

It is known that there was ongoing Jewish settlement in Crete since the times of the Maccabees. Crete’s Jewish community was existent from the time of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash until the era of the Nazis, but by 1941, most Jews had moved to Athens or Salonika, both of which are in mainland Greece. When the Nazis conquered Crete, less than 400 Jews were known to be on the island. Unfortunately, my research indicates that they were all killed in the war.

Halachic Crete

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “I was told that when I am in Crete, I should avoid eating locally grown fruit because of concerns about orlah and be careful to separate terumos and maasros. Is this halachically correct?”

The laws of terumos and maasros apply min haTorah only in Eretz Yisroel, and the laws of orlah, the fruit that grows during a tree’s first three years, are far more stringent in Eretz Yisroel than they are in chutz la’aretz. It is therefore important to know whether something grew in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz la’aretz.

It is fascinating to note that, according to a minority opinion among the tanna’im, both Crete and Cyprus have the halachic status of being part of Eretz Yisroel (see Gittin 8a and Tosafos ad locum). Allow me to explain:

In Parshas Masei, the Torah describes the western border of Eretz Yisroel:

The western border will be the Great Sea, and its territory [“ugevul”]; that will be for you the western border. (I have followed the translation of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch that the word gevul means its territory.) According to the Gemara (Gittin 8a), the word ugevul teaches that there are islands in the Mediterranean, the “Great Sea” of the pasuk, that are halachically considered part of Eretz Yisroel. There, the Gemara quotes a dispute between tanna’im regarding which islands located in the Mediterranean are halachically part of Eretz Yisroel and which are not. Rabi Yehudah contends that the word ugevul includes any island in the Mediterranean situated directly west of Eretz Yisroel. These islands are imbued with the sanctity of the Holy Land. Since, according to some opinions, the Biblically promised area of Eretz Yisroel extends quite far north, many of the southern Greek islands, including both Cyprus and Crete, are halachically Eretz Yisroel, according to Rabi Yehudah.

However, we do not follow this approach, but that of the rabbonon. They draw an imaginary line from the northwestern-most point of Eretz Yisroel to its southwestern-most point and include only islands that are east of this imaginary line. There are few islands in this area, and certainly both Cyprus and Crete are not included (Derech Emunah, Terumos 1:89).

Corfu

Corfu, by far the smallest of the four islands we are discussing, is today part of the country of Greece. It is on the opposite side of Greece from Crete, northwest of the Greek mainland; the second largest and most northern of the Ionian Islands. On the above map, Corfu is too small to be identified, but the island in the northeastern corner of the Ionian Sea, near the border of Greece and Albania, is Corfu.

Jews of Corfu

The 12th century Jewish traveler, Binyamin of Tudela, writes that he crossed the Ionian Sea from Otranto, Italy, to Corfu. From Corfu, he sailed to Arta on the Greek mainland, and from there he traversed the rest of Greece. In his day, there was no Jewish community in Corfu, but it appears that about a century after his trip, there was what we can call a “Jewvenation” of the island. It appears that Jews arrived there from Greece to the east, and from Italy to the west. The communities of southeastern Italy (the heel of the Italian boot) – again, neither Ashkenazim nor Sefardim – had their own customs, which were usually called Puglian, taken from a geographic term applied to this area of Italy. (In English, this area is usually called Apulia.) The Puglian Jews trace their history in the Italian boot to the time of the Second Beis Hamikdash, when Jews often settled in Italy as a result of the increasing influence of the Roman Empire.

Apparently, there were two different communities in Corfu, each with its own shul and its own cemetery. After the Spanish expulsion, a new ingredient was added to the Corfu mix, when the Sefardic Jews arrived. Thus, there were three distinct kehillos in this relatively small community: Romaniote, Puglian, and Sefardic. Still later, I found reference to a fourth kehillah in Corfu following the customs of the Sicilian communities (Shu”t Haredach #11). In a relatively unknown chapter of Jewish history, there was a vibrant Jewish community in Sicily (which begins with an S, not a C) that was expelled in 1492, at the same time the Jews were expelled from Spain.

As a result of this interesting background, the Jews of Corfu spoke their own distinctive local dialect, a mixture of Greek, Hebrew and Italian. This language was distinct from that of other Greek Jews, who spoke their own dialect of Greek called Yevanic. (Think of the relationship between German and Yiddish.) The Corfu Jews were the only significant minority among a population that was otherwise exclusively Greek Orthodox.

