By COLlive reporter
A group of New York Rabbis toured the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan to establish the halachic status of kohanim wishing to visit the Ground Zero site.
Unidentified remains of thousands of victims are expected to be interred at the underground museum which commemorates the terror attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The Misaskim organization, which protects the dignity of the dead and assists mourners, organized the meeting in hopes of clarifying whether Kohanim may enter the site since they are forbidden to come in contact with the dead.
Thursday’s event was a follow-up to the first discussion on this matter in July 2012 and provided the rabbis a comprehensive tour of the site to ensure that every aspect concerning halachah can be properly analyzed.
Meeting with the rabbis was Dr. Bradley Adams, who heads the Forensic Anthropology Department at the New York City Medical Examiner’s office and oversees the recovery operations at Ground Zero.
Engineers in charge of construction of the museum explained the building’s infrastructure, including the cooling system that was installed where the remains are stored.
Dr. Adams, other Medical Examiner staff as well as museum administration that were involved in clean-up and identification efforts, explained to the rabbis the full scope of the clean-up operations and all the particulars that may have halachic ramifications.
“We discussed the many aspects of Jewish laws related to the ‘impurity of the dead’ and they were very accommodating with answering all our questions,” said Rabbi Shlomo Segal, dayan of the Crown Heights Beis Din (Badatz).
Speaking about astronomical financial costs involved in the clean up, Rabbi Segal said they were told that it cost $53 million to collect all the body parts to honor the deceased.
“There were 1,400 parts that remain unidentified and they will be stored in a special room in the museum in glass cases and double wrappings,” Rabbi Segal told COLlive.com. “Perhaps in the future there will be more advanced technologies to identify them.”
At the meeting, Rabbi Yitzchok Stein, Rav of the Karlsburg beis din, presented a booklet that collected more than 50 related scenarios and questions, as well as many references that needed to be addressed.
All these efforts enabled the rabbis to verify that it is permissible for kohanim not only to visit the Ground Zero site, but also to enter the museum building. “It was a joint psak by all those who were present,” Rabbi Segal said. “It was a great Kiddush Hashem. ”
Following the ruling, the rabbis praised the Medical Examiner’s office and museum personnel for their willingness to go way beyond the call of duty to accommodate the needs of the Jewish community.
“Under the current leadership of acting chief examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson, we experienced great levels of sensitivity and understanding with regard to halachic situations related to death,” Misaskim said. “Their dedication is certainly commendable.”
Toward the end of meeting, the rabbis prayed for and honored the holy victims who tragically perished on 9/11.
Rabbi Segal learned a Mishnah, Rabbi Yitzchok Stein proceeded with hanosein t’shuah and Rabbi Yechezkal Roth, the Karlsburg Rav, said Kaddish. All those present said the prayers generally recited in memory of the deceased after learning Mishnayos.
Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Rav of Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin of Avenue L, completed the services with Keil molei rachamim. “Yehi zichron baruch,” they said. May their memory be a blessing.