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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Cohanim Beware!

An expansion project at the Knesset complex in Jerusalem recently ground to a halt when a cave containing Second Temple period graves was discovered on the property. The concern wasn't archaeological, but religious.

Dating back to traditions formed nearly three thousand years ago, when the Jewish Temples in the Holy Land were standing, priests who served in the Temple are forbidden to have any contact with the dead.

Three millennium later, Jewish law stipulates that their descendants - commonly identified with the last name Cohen - are still enjoined from entering, or even passing over, a cemetery. [Link]
Problem is, at least six parliamentarians are cohanim (or kohanim), and the whole Parliament building could be declared off-limits to them. Officials have come up with a solution that might save the day: they're covering up the tomb, and keeping the Knesset windows closed "to prevent any exposure to the impure winds from the adjacent burial cave."

The care that cohanim must take is evident from this plaque affixed to a wall in Krakow:
COHANIM BEWARE !!!

ONLY THE OPPOSITE SIDEWALK CAN BE USED FOR WALKING ON THIS STREET !!!

THE SIDEWALK ON THIS SIDE AND A PART OF THE ROADWAY HAVE BEEN PAVED OVER GRAVES.
See The Tribe: Cohen-Levi Family Heritage for a history of the cohanim, an account of their family-specific privileges and responsibilities, and a very good article on the discovery of the "Cohen Gene"—a remarkable confluence of science and tradition.

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