Cable Car To Kotel: Solution Found For Kohanim?

(Photo by Ben Toren/FLASH90)

Jerusalem – The National Infrastructure Committee recently approved the plans for the cable car to the Kotel Ma’aravi, and they will now be submitted for government approval. The new cable car will provide a transportation solution for millions of visitors each year to the Kotel and Old City and will also serve as a unique tourist attraction. The project, which will reportedly be operational in 2021, is slated to have three stops: the First Station (the old train station), Gey Ben-Hinnom (near Mount Zion), and the Kedem Center being constructed in the City of David near the Kotel.

The cable car will be capable of transporting up to 3,000 passengers per hour in each direction at 21 km/h. This significant and unique infrastructure project will raise the level of public transport service, making a more efficient and streamlined route for what is one of the most congested areas of Jerusalem and reducing traffic congestion around the Old City. Additionally it will make the Old City’s religious and historic sites accessible for people with disabilities.

However a major snag was discovered recently on the route of the cable car, since it is supposed to pass over the Karaite cemetery situated on the southern slopes of Mount Zion. The problem of course is that Kohanim would not be able to travel on such a route since the Tumah from the graves below extends to the cable car itself. A plan to build a shelter over the graves to block the Tumah from rising has been rejected by the tiny Karaite community which still exists in Israel. (At present they number some 40,000, centered in Ramle, Ashdod and Beersheva)

The Rema (Even Ha’Ezer 4:37) maintains that Karaites are not to be considered Jews at all, so theoretically their graves should not present a problem of Tumah. However the Mechaber says that they are Jews and this is the accepted opinion in modern- day Israel. A Karaite woman in Israel can marry a Jewish man, even a Kohen, if she announces that she accepts upon herself the precepts of the Jewish religion. Thus the status of the Karaites as Jews still presents a problem with their graves. In the meantime planners of the project are simply considering placing a sign near the cable car stating that Kohanim cannot ride on it.

The solution to the dilemma may have been found however in the past week during intensive consultations conducted by Jerusalem Rabbi Aryeh Stern and other distinguished rabbinical experts. They suggested erecting a kind of groove under the cable cars in the area where it passes over the ancient cemetery which would serve as a Chazizah (block) that could enable Kohanim to use the cable cars as well.

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