Of the four islands that we have discussed, Corfu contained the most prominent Jewish community, including many prominent rabbonim and poskim. For example, in the early sixteenth century, the Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev refers to the city of Corfu as boasting of a resident, Rav Shabsi Kohen, as a great talmid chacham among a community of talmidei chachamim. We have extant a heter agunah signed by this Rav Shabsi together with two other local rabbonim in the year 1510.

Not long thereafter, the rav of the Romaniote kehillah of Corfu was Rabbi David ben Chaim Hacohen (the Radach) a prominent posek who corresponded with the great Sefardic poskim of his time. He may have had a yeshiva there, since the author of Teshuvos Mishpetei Shmuel calls himself a disciple of Rabbi David ben Chaim Hacohen.

Corfu is mentioned in the context of various halachic issues in hundreds of responsa. At one point, it even boasted its own Jewish printing house.

By the nineteenth century approximately 5,000 Jews lived on the island, each affiliated with one of the various kehillos. In the course of time, the Sefardic community became the strongest and, although the other shullen were still called the Greek, Puglian or Sicilian shullen, they all davened the nusach of the original Spanish communities.

The unfortunate destruction of this once-vibrant community occurred in two stages. In the late nineteenth century, there was a blood libel, the result of which was that the majority of the Jewish community dispersed to other lands. Of course, the final blow was the Nazis, who wiped out virtually the entire remaining population of about 2,000 Jews. Today, there are less than one hundred highly assimilated Jews on Corfu among a population of about 100,000 people, and only one shul is known to still exist.

Corfu esrog

Corfu’s semi-tropical climate allowed it to make a unique contribution to Jewish history. For well over a century, it was the primary source for esrogim used all over Europe. Corfu esrogim, which were apparently predominantly grown by non-Jewish farmers, were known for their beauty. Since they were grown by non-Jews for the Jewish market, there was much halachic discussion, beginning as far back as the 18th century, concerning whether one could rely that the esrogim had not been crossbred with other species, which would invalidate them according to most opinions. (Discussions about crossbred esrogim date back to the sixteenth century, with the majority of halachic authorities ruling that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah on Sukkos with an esrog grafted onto a tree of another species.) One very prominent authority, the Beis Meir, invalidated the Corfu esrogim (responsum at the end of the Orach Chayim volume of his commentary to Shulchan Aruch), while others ruled that they were kosher (Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Orach Chayim #56; Shaarei Teshuvah 649:7; Shu”t Zecher Yehosef #232).

Corfu vs. Corsica

Esrogim also grow on Corsica, which is on the other side of the Italian peninsula from Corfu. At one point, these three areas, the two islands of Corfu and Corsica, and the Italian mainland in between, were the main sources of esrogim shipped to central and Eastern Europe. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, we find various disputing responsa regarding which esrogim were acceptable or preferable. Some authorities ruled that one may use the Corfu esrogim but not those from Corsica, while others ruled just the opposite (Shu”t Tuv Taam Vadaas, #171; Shu”t Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor #28; also see Shu”t Sho’eil Umeishiv, Mahadura Telisa’i #144; Shu”t Or Somayach 2:1; Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 10:11:7). Still others ruled that both of these varieties of esrogim were kosher, but that it was preferable to purchase only from Eretz Yisroel, where the modern business of growing and shipping esrogim was just beginning (Shu”t Yeshuos Malko, Orach Chayim #46; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Choshen Mishpat #115).

In 1875, we have recorded the following halachic inquiry: An esrog retailer in Poland received esrogim from Corsica, and wanted to return them to his distributor, claiming that he had always previously received esrogim from Corfu. Is the buyer entitled to a refund?

Shu”t Beis Yitzchok rules that he is entitled to get his money back. Since the esrogim sold in that area were from Corfu, the distributor was required to tell the retailer that the esrogim were from a different source before he shipped them (Orach Chayim #108).

At this point, we can answer the second of our opening questions: “Is it better to use an esrog from Corfu, from Corsica, or from the mainland in between?”

The answer is that in the 21st century, most authorities will tell you to purchase an esrog grown in Eretz Yisroel. In earlier times, there were halachic disputes about the subject.

