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.

Before and after – source: Planning documents

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.

Proposed “roof” – source: Planning documents

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.


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  1. Dan Coleman says:

    Oh religion, the hilarious gift that keeps on giving.

    • Class 1 Atheist says:

      We should not pander to any religious demands.
      Anyway, if this correct, then these people can’t go to Jewish cemeteries can they ?

    • Well says:

      „if this correct, then these people can’t go to Jewish cemeteries can they ?“

      If I understand this correctly, they could; because the cemetery is not covered. But they couldn’t e.g. share a coffin with a corpse, at least when the lid is on. Poor them!

    • AlphaGamma says:

      “If I understand this correctly, they could; because the cemetery is not covered”

      Cemeteries are covered by a different rule- Kohanim are indeed not allowed to enter them, as they aren’t allowed to be within a certain distance of a corpse or grave even outdoors.

      As the rule against proximity to a corpse doesn’t apply to certain close relatives of the Kohen, Jewish cemeteries bury Kohanim at the edges of the cemetery so that their relatives can visit the grave without having to get too close to any other graves.

  2. Fazal Majid says:

    There are 28,000 people with the surname “Cohen” in the UK alone, not counting the variants. I suspect only a tiny minority feels this way.

    It would be easier to move the skeleton elsewhere, ideally an appropriate place of burial or crematorium, and replace it with a replica. All human remains deserve to be be treated with respect, not the way, say, Albert Einstein’s brain was handled like collector’s pieces.

  3. Jay says:

    Interesting. Could they not just use an umbrella with ornamental doorframes hanging from the ends when using the tube? A personal roof so to speak. That way the seriousness of the solution is equal and opposite the seriousness of the problem.

    Let’s look for individual solutions otherwise, the tube will have to be pulled by horses every time the Amish and mennonites come to town alongside occasional blood sacrifices for the vodun. Don’t get me started on the Catholics making everyone carry immense guilt like a railcard.

  4. Olly Benson says:

    I Scott – from memory the end of the subway comes up to an exit which is part of the Science Museum building whereas the NHM, although nearer the tube station, is not actually connected to the subway.

    Whilst I totally support being respectful of religion, and making reasonable adjustments that offer a practical benefit (eg making space for a prayer room, offering a place to wash before prayer etc), this feels like quite a substantive adjustment to meet quite an abstract requirement. And dare one enquire about whether the same rule applies about the Houses of Parliament – there is a direct entrance to the tube from there and I’m sure the building contains some dead bodies (insert your own joke about the House of Lords).

  5. Alex Mckenna says:

    Religion, eh? You couldn’t make it up. No, sorry, they DID make it all up.

  6. Atheist Andy says:

    From (distant) memory is there not a gate in the tunnel anyway, surely this would serve the same purpose?

  7. Anonymouse says:

    What would they do if someone died while they were inside the building, you can’t account for things like that, there might even be remains somewhere under or around the area that they might not even know about or is that the point, afforming a belief that has no actual proof of existence and only matters to a minute portion of the population.

    Seems ridiculous! People can believe what they want to believe but when it involves others having to make unecessary allowances that don’t really serve any purpose or stop amy actual harm coming to anyone then what’s the point?

    • Sarah says:

      If they know that someone died in the building, they leave.

      No proof of existence doesn’t mean no harm. People were harmed by bacteria before the invention of the microscope.

      It serves the purpose of enabling them to access the Tube.

      Looking at what’s been done for other minority groups a lot of it is far more pointless than this.

      Being a small proportion of the population isn’t a reason to ignore their needs.

  8. alistai twin says:

    how do they deal with hospitals?

    i can’t really see how adding something to the external entrance changes the underground tunnels either.. but applying logic to this situation would seem futile.

  9. Drew says:

    Thankfully this sheer insanity was rejected.

  10. Highlander says:

    People are so concerned with a tiny extension, quite literally a piece of metal, that makes essentially no visual or physical difference. Who cares if it makes thousands of citizens more comfortable. They should pay for it. If they do and install it within a day, who cares. You guys have no other problems in life to worry about, is that it.

  11. Nigel Harvey says:

    As the London Underground has connection to Network Rail does that mean they cannot travel on any rail service in Great Britain?

  12. Chris Rogers says:

    “When religions come up with awkward rules, there’s usually an equally peculiar get-out clause.” Like the many eruvs – areas delineated by natural boundaries or wires on steel poles – that allow Jews to do things thei religion otherwise prevents them from doing. The wire part is also subject to planning law.

  13. Emma Davis says:

    I am sure many religions have strange lines of thought . As a long term and appreciative reader of this newsletter, I deeply regret the sneering tone adopted in this report. Perhaps, Ian would like to even up the score by writing something sneering about churches / art celebrating Jesus born of a virgin or art depicting Veiled Muslim women. I am sure those with more knowledge of all these religions could come up with more relevant examples than I have cited. A factual report would have been more appropriate. There is a whiff of antisemitism in Ian’s sneering. We all need to be respectful.

