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Rabbi David Sperling

Cheshvan 2, 5778
Can a Kohain travel on an airplane that is transporting a human heart?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. Much has been written about the laws that forbid a Cohen from coming into contact with a dead body, and how this applies to flying on a plane with a corpse. The answer to your question will depend on several factors. Firstly – a Cohen is forbidden to come into contact not only with a dead body, but even with a limb from a dead body. So a human heart may cause a problem. However, there is room to discuss whether a human heart that is being kept “alive” and pumping is problematic for a Cohen. (But as we will see, even without getting into this question we can answer your query). Next – does a Cohen in a plane violate the law of being in the same building (“tent”) as a dead body when the corpse is in the luggage section of the plane? This is a matter of debate. Rav Feinstein zt”l was strict on this issue, whilst others (Rav Amar, former chief Rabbi of Israel) are lenient. They believe the luggage section of the plane is considered as a separate unit, and no impurity is transferred from it to the passenger section. Further – is the body of a non-Jew included in the law? This too is a matter of doubt. Whilst we try and be strict, especially with a Cohen touching or carrying a non-Jewish corpse, when it comes to merely being in the same “tent” as the non-Jewish body, there are many opinions that are lenient. When we put these factors together we see that we have here many reasons to rule leniently – maybe the heart is from a non-Jew and does not create a problem (according to the lenient opinions). And even if it is from a Jew, perhaps the luggage section of the plane is not problematic for a Cohen travelling in the passenger section. Furthermore, perhaps the pumping heart (being kept “alive” for transplant) does not transfer impurity. Based on this we can rule clearly that a Cohen does not have to refrain from flying on a plane with a heart being transported in the luggage section. Blessings.
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