Kohanim Not Becoming Tameh
This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.
Tumat Kohanim (Hebrew: טומאת כהנים; trans. impurity of priests) refers to the law that a Kohen (Hebrew: כהן; trans. priest) may not become impure by coming in contact with a corpse as the Torah (Hebrew: תורה; trans. Bible) states "לנפש לא יטמא בעמיו" - "A Kohen may not make himself impure by being in contact with a soul".
- A kohen may become impure to seven categories of his relatives that the Torah specifies. These include his
- unmarried sister,
- daughter, and
- A kohen may only become impure to these relatives before the burial is complete with the closing of the coffin.
- Before and during the burial a kohen may become impure for his relatives, whether his involvement is necessary for the burial or not. Ashkenazim hold that it is proper to be strict to only become impure for the sake and need of the burial or to bring the deceased shrouds and a coffin.
What Kind of Tumah
- A male kohen cannot come into contact, carry, or be under the same roof with a human corpse.
- Even if a kohen is in a separate room, there is still a problem if the corpse may pass through the room the kohen is in.
- One can plan to take the corpse out one exit and then only that exit is tamay and the kohen can be by any other exit.
- A kohen may not come into contact with the amputated limb of a person [including even if it was amputated from his own body].
- Even if a kohen is in a separate room, there is still a problem if the corpse may pass through the room the kohen is in.
- Some allow a kohen to be under the same roof as a non-Jewish corpse, but ideally we try to be strict.
- Some allow a kohen to come into contact with metal which has come into contact with a corpse. Others are strict.
- Sefardim do not allow a kohen to be under the same roof as a goses. Ashkenazim agree that this should be avoided, but strictly it is permitted.
- If there is a chance the kohen can save the person, then he should come to help.
- In cases of a pressing need, a kohen is allowed to visit someone who is sick in the hospital outside of Israel.
- A kohen is permitted to live outside the land of Israel.
- A kohen may enter a non-Jew's house.
Blocking Tumah of Corpse
- If there is a corpse in a room the tumah extends from room to room if there is an opening of a Tefach by a Tefach. If there is an opening of a Tefach square and it is completely closed off tumah doesn't extend beyond. However, if it is only partially closed off and the hole is less than a Tefach if the closing is permanent the tumah doesn't extend but if it is temporary it isn't a sufficient blockage and tumah expends.
- A closed door is considered a permanent blockage of tumah.
- If something that would usually block tumah is flying through the air (ohel zaruk), it is unable to block the tumah.
Alerting a Kohen of Tumah
- If a kohen is sleeping in a house where there is a corpse you should wake him up to tell him to leave. If he isn't wearing clothing, first tell him to just come out of the house and he'll get dressed, and only then tell him about the corpse.
- One is forbidden to cause a minor kohen to come into contact with a corpse.
- Some permit a minor kohen from coming into contact with the corpse of a relative, but others prohibit it.
- A pregnant kohen is allowed to come into contact with a corpse.
- A kohen has a mitzvah to become tamay to his relatives.
- For non-relatives, a kohen may stand outside the funeral home if the body is found inside. The kohen may join the procession staying four amot away and avoiding being under the same roof as the corpse.
- The kohen can only become tamay for the sake of his relative until the burial is completed.
- If the deceased relative is not whole (i.e. missing a limb) some prohibit the kohen from becoming tamay, others limit this to a body part that went missing after death.
- Some limit coming in contact with the corpse to when you are helping with the burial, but others do not limit the kohen from contact with the corpse of the relative at all.
- A kohen must be careful when burying his relative not to come into contact with or under the same roof as other graves. For Ashkenazim this is limited to on the way out of the cemetery, but while a kohen is dealing with the burial of the corpse of a relative, he may come into contact with other corpses.
- A kohen who is in contact with a corpse can come into contact with another corpse (mosif tumah al tumato).
- Some prohibit a kohen from flying on a plane with a corpse in the baggage compartment. Other authorities are lenient, especially in extenuating circumstances.
- A Kohen need not worry that his flight might fly over cemeteries.
