Rescue service establishes kohanim unit with eye on future Temple Mount attacks


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The ZAKA search and rescue organization has established a kohanim unit to respond to future attacks on the Temple Mount.

The unit announced Sunday was formed by the haredi Orthodox organization in the wake of the July 14 terror attack on the Temple Mount, in which three Arab-Israelis shot and killed two Druze Israel Police officers at the site holy to Jews and Muslims.

Kohanim, members of the priestly class, do not usually volunteer for ZAKA, since they are prohibited from coming into contact with dead bodies.

Many rabbis, including the Chief Rabbinate, forbid Jews to visit the Temple Mount, since all people are considered ritually “impure” due to contact with dead bodies at hospitals, cemeteries and other places. Other rabbis allow someone who has immersed in a mikvah, or ritual bath, to visit the site.

Immediately after the July 14 attack, the ZAKA Rabbinical Council, headed by Avigdor Nebenzahl, rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, determined that a single volunteer should immerse in a mikvah and go to the Temple Mount to remove the dead bodies of the police and terrorists after instruction on the areas of the site where Jews are forbidden to step.

The rabbinical council continued the discussion after the attack, according to ZAKA, and determined that “there is a religious obligation to remove every dead body from the Temple Mount whether the body is that of a Jew or non-Jew, or even a terrorist.”

The rabbis also determined that in an emergency, sending a kohen was preferable to sending another Jewish volunteer, and if time permits sending a non-kohen who has immersed in a mikvah is the most preferable. So ZAKA established the volunteer team despite the kohanim’s prohibitions.

“These are weighty questions about the most severe prohibitions in Jewish law, with their violation carrying a punishment of karet (being cut off from the Jewish people),” ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav said in a statement. “Therefore, it was very important to ZAKA to receive clear directions for the volunteers in accordance with Jewish law. I have much admiration for the ZAKA rabbis who were not afraid to address these difficult issues, when not many rabbis are willing to deal with them.”

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