Corsican salvation

I mentioned earlier the troubled relationship between the French mainland and Corsica, from which the Jews benefited during the Holocaust. During World War II, France was divided into Nazi-occupied northern France, and the collaborative Pétain government, colloquially referred to as Vichy France, named for its capital. (Paris was occupied by the Nazis.) Mainland France under Marshal Pétain organized a census of its Jewish population that was subsequently used to hunt thousands of Jews who were rounded up, placed on trains and sent to the death camps. The remaining French Jews tried frantically to find shelter with those comparatively few sympathetic French people who were willing to hide them. Many fled to Corsica, where a small Jewish community existed.

Post-war historians have discovered documents from France’s Vichy government archives that imply that relatively few Jews were turned over by the non-Jewish Corsicans. According to recently published magazine articles, the Corsicans’ hatred of the French was put to good use, as the Corsicans kept the Jewish presence a secret from prying French eyes. The Corsican authorities’ explanation for not handing over any Jews was that there were none on the island. This explanation was accepted by Vichy, because the mainland, too, widely believed that hardly any Jews were in Corsica. In fact, thousands of Jews survived the war there.

Thus we see that, although none of these islands has a significant Jewish community, each was important at one time. Perhaps of greatest interest is that although Corsica’s community was always small, it ended up being a refuge that saved thousands of Jewish lives. Hashem rules the world and clearly destined that each of these islands fulfill a role in Jewish history and halacha.

 

Finding a Compatible Place for an Extended Family Outing

By Jerry Kaufman

As reported to Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

My sister and her family are coming for Yom Tov for the very first time, which has us all very excited! But, we need to figure out all the logistics of having everyone together for Yom Tov — where will everyone sleep, how to arrange sufficient seating space and chairs. After all, they have a very large family, and our two boys are accustomed to each having their own room.

And we want to make sure that the visiting family is comfortable. In truth, there have been some sticky situations in the past. Well, let me put it this way. We are frum, but we do not keep all the chumros that they do. This has created some uncomfortable situations in the past. What we realized is that to have an optimal relationship with them, we need to be very accommodating to their needs, which is sometimes complicated since we are not always certain what their needs are. And to complicate matters, we have discovered that they don’t trust the opinions of our rabbi. But they are really wonderful people, and in addition, mishpacha is mishpacha!

We already know that when they come we should make sure to have plenty of cholov yisroel products available and to double check what hechsherim they accept. And we know that they will not use the eruv, which our rabbi uses himself. So, I guess, to each his own. But I want to make sure that they are comfortable; we really want to have a nice Yom Tov together, and so do they.

Since they have never been here for such an extended stay, we would really like to show them the sites of town. Our city is blessed with many really nice museums, many of them extremely child friendly. Hopefully, these will help make the Yom Tov memorable for all.

But one second. My brother-in-law Muttie is a kohen, and has told me that he is very careful about checking museums before he goes. It would be really nice if I can figure out in advance which museums he can visit so that we can plan the Chol HaMoed itinerary.

But maybe we can take his under-bar-mitzvah boys to the Children’s Museum without any concern? I am going to call the rabbi. After all, he is also a kohen.

I reached Rabbi Katz on the first try. He told me that the prohibition of making a kohen tamei also applies to a kohen who is too young to be obligated in mitzvos. An adult Yisroel may not bring a child or baby who is a kohen into a place where he would become tamei meis, such as a cemetery or funeral home. He told me that some kohanim are extremely careful not to visit people in hospitals even in places where most of the patients are not Jewish – not that we are planning any hospital visits during this Yom Tov.

While on the phone, I asked Rabbi Katz if there was any problem with a kohen going to a museum. He answered me that he himself goes, but he knows of kohanim who refrain from going. I asked him what the issue was, to which he responded that he would check it out and call me back.

Rabbi Katz telephoned a day later, having spoken to the city’s av beis din, Rav Gross. The senior rabbi had explained that there is a dispute whether a kohen may enter a museum in which there are human remains inside a glass enclosed display area. He explained that whereas Jewish remains certainly convey tumah whether they are touched, carried or in the same room as a person; and sometimes even if they are in the same building, it is disputed whether gentile remains convey tumah when they are in the same room if they are not touched or carried.

Rabbi Katz explained that the tumah that spreads throughout a room or building is called tumas ohel. This does not affect non-Kohanim today, since everyone is tamei anyway, and to remove this tumah requires ashes of the parah adumah. However, a kohen must be careful not to enter the same ohel as Jewish remains.