- A kohen is not allowed to attend medical school.
- Vayikra 21:1
- Vayikra 21:2-3, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 273:3
- Rosh (Hilchot Tumah n. 7) like Rabbi Tarfon, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 273:6
- Rosh (Hilchot Tumah n. 7) holds that before the closing of the coffin at the end of the burial the kohen may become tameh whether he is needed or not. Trumat Hadeshen n. 283 notes that this seems to be the opinion of the Rambam Avel 2:8 as well. However, Tosfot Pesachim 9a s.v. bshifchato holds that it is forbidden for a kohen to become tameh unless it is necessary for the burial. See Rabbenu Peretz Pesachim 9a s.v. maaseh who omits this reason of Tosfot. Trumat Hadeshen concludes that it is proper to be strict. This is also the position of the Rama Y.D. 373:5. The Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 373:5 accepts the Rosh.
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 369:1
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 371:4 based on Mishna Ohalos 7:3. Rashi in Beitzah 38a s.v. deoritta says this is a halacha l'Moshe MiSinai. However, in Beitzah 10a s.v. kulam says it is a rabbinic decree and this is how the Shach Y.D. 371:8
- Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 371:22 quoting from Mishna Ohalos 7:3
- Pitchei Teshuvah Y.D. 369:2 quoting from Noda Beyehuda Tinyana Y.D. 209
- Rambam Hilchot Avel 3:3 rules a gentile does not give off Tumat Ohel, and hence it is permitted to step on the grave of non-Jew. However, Tosfot Bava Metzia 114 rules that gentiles give off tumat Ohel. See Birkeiy Yosef 372; Aruch Hashulchan 372:5. Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 372:2 says it is proper to be strict and the Rama quotes those who are lenient, but says it is appropriate to be strict. Shach Y.D. 372:4 says that even those who are lenient about tumas ohel, prohibit touching or lifting a non-Jewish corpse. Hagos Maymonios Hilchos Avel 3:2 quotes the Yerayim that a kohen does not have to avoid these forms of tumah by a non-Jewish corpse.
- Rama Y.D. 369:1 quoting from the Shut HaRashba 1:476 that there is an argument about this point, but we are customarily lenient. Tosfot (Nazir 54b s.v. ta shema) quotes two opinions on this matter.
- Shach Y.D. 369:3
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 370:1. Shach Y.D. 370:4 says this is not as serious as an actual corpse, but notes that others disagree
- Rama Y.D. 370:1. Shach 370:4 quotes the Bach who is strict.
- Pischay Teshuva Y.D. 370:1 quotes the Teshuvot Beis Yaakov who is strict, but strongly disagrees
- Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:166) says we can follow the majority that any corpse or limbs will be of a non-Jew which strictly speaking are not mitamay b'ohel. However, he notes that you should try and find out if there are any Jewish corpses at the time as that would be a problem. See also Chelkat Yaakov, YD 215.
- The Gemora Shabbat 15a tells us that Shimon ben Shetach decreed that outside the land of Israel has the status of tumas meis. The Shach Y.D. 369:2 and Taz Y.D. 369:4 suggest that this is a stringency that doesn't apply nowadays as the laws of tumah and tahara are not practiced. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Y.D. 369 :1 s.v. v'chol) explains there is room to be lenient as this tumah is only Rabbinic in nature. Additionally, he suggests (s.v. HaKohen) that kohanim are relying on the minority opinion of the Ravaad that there is no issue for a Kohen to come into contact with a corpse if he is already tamay.