    • Andy Taylor says:

      We do not all need to be respectful when followers of any religion come up with so many arcane rules that they’re unable to function in the 21st century.
      And there is nothing antisemitic in this article, in the same way that criticism of the way the Israeli state treats Palestinians is not antisemitism, actions and beliefs can be criticised without it referring to a whole people. Deeming something as antisemitic should not be used to close down comments or a debate.
      And yes, the same approach should apply to all religions.

    • ianVisits says:

      I spent a good many years working in a religeous charity – trust me, my language was far more measured than that I would have heard around me if I was working there when this was announced.

    • Lesley H says:

      Whilst I’m not one of the 1,200 minority I feel Ian’s article was very carefully written to be neutral.
      If it sounds “sneering” it would seem to me that’s because the whole idea is so ridiculous that it would be hard to write any report that didn’t sound unsympathetic

  14. John Usher says:

    Indeed! Looks similar to an ‘Eruv’- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eruv#:~:text=An%20eruv%20allows%20Jews%20to,the%20absence%20of%20an%20eruv. -of which there are now many in the London Area – https://www.eruv.co.uk/ – which can be delimited by as little as a piece of wire or fishing line.

    As a non-Jewish, secular North Londoner (London and surrounding areas having the greatest concentration of Jews in the UK), I noted a huge Hoo-Haa about Eruv’s in Hendon many years ago (inc. opposition from some Jews of my acquaintance…) – but they are common in the UK, mostly in North/Northwest London, and ‘The Sky Has Not Fallen On Anyone’s Head, By Toutatis’ – .https://www.hachette.co.uk/titles/albert-uderzo-2/asterix-asterix-and-the-falling-sky/9781444013405/

    If as the article suggests, something symbolic (e.g. a wire) would suffice, without being visually intrusive or affecting the existing architecture, and the expense of installation and maintenance would be the responsibility of that community and not the public purse, why not? It will be up to the community to advise it’s members of it’s presence.

    Win-Win – Job Done. Respect all.

  15. Reaper says:

    There are a number of fast food outlets within the underground selling pork and religeously forbidden seafood products, not to mention the various obnoxiuos food items that tube passengers bring onto the Network. Does this not also provide this sect with problems?

  16. Ray White says:

    In my view, with the exception of memorials or places of worship, the built environment should be secular, neutral to anyone’s beliefs, so as to accommodate most of the population, without praising or condemning anyone or anything.

  17. Frederick Levy says:

    The Kohanim are not a religious sect. The name merely relates to the name ascribed to the level of priesthood. My friend, a ‘Kohan’, and an observant Jew has regularly been to the Science Museum with me, a ‘levi’. Those who wish not to go because of being a Kohan, are likely to be ultra Orthodox and represent a minority (1,200) of a minority (250,000) UK jewry.

    Whilst I do think that the idea is a bit disproportionate, it would be worth correcting the above article as it’s not factually correct. Worth looking at myjewishlearning or happy to write something.

  18. Ghislain says:

    Does this mean they cannot enter the British Museum with all it’s Mummies?

  19. Simon Roffey says:

    If “the Kohanim are prohibited from being in buildings that contain human corpses” does that mean they can never enter a hospital??

    • Sarah says:

      It depends on the building design, but it does sometimes present a problem for them. These things are really complicated and not new.

  20. Hadenough2023 says:

    We should not pander to this ridiculous religious extremism regardless of faith. Furthermore pandering to religious extremism on the taxpayer’s pocket.

    This reminds me of when Police were jumping into London Canals to retrieve copies of the Qur’an.

    Besides on planes this Sect
    deems it fine to wear a plastic sheet as a barrier for this “problem” why can’t they buy them to put under their hats as a solution while riding the tube?

    Because it is all about a display of power! Don’t believe me look at the Hasidic voting blocs in NYC.

  21. Raymond-Kym Suttle says:

    As an atheist I find ALL religious doctrines absurd. Religious people claim to believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity but think this all-powerful being wants them to do absurd things to prove their sanctity or loyalty? If this all powerful being isn’t capable of forgiving them for the ‘transgression’ of walking through a tunnel then it’s not a very powerful entity, is it? It’s always interesting that human gods seem to get offended by the same things as the humans who get upset about things they CHOOSE to take offense over.

    My biggest question is: that tunnel & that building has been there a LONG time. Why is this only a problem now? Just as I, as a vegetarian working near the meat packing district couldn’t cope with the slaughtering of animals & thus took a longer route home, if they feel they can’t use that tunnel or tube line, that’s their CHOICE. An easier solution would be just to stop believing nonsense. What’s going to happen to them? Has anything adverse EVER happened to anyone walking through that tunnel as a result of their being skeletons in the building above? If it was nuclear waste I could understand! I long for the end of ALL religious superstitions!

  22. Sarah says:

    Why does it need to be black? Maybe the same thing in a different colour would be less visually intrusive while serving the purpose?

    I hate how so many commenters think this is about religious people looking for power or to make things harder for others when it’s really as small accommodation proportional to the difficulty of not being able to use the Tube.

    If it’s about taxpayer money, why can’t those who requested it pay for it? The problem is permission not funding.

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