However, whereas the remains of a non-Jew convey tumas meis if they are touched or carried, there is a dispute whether they convey tumas ohel, that is, the tumah that spreads through a room or building. The halacha is that one should try to be careful and, therefore, a kohen should not enter a building containing the remains of a non-Jew.

When a museum contains parts of human bodies, we do not usually know whether these are from Jewish bodies or not, and we may assume that since most of the world is not Jewish, that they are from non-Jews. In addition, the remains in a museum are usually inside glass displays that can be opened when necessary. Some authorities contend that this glass enclosure is halachically equivalent to having the remains in a different room; in their opinion a kohen may enter a museum (see Shu”t Maharsham #215).

Thus, Rav Gross had concluded that a kohen wanting to visit a museum where all the remains are inside display cases has a basis to be lenient because of these two reasons.

Although I was glad to discover that my kohen friends who attend museums have a basis, I realized that Muttie would probably not accept the lenient approach. I remembered a time that we were visiting them and they had taken us to a neighborhood children’s museum with many “hands-on” science exhibits perfect for children. Upon turning a corner of the museum, we discovered an area described as an “Indian Burial Ground,” complete with bones for realistic affect. Assuming that the bones were artificial, Muttie had casually asked the receptionist, “Are these bones authentic?”

The receptionist answered, “Actually, they are not. They are probably not Indian bones, but acquired elsewhere.” Upon hearing this information, Muttie bee-lined an abrupt exit from the museum. Indeed, they were not authentic Indian bones, but they were authentic human bones! Unquestionably, Muttie is concerned about human bones even when they are probably of a gentile. I was also fairly certain that Muttie would not rely on the fact that the remains are inside a glass display.

At this point, I remembered a cute little theater that runs actual Shakespeare plays. What could be wrong with Shakespeare? Until I inquired, and discovered that one of the props for Hamlet is a real skull! I had just about given up on this idea, when I mentioned it to Rabbi Katz. He commented: “Check it out. I remember once discovering that these skulls are not complete, and that there is a halacha that a damaged skull does not convey tumah throughout a building.”

Off I went, to check Hamlet’s skull. Much to my surprise, they were willing to show me the actual skull that they used, although they told me that they have no crossbones. Sure enough, I discovered that the top of the skull had been replaced with a metal plate. I am no Torah scholar, and had no idea whether this would be acceptable.

I called Rav Gross, the city’s av beis din, myself and described to him the Shakespearian skull, explaining the family situation so that he would realize that I was not hunting for a lenient opinion. He told me that there was no kohen issue. “If one removes enough of an area of a skull that a live person would not be able to survive, the partial skull remaining no longer spreads tumah unless it is touched or carried. The subsequent repair with a metal plate does not cause the skull to spread tumas ohel, although it would spread tumas ohel if the removed skullcap was in the same room.”

Since I did not envision Muttie or his sons joining the cast of Hamlet, it seemed that we would be able to take them to the Shakespeare Theater as a special activity for Chol HaMoed. I thanked Rav Gross for sharing his scholarship with me, at which point he made the following observation:

“Are you sure that this is the type of entertainment that your brother-in-law and his children would appreciate?”

Admittedly, this question had not even occurred to me. What could be risqué about Shakespeare? But then again, Muttie’s priorities in education are very different from mine. I am not sure if this is the type of Chol HaMoed outing that he would consider memorable.

So I resigned myself to try to verify if any of our museums are kosher for kohanim. I asked the local Vaad Ha’Ir if they have ever researched the museums. They told me that although it is a good idea, they have never done so, but would be very eager to follow up on whatever I discover.

I called the information desk at the children’s science museum, and explained that I have company from out of town who are unable to visit the museum if it contains any human remains. I realized that they must have thought I was absolutely bonkers! I can just imagine the conversation that transpired among the receptionists on their lunch break!

Although the information desk notified me that there were no human remains to be had anywhere in the museum, I did not get any sense that they took me seriously and decided that I would have to take a trip there to check it out myself.

I decided the best way to handle the situation was to call Muttie directly, and try to get direction from him what the parameters are.

