Man acquitted after determined he is a kohen

Local man couldn't have attacked friend at memorial service, because of rabbinic prohibition on kohanim entering cemeteries.

Cynthia Blank,

Sign designated where kohanim can stand outside a cemetery
Sign designated where kohanim can stand outside a cemetery
Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90

The Jerusalem Magistrates Court acquitted two weeks ago a local businessman accused of attacking his ex-friend at the cemetery in Beit Nekofa in 2012, Walla! News reported Thursday. 

The reason: the contradiction between the defendant's last name - Cohen - and witness testimony he had emerged from "the direction of gravestones" before allegedly attacking the complainant. 

According to Jewish law, kohanim (Jewish priests) are forbidden from entering the burial grounds of cemeteries except in cases of the deaths of close family members. Playing on this rule, the defense team argued their client couldn't have been responsible for the assault. 

The prosecution claimed the businessman and the complainant got into a verbal fight at the cemetery. Later, they claimed the defendant snuck into a memorial service for the complaint's deceased brother, headbutting him and causing him serious injury. 

The complainant's girlfriend testified the defendant had "emerged from the gravestones" and launched the attack. 

The defense team, meanwhile, maintained that as an observant Jew, the defendant couldn't have been inside the cemetery, and that the injuries to his ex-friend were caused by other family members at the service. 

The court rejected the prosecution's version of the events, noting the religious prohibition on kohanim entering places with dead bodies as well as the physical height difference between the two, among other evidence. 

"As it is known, kohanim are forbidden from entering cemeteries because of the impurity of the dead there," Judge Shmuel Herbst explained. "The accused is a kohen and therefore the version of the events presented by the witness not only contradicts the complainant himself, but also the Torah prohibition directed at priests."