Monday, April 22, 2013

Is There A Cohen In The House - Parashat Emor

Did you know that Jews have a kind of royalty?  Don't get too excited. There are no castles involved here, or even a title like "Your Majesty". The Jewish Royals are the Kohanim, the priests who once served in the Temple of Jerusalem.

Jacob had 12 sons. Each son was the leader of one of the Tribes of Israel. Each tribe had a separate territory, except the Tribe of Levi. During the Exodus, when the Israelites made the Golden Calf, the Levites refused to worship it. Because of their devotion, they were appointed as the servants to God. There were members from this tribe that were descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses. They were known as the Kohanim. Aaron was the first Kohen, the first High Priest. 

Parashat Emor begins with the laws restricting the Priests, the descendants of Aaron, from contact with the dead: "The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any dead person among his kin." (Lev 21:1).

Even though the system of the High Priesthood no longer exists, some descendants of the Kohanim are extremely careful to adhere to the ancient restrictive rules. First and foremost, is the prohibition against coming into contact or even close proximity to dead bodies. (Mind you, the rules get a bit more lax when the deceased person wasn't Jewish, just as long as the Kohen doesn't touch the body)

There are also strict rules regarding where a Kohen can walk  around a cemetery. 

And, obviously from this article, there are strict rules where a Kohen can and can't fly.



‘Plastic Bag’ Airplane Passenger a Kohen Staying Pure?

Look up in the sky? Is It a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Plastic Man – the Orthodox Jew who wrapped himself in plastic on an airplane, apparently because he is a very scrupulous Kohen.
tell a friend

An Orthodox Jewish man, wrapped in a plastic bag in his airline seat, apparently did so because he was probably a Kohen who went to extreme lengths to make sure he would not be ritually impure if the plane flew over a Jewish cemetery.
Kohenim are prohibited from coming into contact with dead bodies, and many rabbis have taken the strict opinion that a Kohen may not ride in a plane if he knows ahead of time that it will fly directly over a Jewish cemetery. Many have ruled that if does not know of the flight plan, he may ride in the airplane.
El Al once agreed to change a fight trajectory to avoid flying over a cemetery.
The man wrapped in plastic, whose photograph first appeared on the Redditor site and later on the Gothamist site, apparently did not want to take any chances. By covering himself in plastic, he established a separation between him and impurities.
However, since he arrived at his destination safe and sound, it can be assumed there was a hole in the plastic bag so he could breathe.
Some readers of Redditor suggested that “plastic man” was making sure he would not come into contact with the woman sitting behind him, but that is doubtful since it is unlikely he carried a plastic covering “just in case.”
Or maybe he simply wanted some attention.

So, if your last name is Cohen, or Kahn or even Schwartz, you just might be a part of this priestly tribe, that are descendants of one man, Aaron the High Priest, who lived 3,500 years ago. 

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