[Click here for video.] On Thursday, June 12, 9/11 Memorial Museum hosted a unique gathering at the Ground Zero site for Rabbanim and Misaskim. The meeting aimed to establish the halachic status of kohanim who want to visit the site, where the unidentified remains of thousands of victims are expected to be interred.
This gathering is the second of its nature. The first meeting occurred in July 2012. Misaskim then hosted Dr. Bradley Adams, who heads the Forensic Anthropology Department at the New York City Medical Examiner’s office and is in charge of all recovery operations at Ground Zero. Dr. Adams had explained to the Rabbanim the full scope of the clean-up operations and all the particulars that may have halachic ramifications. He also outlined the astronomical financial costs involved. This allowed Rabbanim to conclude that it is mutar for kohanim to visit the Ground Zero memorial site.
Thursday’s event, however, was a follow-up meeting that enabled Rabbanim to get a complete idea of the museum’s layout. Rabbanim, representing many kehillos, attended the meeting including Rabbi Chashaul from the Sefardi community and Rabbi Segel from the Chabad community. These are just two names that illustrate the range of representation. Those who couldn’t make it to Manhattan were present at the gathering in July 2012, thus ensuring input from every kehillah. Many Rabbanim and poskim who are kohanim were also unable to attend. Dr. Bradley and other Medical Examiner staff involved in clean-up and identification efforts, as well as museum administration, were also present.
The Medical Examiner’s office and museum administrators went as far as showing the Rabbanim around to ensure that every aspect concerning halachah can be properly analyzed. ME and museum officials were available to provide information to help the Rabbanim in the process of reaching p’sak halachah. 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. Museum officials even provided a large conference room, big enough to accommodate the Rabbanim, ME staff, and their personnel to review floor plans and examine every necessary detail.
The Rabbanim were gratified by the level of respect accorded them by the Medical Examiner’s office and by museum personnel. They praised 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 Dr. Barbara Sampson, Misaskim has indeed experienced great levels of sensitivity and understanding with regard to halachic situations related to death. Their dedication is certainly commendable.
Rabbi Yitzchok Stein, Rav of the Karlsburg beis din, worked tirelessly to create a kinturus that discusses more than 50 related scenarios and sheilos, as well as many mareh mekomos that needed to be addressed. Numerous hours of work were expended to complete this kunteres.
All these efforts enabled the Rabbanim to verify that it is mutar for kohanim not only to visit the Ground Zero site, but also to enter the museum building.
Toward the end of meeting, the kedoshim who tragically perished on 9/11 were honored. Rabbi Segel of Chabad learned a Mishnah. Then, all those present said the prayers generally recited in memory of the deceased after learning Mishnayos. Rabbi Yitzchok Stein proceeded with hanosein t’shuah and the Karlsburg Rav, the Gaon and Av Beis Din Rabbi Yechezkal Roth, shlita, said Kaddish. Harav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Rav of Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin of Avenue L, completed the services with Keil molei rachamim. All those present felt that this mamud was a true mamud kiddush Hashem.