Kohanim Advised to Fly From Israel at Night
by Am Echad-Israel for Hamodia
November 23, 2001
Reports of Kohanim incurring tumas hameis
on flights out of Israel have caused confusion in the religious community. Am Echad-Israel has researched this issue to help clarify the problem and its implications.
This problem first became known to rabbinic authorities in Jerusalem before Sukkot, when a former pilot alerted Rabbi Dovid Morgenstern, a rav in Ramat Shlomo and a close talmid of Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, that certain flights leaving Ben Gurion passed over the Holon cemetery. That information was relayed to Rabbi Elyashiv, who ruled that it would be prohibited for Kohanim to take those flights.
Rabbi Morgenstern recruited a team of rabbis, politicians and a former air force pilot to search for solutions to this problem. They found that sea-bound flights leaving Ben Gurion airport during the daytime hours of 06:00 am to 11:00 pm fly directly over the Holon cemetery. According to El Al, these routes have been in use since 1984 and could not easily be changed, due to noise pollution and the proximity to areas used for military training exercises.
It was subsequently clarified that certain night flights would not be problematic for Kohanim. During the hours of 11:00 pm to 06:00 a.m. military exercises are not carried out, and the large Boeing 747 aircraft are able to travel through military airspace, avoiding the Holon area entirely.
Not all Kohanim could be helped by the new information. Many of the aircraft flying short routes to Europe, for example, are not 747’s. These flights pass over the cemetery, even at night.
A permanent solution had to be found to enable Kohanim to fly without problems.
At first it was suggested that perhaps Kohanim could hermetically seal themselves in plastic bags (which are not mekablei tumah) as the plane passes over the cemetery. That solution, however, was rejected on both halachic and safety grounds.
Therefore, negotiations with the Transportation Ministry to reroute the problematic flights now appear to be the only solution. Rabbis Meir Porush, Moshe Gafni, and Avraham Ravitz of United Torah Judaism consulted with transportation minister Ephraim Sneh and with Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). After negotiations, Minister Sneh sent a handwritten letter to Rabbi Elyashiv, which was widely circulated by a Jerusalem weekly, stating that the flight routes had been changed, and the planes were now flying 500 meters to the side of the cemetery.
That claim, however, has been researched and proven false. Contrary to the information provided by the minister, the routes have not been changed at all.
Negotiations are continuing, and as soon as there is a solution, it will be announced to the public.
In the interim, Kohanim should be cautious about which flights they take from Israel. At the moment, there appears to be no problem with flights coming into Israel because they use a different route. The problematic flights include those which leave during the hours 06:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. Smaller aircraft leaving at night are also problematic for Kohanim, unlike 747’s leaving at night, or most flights going to the Far East or South Africa.
For further information, call the 24 hour hotline: 055-845-614.
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