I received quite an education from Muttie. If I can paraphrase what he told me: “A close friend of mine, who is not a kohen, often visits museums to verify whether a kohen may enter. Among the most common remains he finds are mummies, human bones, skeletons, and preserved fetuses, but occasionally he has discovered preserved human organs or entire cadavers. One museum had an empty stone casket that had been found in Eretz Yisroel with an obvious Jewish name on it. Since the supports of a grave are also sometimes tamei, we had a shaylah whether this contaminates the entire museum.

“Often displays of these items are not inside glass-enclosed areas, which increases the halachic concerns. For example, he has discovered on the shelves of museums such artifacts as Aztec musical instruments carved from the femurs of captured prisoners as well as bowls hollowed out from skulls. By the way, Muttie noted, these bowls pose a problem only if the kohen touches them or picks them up – boy, was he impressed when I told him why!

“During one visit, he noticed a display of a giant, which he assumed was a mannequin, but on closer inspection turned out to be a giant whose remains had been preserved in formaldehyde!”

Muttie’s friend feels that a kohen who would like to visit a particular museum should first have a knowledgeable non-kohen carefully research the entire museum. From first-hand experience, he can attest that one should not rely on the information desk personnel – they are often uninformed of what the museum owns. In one instance, the information desk insisted that a museum displaying ossuaries containing human bones had absolutely no human remains!

“The curators also often make mistakes. In one museum, there was a skull on display, which we asked the curator whether it was real. She told us that she knows that the museum purchased it from a supplier who sells only replicas and not real skulls or skeletons. I asked her if there was any way that one could look at a skull and tell if it was real. She responded that you can usually tell by making a very careful inspection of its teeth. To demonstrate the difference between the replica and a real skull, she opened the display to show him – and discovered, much to her surprise, that the skull was real! It turned out that the museum had purchased it at a time that the supplier sold real specimens!

“Lesson to learn: Be careful, and ask lots of probing questions.”

Muttie then told me an interesting bit of information. “When approaching a museum, one should ask if it contains any remains that fall under the NAGPRA act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This was a law passed by Congress requiring many institutions to return Native American cultural items and human remains to their respective peoples. Under one provision of this law, these institutions are required to catalog all Native American burial items and religious artifacts in their collections in order to identify the living heirs, culturally affiliated Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations of remains and artifacts.

“Someone trying to find out whether a museum contains tamei remains can easily begin his conversation with the curator or collection manager by mentioning NAGPRA. Since they are familiar with the requirements of this law, the subject of human remains and their cataloging in the museum’s collections are no longer so strange to them. One can use this as an entrée to discuss what a kohen is and what our halachic concerns are. I have found that the curators are usually very helpful; however, one must ask very specifically about each type of item, such as skeletons, skulls, bones, preserved organs, and mummies, since they are not thinking about tumah but about science.

“Furthermore, sometimes the curators themselves do not know what the museum has in storage. Here one often gets into very interesting halachic questions that one needs to discuss with a first-line posek. For example, while looking at one museum, someone discovered that a different floor of the building contained drawers filled with all sorts of human artifacts.

“By the way,” Muttie noted, “there are other things to be concerned of in museums even if one is not a kohen. Many museums contain actual idols that constitute real avodah zarah. The question arises whether one may even look at them.”

At this point, my brother-in-law educated me by pointing out that when the Torah states al tifnu el elilim, do not turn to idols (VaYikra 19:4), the prohibition includes looking at idols (Yerushalmi, Avodah Zarah 3:1; Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 2:2; Sefer HaMitzvos, Lo Saaseh #10; Chinuch #213). The Magen Avraham (307:23) explains that the Torah prohibits only gazing at an idol, but does not prohibit glancing at it. Therefore, seeing it is not prohibited, but intentionally looking at it is. Thus, one must be wary of this prohibition when visiting a museum that may include icons, statues, and images.

While I was contemplating the last fact, Muttie called me back to our original topic with the following comment: “Jerry, do you know what kind of massive undertaking this is? The reason I rarely take the family to museums is that I am always uncertain what they contain, and I know how difficult it is to really determine what they have – the curators themselves often don’t know.

“I must tell you. I am so appreciative of your putting this effort into making sure we have a nice time. But you have to work and make Yom Tov. Besides, my kids are not oriented towards museum visits — they spend most of their time in Yeshiva, and they much prefer spending time playing ball and running around in the park. I am sure your wonderful boys have nice friends and the cousins and the friends can play some ball. For my kids that will be seventh heaven – and something much more memorable.”

