ZAKA MEMBERS stand by the dead body of a Palestinian terrorist after he stabbed two police officers outside Jerusalem’s Old City last year.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The ZAKA volunteer rescue and recovery organization has established a priestly unit to deal with scenarios requiring its assistance on the Temple Mount, following the murder of two policeman there earlier this month.
ZAKA is the responsible organization in the country for recovering bodies and other remains of people killed during terrorist attacks, accidents and natural disasters, and was required to deal with the Temple Mount incident as well.
It is however an organization borne of a religious ethos whose volunteers are mostly religious.
Since many rabbinic authorities, although not all, prohibit going up to the Temple Mount today because of ritual impurity that cannot currently be expunged, ZAKA’s rabbinical council had to convene an emergency conference call to decide how it could deal with the bodies of the two dead policeman and those of the three terrorists who were all killed during the course of their attack.
In this particular case and on a one-time basis, the rabbinic council of the organization instructed a single volunteer to go up to the mount after immersion in a mikva, ritual bath, and after receiving detailed instructions, in order to recover these bodies.
However, the ZAKA rabbinical council later convened in the home of its president Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, to discuss the topic and how to respond in similar circumstances in the future.
The rabbis eventually issued new religious directives to ZAKA volunteers regarding honoring the dead on the Temple Mount, and determined that there is a religious obligation to remove every dead body from the Temple Mount, regardless of whether they are Jewish or not.
The two policeman who were killed were from the Druse community, while the terrorists were from the Arab-Israeli town of Umm el-Fahm.
The rabbis also determined a chain of preference for which ZAKA volunteers should deal with the deceased on the Temple Mount starting with kohanim, those from the priestly caste, then Levites and then Israelites.
An Israelite who has ritually immersed is preferred over a priest or Levite who has not, and if there are no ritually pure volunteers who have immersed, the procedure will be carried out by ritually impure volunteers, preferably a Jew, rather than a non-Jew.
The rabbis instructed the ZAKA volunteers to carry out the following actions before entering the Temple Mount when possible: immersion in a ritual bath, wearing a minimum number of clothes, not wearing shoes, bringing in the smallest possible amount of equipment, and entering and leaving by the shortest possible route.
To implement the rabbis’ decision, ZAKA is currently setting up the ZAKA Cohanim Unit. Until now, kohanim did not volunteer with ZAKA, as they must not become ritually impure by contact with the dead or anything that itself became impure by its contact with the dead.
The special team of volunteers – kohanim living close to Jerusalem’s Old City – are now studying the relevant Jewish law as instructed by the ZAKA Rabbinical Council so that, in the event of a similar situation, they will enter the holiest part of the Temple Mount, Mahaneh Shechina, the area of the inner sanctum of the ancient Temples, to deal with and remove a dead body.
“These are weighty questions about the most severe prohibitions in Jewish law, with their violation carrying a punishment of spiritual excommunication,” noted ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.
“Therefore, it was very important to ZAKA to receive clear directions for the volunteers in accordance with Jewish law... According to Jewish law, it is forbidden for a kohen to become ritually impure by contact with the dead, but in a case of a dead body on the Temple Mount, the obligation rests primarily on the kohanim, more than on others, as well as the fact that it is preferable for the kohanim to be the ones entering the Mahaneh Shechina.”
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