A Jewish religious sect that cannot travel on the London Underground because of something inside the Science Museum has had its application for a religious fudge that would solve the problem rejected by Kensington and Chelsea council.
The problem for the roughly 1,500 families of the Jewish priestly lineage known as Kohanim, is the subway that links the London Underground and the Science Museum, which, in their religion, means anything in the Science Museum is also part of the London Underground.
As the Science Museum contains human remains — a skeleton is in the Medicine gallery — and the Kohanim are prohibited from being in buildings that contain human corpses, from their perspective at least, the “impurity” from the Science Museum has infected South Kensington tube station and all the lines that pass through it.
That means they cannot travel on the tube, because of a skeleton in Kensington.
When religions come up with awkward rules, there’s usually an equally peculiar get-out clause. In this situation, a door frame would act as a symbolic secondary ‘roof” separating the museum from the London Underground if it’s installed over the museum end of the Kensington Subway.
The tube station is now religiously separated from the museum, and the Kohanim would be able to use the London Underground.
A dark metal partial arch had been proposed which was proposed to come with an explanatory text attached explaining its Jewish significance, and that the museum contained “negative spiritual forces” forbidding a Cohen from entering, which anyone else would also be able to read as they enter the subway.
“A Cohen (a person of priestly lineage) is forbidden to allow himself to become contaminated with negative spiritual forces, such as those emanating from a corpse. One of the ways of these forces being transmitted is by being under the same roof as the corpse, and therefore a Cohen must avoid entering any covered area containing one.
‘Science Museum’ has several body-parts which fall within this category and therefore a Cohen cannot enter the museum. However, any protrusions on the outside of the building which are connected to the covered area of the museum can carry and extend the negative spirit and can prevent a Cohen accessing not only this station but any underground station as they all connect to each other.
The device attached to this doorway breaks the connection with the museum, thereby permitting a Cohen to enter the station.”
Although one upright was quite unobtrusive, the other was just over a metre deep, and that had raised objections locally about its size and impact on the pavement.
Francesco Brenta of the Knightsbridge Planning Association spoke in opposition to the proposals, citing a mix of concerns from the size of the structure to the precedent set by allowing a secular building to have a religious adjustment to it.
Responding, Rabbi Dünner of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, representing the Orthodox community, explained that the problem caused by the link between the museum and the tube station means they cannot use any of the London Underground, the Overground, and even some bridges.
He noted that many other buildings have “bollards” that don’t cause problems and accepted that the text on the structure was scary but offered a “nice text” as an alternative. During the later planning discussion, it emerged that the explanatory sign was unnecessary from a religious perspective and was only proposed to explain the purpose of the frame, so it could be omitted.
Councillor Mackover also raised concerns about whether a one-metre wide black structure on the pavement could cause problems by being hard to see at night.
Although the planning office recommended acceptance, stating that a less than substantial harm to the building was outweighed by the benefits to the strictly orthodox Jewish community, the councillors decided to reject the request, mainly due to the visual impact on the entrance and how the structure would be fitted to the listed building with the risk of damage to it.
There wasn’t a reason given by the Rabbi as to why one side of the structure needed to be over a metre wide, and it’s certainly possible that if the listed building concerns were dealt with, then the orthodox Jewish community could return with an amended plan.
Until then, because of their religion, some Londoners can’t use the London Underground.