I must admit that it had not even occurred to me that the cousins would enjoy just playing ball together. Indeed we had an absolutely wonderful Yom Tov that the cousins will all remember for years to come! And I left to someone else to research whether the local museums are kohen-appropriate. Are you interested in working on this project on behalf of klal Yisroel?

Should a Kohen Be Afraid of Confederate Ghosts?

clip_image002When Yaakov Avinu asks his sons not to bury him in Egypt, Rashi notes three reasons for this request:

(1) The earth of Egypt would turn to lice during the Ten Plagues.

(2) To avoid the suffering of rolling to Eretz Yisroel at the time of techiyas hameisim.

(3) To prevent the Egyptians from making him into an idol.

On the other hand, although Yosef and his brothers undoubtedly had the same motives to be buried in Eretz Yisroel, they could not arrange their immediate burials there and were interred in Egypt until the Jews left. This is a classic example of the exhumation and reburial of meisim (human remains).

Our article will discuss a case where meisim were supposed to have been reburied, but apparently were not, creating a number of halachic concerns.

THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In a major metropolis, one section of the city included a large cemetery. About 140 years ago, this cemetery was closed to new burials and later, many of its graves were exhumed. Subsequently, the city constructed residential and commercial areas, city streets, a major park, a zoo, and museums atop the seventy-two acres of the cemetery.

Here is the historical background: In 5603/1843, the city designated a sixty acre area as a cemetery and three years later, a Jewish organization paid $45 to purchase part of this land as its own cemetery. Four years later, in 5610/1850, the city purchased an adjacent area of twelve more acres to expand the cemetery, so that it now encompassed 72 acres.

However, in the late 1850’s, a prominent physician requested that the cemetery be closed because of concern that it was too close to the city’s water supply and that it might spread disease. Until that point, this cemetery was the only authorized one in the city, and included a large “potters’ field,” or area for burying the destitute and the unidentified.

Two years later, an area immediately north of the cemetery was set aside as a park. During this time, the city gradually ceased using the cemetery. However, since the area was near a large prisoner-of-war camp housing captured Confederate soldiers, an estimated 4,000 Confederates who died in custody were interred in the cemetery’s potters’ field. At one time, the cemetery held an estimated 35,000 graves, including the resting place for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the Confederacy.

In 5626/1866 the cemetery was officially closed, partly due to the physician’s health concerns. By now, the Civil War was over and the surviving Confederate captives had been repatriated. The city officially decided to move the remains buried in this cemetery to other locations. Over the next thirty years there are numerous scattered reports of moving the graves to new locations. Despite attempts to remove graves, a conservative speculation is that the majority of the remains were never removed.

Fast forward to the modern era: In 5722/1962, workers digging a foundation for the zoo’s new barn discovered a skeleton and a casket. They reburied the casket in situ and poured the foundation right on top. During 5758/1998, workers constructing a parking lot in the area discovered 81 skeletons and an iron casket containing a cadaver. There are at least nineteen more reports of human bones found in the disused cemetery’s location.

Thus, the shaylah is whether a Kohen may walk through the streets and businesses of this old-time burial ground.

Steve Katz lives and works in this city and is well aware of the history of this park and its environs. His boss assigns him to attend a business meeting at a hotel that is located in the area that was originally the cemetery. Since Steve is a Kohen, may he attend the meeting? If he cannot, how will he explain this to his gentile employer?

Steve made an appointment to discuss the problem with his Rav, whom he knows will explain to him all the aspects of the shaylah.

WILL THE TUMAH RISE FROM THE GROUND?

Rav Goldberg begins by explaining some of the halachic background. When human remains are buried, under most circumstances the tumah rises directly above and contaminates the area above it. If a building is constructed directly above a grave, tumah may spread throughout that building, although sometimes it may spread only through the bottom floor and possibly only into the room constructed directly above the grave. We will have to leave for another time the discussion as to what factors affect how far tumah will spread through the structure.

If there is no building, tree or overhang over the gravesite, one becomes tamei only if one walks or stands directly above the gravesite.

