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January 23, 2017 / 25 Tevet, 5777
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My Machberes

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Leonard Bernstein gravesite, Green-Wood Cemetery.

On Chol Hamoed Sukkos 2001, Rabbi Mayer Bransdorfer, zt”l, a member dayan of the Jerusalem Badatz and author of Knei Bosem, after careful and deliberate analysis issued a ruling prohibiting kohanim from departing or landing at Lod on regularly scheduled commercial flights. Announcements were made in Jerusalem shtiebels of the ban, advising kohanim visiting from abroad to sail to Cyprus, a six-hour trip, and board homebound flights there.

The ruling was quickly followed by the proscription of Rabbi Yisroel Yaakov Fisher, (zt”l 1925-2003), Jerusalem Badatz Rosh Beis Din. Many kohanim sailed to Cyprus in accordance with the rabbinic determinations. Others sought to introduce the use of body bags by kohanim to hermetically separate themselves from contamination during the over-flights. El Al, among other airlines, forbade use of body bags for fear of suffocation, even if they were perforated in halachically accepted areas. Since then, flight patterns of most commercial flights to and from Israel have been changed by as little as one third of a mile to avert cemetery over-flights.

Major Development in Meron

In Meron, most roads were found to be paved-over gravesites. A method was desperately sought that would get kohanim up to the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and keep them from contaminating themselves through trespassing over a grave. Concerned rabbis decided a permissible method of access must be made available. They therefore proposed a path that would be made upon archways on top of archways (kipin al gabei chipin – Mishnayos Parah 3:6 and Rambam Hilchos Beis Habechirah 5:1). This construction effectively intervenes and neutralizes the contamination of any graves that may be found underneath.

In order to understand this concept, we should bear in mind that a building that contains a corpse, or a structure that is built on property that includes a grave, is contaminated by the corpse or the grave within the building. The contamination does not “exit” the building; however, if a wall is built directly upon a grave, its contamination is continued up through the wall above and beyond. Therefore, if archways, each with a minimum height of a tefach (4 inches), are erected upon archways, with the top archways built upon the summits of two archways underneath, then the contamination of a wall built directly upon a grave is encased and limited by the archway immediately above it.

Kohanim are permitted to walk on archways built upon archways even if graves are known to be underneath. Such construction was used to build the Beis HaMikdash as well as bridges leading to the Temple Mount.

Lucena: Reburial in Ancient Jewish Cemetery

Following intense negotiations by the American organization Admas Kodesh and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE) with the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain (FCJE), in collaboration with local government authorities, the remains of more than 170 graves of kedoshim which were unfortunately exhumed during work on the nearby site in Lucena, Spain, were reburied on Sunday, December 18.

Reburial in Lucena

The reburial was carried out by members of the Chevra Kadisha of Madrid, in co-operation with Admas Kodesh and a team of experts from the London based CPJCE, with full halachic guidance of the Rabbinical Board of the CPJCE, headed by Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, dean of Yeshiva Horomo and universally respected halachic authority. The ceremony and special prayers were led by Rabbi Moshe Ben Dahan, chief rabbi of Madrid; Rabbi Meir Zwiebel of Admas Kodesh; and Rabbi Moshe Hershaft of the CPJCE.

Gershon Schlesinger, executive board chairman of UJCare of Williamsburg, expressed his deep gratitude and thanks to the administrative team of the FCJE for their invaluable assistance and active help in resolving this challenge as quickly as possible. He also added that this once again demonstrated the remarkable success of diplomacy and considerate dialogue between all parties concerned.

In light of the successful resolution, UJcare is intensifying its negotiations with the Spanish government and regional authorities, together with the FCJE, to accelerate legislation that would protect Jewish cemeteries in Spain.

Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum

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  1. Yishar Koach on a very nice article. It was brought to my attention by several people who pointed out that the information about current flights is erroneous – all night flights go over the cemetery (from 20 minutes before sunset until 20 minutes before sunrise) except the outgoing flights between 1-2 AM which do not fly over the cemetery. Outgoing flights actually take off roughly 20-30 minutes after time schedule on ticket.

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