Studying Medicine for a cohen
I am a cohen who has just begun studying medicine and will be starting anatomy dissections in a couple of months. I would greatly appreciate if you would be able to help me solve the dilemma that I am currently in as dissection of bodies is compulsory at my university.
The main problem which exists in medical studies for a cohen is diney Tumaa which means that a cohen is not allowed to come in direct contact with gentile cadavers, or even indirect contact, (e.g. staying in the same room) with a Jewish cadaver. This is a very complicated issue.
Most posqim have forbidden a cohen to study medicine if he will come into contact with cadavers.
However, despite these stringent rulings there are three talmidei hahamim who have permitted studying medicine and anatomy dissections under special conditions:
Harav Mordekhai ha-cohen permits a cohen to study medicine and perform dissections on the grounds of piquah nefesh.
However, most posqim disagree with this point of view. For example, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that only if a cohen has already graduated as a doctor is he permitted to take part in certain dissections. Rov Feinsteins reasoning is that just as one should not break Shabbat to raise money which could then be used to save someones life, so is it prohibited to break the law in order to study medicine.
Harav Shlomo Goren permits a cohen to perform if he wears a special bracelet.
However, here too, many posqim disagree with this heter.
It is interesting to note that Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Herzog, the late Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote in a responsum that although it is improper to rely on the lenient opinions lechatchila, a Torah observant medical student who does decide to rely on the minority opinions is not to be considered a sinner (Resp. Ha-Rov Herzog 5:155).
It is not clear to me whether you are asking if you can continue with your medical career, or if you are asking how you should continue studying medicine with the minimum issurim . In the latter case, you should be advised to minimize the circumstances of touching a cadaver as much as possible. In Israel, for example, many medical schools permit minimal participation in dissection and instead use printed as well as computerized anatomy atlases. In addition, you should be advised to wear the halachic bracelet as stipulated by Rov Goren.
R abbi M ordechai H alperin, M .D .