SAFEK TUMAH BIRSHUS HARABIM

“However, the specific situation that you are asking about may be more lenient,” explains the Rav, “because of a concept called safek tumah birshus harabim, sefeiko tahor, which means, literally, that if there is doubt about whether something in a public area became tamei, the halacha is that it remains tahor (see Nazir 57a). Notwithstanding our usual assumption that safek de’oraysa lechumra, we rule strictly on doubts concerning Torah prohibitions, we rule leniently concerning a doubt of matters of tumah when the question occurred in a “public” area, a term we will define shortly.

There is also an inverse principle that safek tumah birshus hayachid, sefeiko tamei, which means that if there is doubt whether someone or something contracted tumah when they were in a private area, they are considered tamei.

WHAT IS PUBLIC?

For the purposes of these two principles, “public” is defined as an area to which at least three people have ready access, and “private” means a place that is accessible to less than three people. Thus, someone who discovers that he may have become tamei while walking down the street remains tahor. However, if he discovers that he may have become tamei while he was in a private area he is tamei. (All of these laws are derived from pesukim.)

“I know that there is more to explain,” interjects Steve, “but it would appear that one could have a situation in which one may enter a building, but one may not use the bathrooms, have a private office, or have a private interview.”

“It is certainly true,” responded the sage, “that someone entering a public building and discovering that he may have become tamei while there, would remain tahor, whereas if he entered a similar private area, he would be considered tamei. However, there are other factors to consider before we reach a definitive ruling.”

MAY THE KOHEN ENTER?

At this point, Steve raised a sophisticated point:

“I understand that someone who entered this area would afterwards be considered tahor. But may I enter the area knowing that I may be contaminating my kehunah?”

The Rav explained: “You are asking whether a Kohen may lichatchilah rely on the principle of safek tumah birshus harabim, or whether this principle is applied only after the fact. In general, one must be stringent when there is concern that one may be violating a Torah prohibition, and it is prohibited min hatorah for a Kohen to contact tumah from a meis. Thus, one could assume that a Kohen should not enter an area where there is a possibility of tumah. However, many authorities rule leniently when dealing with a safek tumah birshus harabim. They contend that the Torah only prohibited a Kohen from becoming tamei, but not from entering a situation where he will be ruled as tahor (Tosafos, Kesubos 28b s.v. Beis; Shu”t Rashba #83; Binas Odom, Klal 157; Pischei Teshuvah 369:4, quoting Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah; Minchas Chinuch 263:13 s.v. Vehinei). Thus, a Kohen could enter any publicly available area, including an office or residential building constructed over the city’s defunct cemetery. However, he could not enter an area restricted to less than three people.

“Others contend that since the Torah prohibits a Kohen from being in contact with a meis, he is similarly prohibited, because of safek de’oraysah lechumra, to be in a place where he might be exposed to a meis” (Tzelach, Berachos 19b; Achiezer 3:1:1, 3:65:7; Kovetz Shiurim; Teshuvos VeHanhagos).

STATUS QUO

Steve raised another point:

“In fact, we know that this area was once a cemetery, and we are fairly certain that not all the graves were exhumed. Does this make matters worse?”

“You are raising a very insightful question. Even assuming that a Kohen can rely on the principle of safek tumah bireshus harabim, this principle might not apply here since we know that this area was once a cemetery, and we are fairly certain that some graves remain. Thus we have a chazakah, status quo, that the area was once tamei meis, and we are uncertain whether the tumah was removed. In such a situation, perhaps the principle of safek tumah birshus harabim does not apply, since this rule may apply only where there is no status quo. (In Mikvaos 2:2, this seems to be the subject of a dispute between Tannayim. See also Tosafos, Niddah 2a s.v. Vehillel.)

“Nevertheless, in our particular case, we have some basis to be lenient. Although this entire area was once set aside as a cemetery, it is very unlikely that it became filled wall-to-wall with graves, and also, only the places directly above the graves were tamei. Thus, any place within the cemetery was tamei because of doubt, not because of certainty.

JEWISH VERSUS NON-JEWISH GRAVES

“There is another reason to permit entering the hotel for your meeting. People who researched the area have ascertained the exact location of the original Jewish cemetery, which is now the location of the ball fields of a local park. Thus, although I would advise you and your sons not to play ball on those particular diamonds, we can be more lenient regarding entering the hotel constructed in the area, as I will explain.”

Steve replied: “But how can we be certain that no Jews were ever buried in the non-Jewish cemetery. There definitely were some Jewish soldiers in the Confederate army, and it is likely that some Jews were buried in the non-Jewish cemetery or in the potters’ field.”

