Tiberias spends millions on biblically ‘pure’ roads

The city of Tiberias has spent over 18 million NIS on rebuilding its roads so that they are “uncleanliness free” for Jewish descendants of biblical high priests

The municipality of Tiberias – not, to put it mildly, one of the richest Israeli towns – has spent over 18 million NIS (about five million USD) over the last few years (Hebrew) in building a special road, about a kilometer long, and spent an unknown sum in a similar road, about 400 meters long. If it spends relatively the same amount, this new and shorter road will end up costing some 5.4 million NIS (about 1.5 million USD). The town also uproots ancient trees alongside the road.

Why do I bother you with this engineering project? Because these are voodoo roads. The town digs up the road, and then puts under it two slabs of concrete, arranged so that they are hollow, and there’s a pipe coming out of them. The pipe allows the mystical force known as “uncleanliness” to escape the road, and thus makes it safe for Cohanim to cross.

You see, Cohanim (you can often identify them by their last name of Cohen, Kagan, and similar variations) are the descendents of the priests of the Temple. They are ritually forbidden from visiting cemeteries, and touching or seeing the dead, lest they become unclean. There have been complaints that the newly-engineered roads were built on the site of either a former formal graveyard – it is well known that most of Tiberias is built on such – or a grave site, and if Cohanim were to cross the road, or drive over it, it had to be made uncleanliness-proof.

Naturally, this phenomenon is a modern concept. Over the last millennia, Cohanim were basically able to cross roads without thinking too much about it, since the rabbinical literature is in agreement that we are all “corpse-unclean”: We’ve all either seen or touched a corpse, and since the destruction of the Second Temple, the office of the High Priest is empty, hence no one can daub the ashes of a pure red cow over us and remove this uncleanliness, which is the only religiously-sanctified way to do so.

So, while a Cohen is forbidden from entering a graveyard, if he walks over a dead corpse accidentally – such, for instance, one which is long dead and is buried under a public road – this is unfortunate, but not a life-shattering event. It’s not that it can deprive him of his ability to serve in the Temple, seeing as there isn’t one. I don’t know how many observant Cohanim live in Tiberias, but assuming the majority or at least a large minority of the population isn’t composed of fanatical yet somewhat ignorant Cohanim, this looks like a massive waste of public funds. Presumably, a large sign at both sides of the road, along the lines of “Danger, uncleanliess  – Cohanim are asked to use another road” would have cost thousands, not millions, and would not have required the uprooting of ancient trees.

The damned land we live in has served, over the millennia, as a convenient route for armed forces moving from Egypt to Syria and vice versa, not to mention various crusading armies traipsing about. As a result, the place is basically a huge gravesite. The Ultra-Orthodox have proven, in the last few years, that they emphasize the rights of the dead over those of the living: The most poignant evidence being that of the Barzilai Hospital.

It is within rocket range from the Gaza Strip, and needed a reinforced-concrete emergency room; But, as the current emergency room is built over a gravesite, our deputy Minister of Health (the Ashkenazi Ultra-Orthodox refuse to accept the legitimacy of the state by recognizing its ministers, so they only serve as deputy ministers; they have no problem taking the state’s money, on the other hand) decided to move it a few hundred meters away – at huge cost and delay. There was a public outcry at this blatant favoritism of the corpses – admittedly, they are in the majority – and the government backed down.

But given the example the municipality of Tiberias, one could expect other municipalities to cave in to such demands. And, again, given that you can hardly dig here without hitting a skull, this may likely mean that within a few short years, a significant portion of the construction budget would be diverted to the protection of Cohanim from uncleanliness.

Hey, you wanted a Jewish state, no? Live with the consequences.