I am a prospective medical student studying in South Africa. My course involves coming in contact with cadavers, which is a bit of a problem as I am a Kohein.
I came across an article of the IRP titled: "Studying Medicine for a cohen" which helped me understand the issue. The article mentions that Harav Shlomo Goren permits the study as long as the Kohein wears a specific bracelet.
I am eager to learn more about this bracelet. I have searched the internet for one, but all I have found are adverts for the occult "Kabbala" red string bracelets. Could you please tell me more about this bracelet, why it allows a Kohein to study medicine and where I can possibly find one?
The "special bracelet" of Rav Goren is simply a metal item [specifically one of the six metals mentioned in the Torah. In practical terms – made of gold, silver, copper or iron (including steel)] that was defiled through contact with a dead body. The most common example is a ring, bracelet or necklace (made of one of these metals) that was brought to a funeral. His leniency is based on the combination of two factors.
First, a metal item that comes in contact with a dead body, has a level of defilement equivalent to that of a corpse. This law is known as cherev harei hu k'chalal, a sword [which contacted a corpse] is like the corpse. The generally accepted ruling is that even though the level of defilement is equivalent, the Torah prohibits a kohen to defile himself only to a corpse, but allows him to defile himself to such a metal item and wear it. (Rama Y.D. 369:1)
Second, many authorities maintain that a kohen who is touching a corpse does not incur an additional prohibition if he simultaneously contacts another corpse, since he is already in an equivalent state of defilement. (Rambam Hil. Avel 3:4)
Putting these two laws together, Rav Goren zt"l argued that a kohen who wears a metal item that was defiled (which is permissible), would similarly not incur a prohibition when contacting a corpse, since it does not add to his level of defilement.
Other poskim, however, reject Rav Goren's comparison, since the metal band carries less severity than an actual corpse, even though its level of defilement is equivalent. Rav Goren himself acknowledges that this leniency is only in cases of great need. (His suggestion was made on a national level, in the context of allowing medical schools in Israel to accept kohanim.)
Therefore, you should consult a Rav that you are comfortable with whether it is appropriate for you to rely on Rav Goren's leniency. If you do continue with your medical training, you should consider specialty options that do not require extensive hospital work, which entails continued exposure to corpses in the building.