His Rav replied: “You are correct that some Jews were probably buried in the non-Jewish parts of the cemetery. Nevertheless, since we do not know this for certain, we may work with the assumption that there are no Jews there.”

“But even a non-Jewish body conveys tumah, so I still have a problem.”

“This depends on whether remains of a gentile convey tumas ohel, that is by being under the same being under the roof, cover, or overhang that is at least three inches (a tefach) wide.

DO THE REMAINS OF A NON-JEW CONVEY TUMAH?

“Although virtually all authorities agree that remains of a non-Jew convey tumah through touching and carrying, the Gemara cites the opinion of Rabbi Shimon that remains of a non-Jew do not convey tumas ohel (Yevamos 61a). The Rishonim dispute whether this position is held universally, and, in addition, whether this is the way we rule. It appears that most Rishonim conclude that a Kohen may enter a room containing the remains of a gentile because they follow Rabbi Shimon’s position. Others contend that we do not follow Rabbi Shimon’s position and that tumah of a gentile does spread through ohel. The Shulchan Aruch considers the question as unresolved and advises a Kohen not to walk over the graves of non-Jews (Yoreh Deah 372:2).”

At this point, Steve commented. “It seems from what you are saying that it is not a good idea for a Kohen to enter buildings in this area, but one may enter if there is a pressing reason” (see Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #470).

The Rav responded: “This is the conclusion of many authorities. Some are even more lenient. One famous responsum permits a Kohen to enter a field that he purchased without realizing that it contained an unmarked gentile cemetery. The author permits this by combining two different leniencies, each of which is somewhat questionable. One leniency is that perhaps a gentile does not spread tumah through ohel, and the other leniency is that some early authorities contend that once a Kohen becomes tamei, he is not forbidden from making himself tamei again (Raavad, Hil. Nezirus 5:15, as explained by Mishneh LaMelech, Hil. Aveil 3:1). Although we do not rule like this last opinion, the Avnei Nezer contends that one can combine both of these ideas to permit the Kohen who purchased this field without realizing the problem to utilize his purchase (Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #466).”

“This case of the Avnei Nezer sounds like a much more difficult situation in which to rule leniently than mine,” noted Steve. “After all, in his case there was no attempt to clear out the cemetery.”

“You are correct. For this reason, I would certainly not find fault with someone who chose to be lenient and indiscriminately enter the area that was only a gentile cemetery, relying on the ruling that gentile remains do not contaminate through ohel, and on the principle of safek tumah birshus harabim.”

“It still seems that one should avoid the ball fields that are located right over the old Jewish cemetery.”

“I would certainly advise this,” closed the Rabbi.

So Steve does not need to explain to his boss that he cannot attend business meetings at the hotel because of lost Confederate ghosts.

Although there may be little reason to panic over such issues, as we have discussed, one should be aware that it is not infrequent to discover old cemeteries beneath modern cities. Cemeteries, particularly Jewish ones, were always consecrated on sites outside the city limits in order to avoid the obvious problems of tumah affecting kohanim. Unfortunately, when Jews were exiled, the whereabouts of many cemeteries became forgotten, and in addition, as cities expand, they include areas that were originally outside the city’s limits that often include earlier cemeteries. Thus, these problems will continue to prevail. In each case, a posek must be consulted to find out whether, and to what extent, a Kohen need be concerned.

WHY IS IT PROHIBITED FOR A KOHEN TO COME IN CONTACT WITH A MEIS?

It is beyond our understanding to explain why Hashem commanded us to keep each specific mitzvah. However, we can and should attempt to glean a taste of Hashem’s mitzvos in order to appreciate and grow from the experience, including understanding why the Torah bans a Kohen from having contact with a meis under normal circumstances.

Rav Hirsch, in his commentary on Vayikra 21:5, provides a beautiful educational insight into this mitzvah. In most religions, fear of death is a major “selling point” of the religion. Thus, the role of the priest is most important when dealing with the dying and the dead.

However, Torah emphasizes how to live like a Jew — to study Torah, perform the mitzvos, and develop ourselves in Hashem’s image. To emphasize that Hashem provided us with the blueprint for perfect living, the Torah excludes the Kohen, who is the nation’s teacher, from involvement with death. Thus, the Kohen’s role is to imbue us with the knowledge and enthusiasm to truly live!

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.