- Mishna Ohalot 18:7 establishes that we're concerned about a corposed buried beneath the floor of a non-Jew's house as long as they have lived there for 40 days or more. This is quoted in Gemara Pesachim 9a and codified by the Rambam Tumat Meyt 11:9. Tosfot Pesachim 9a quotes a Tosefta that it doesn't apply in the diaspora. Erech Lechem YD 372:2 codifies this. Rash Ohalot 18:7 writes that there's no tumah in the non-Jew's houses in the diaspora since anyway there's a tumah in all of diaspora. Mayan Omer 5:23 quotes Rav Ovadia Yosef as holding that the entire halacha of non-Jewish homes being tameh doesn't apply today without any explanation. R' Yehuda Naki in the footnote suggests that since we have flooring and not dirt floors we're not worried about a corpse being buried under the ground. Mayan Omer 6:5:17 cites this from the Drashta Vchakarta v. 5 p. 410 supporting this point. Similarly, Taharat Kohanim pp. 99-100 cites Rav Nissim Karelitz who thought that the entire halacha is about whenever there's a real concern but if there's no concern then it is permitted. Factors to consider are that it is unlikely in places where they have flooring and in some places it is abnormal to bury under a house.
- Shulchan Aruch YD 371:1
- Rama YD 371:1. See also Tosfot Shabbat 27b s.v. v'ain quoting from Mishna Ohalot 8 quoted by the Rambam Hilchot tumat meit 13. There is a discussion with regards to which metal is susceptible to tumah. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:164) says that only the six metals listed in the Torah (Bamidbar 32:22) are susceptible to tumah. Tiferet Yisroel Yivakesh Daat 44 says these metals are not specific and anything malleable is included. (This may relate to the argument surrounding Air Travel)
- Taharat Kohanim 371:19 quoting Kehilat Yakov Taharot 25
- Rav Hershel Schachter (Shabbat Shiur 77 min 6) explained that a door which has a crack underneath the door tumah can travel from the room to the hallway through tumat ohel since the door isn't always closed. Neeyim Zemirot p. 49 writes that a door can be a stimah olamit but if it is metal there's room to be machmir since it is mekabel tumah. Avnei Nezer OC 293:7 holds that a door is a stimah forever but struggles to prove this. Taharat Hakohanim 371:14 quotes the Avnei Nezer as primary. Taz Y.D. 371:3 suggests that doors cannot block tumah as they are only able to stand because of their metal hinges which are mekabel tumah. However the Shach (Nekudos HaKesef) strongly disagrees as he views the doors and hinges as one unit and therefore, they can block tumah.
- Tosfos Eiruvin 30b s.v. Umar. Rambam Hilchot Tumat Meit 11:5. The Magid Mishna Hilchot Eiruvin 6:17 quotes the Rashba who seems to say that in certain cases it would still be considered an ohel and capable of blocking tumah. This is based on the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda (Mishna Eiruvin 26b - 27a) that a kohen can have his eiruv in a cemetery. Rashi 27a s.v. lchutz says this means he can be carried into the cemetery in a box or brought in a wagon.
- Rama YD 372:1. The Shach Y.D. 372:2 says that this is only true by tumas ohel deoritta. Noda BiYehuda (Dagul Mirvavah Y.D. 372 s.v. im kvar) argues that this should not be an issue as once you are under the same roof as the corpse, it is not an issue deoritta to remain there.
- Shulchan Aruch 373:1 based on Yevamot 114a based on Vayikra 21:1. Shach 373:1 discusses if the child reaches the age of chinuch then some say you should stop him from coming into contact with a corpse. Mishna Berura O.C. 343:3 says that the father must stop a child if he has reached the age of Chinuch
- Vayikra 21:2 says that a kohen is generally allowed to come into contact with the corpse of one of the following seven relatives: spouse, mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter.
- Pitchay Teshuva Y.D. 373:1 explains that a minor is not obligated in aveilut, so perhaps he is not permitted to come into contact with the corpse. On the other hand, perhaps the chinuch is for when he is older, and he will be able to come into contact with the corpse when he is older.
- Magen Avraham O.C. 343:2 says it is permitted because the baby is absorbed within the mother (tahara belua) Mishna Berura O.C. 343:3 and Shach Y.D. 373:1 quote the Rokeach that it is a double doubt, maybe it is a girl and even if it is a boy, it may be a stillborn. Rav Schachter (Ikvay Hatzon Siman 35:4) quotes Achiezer 3:65:5-6 that tahara belua is not enough to help the kohen. As the prohibition upon a kohen is not simply not to become tamay, but not to come close to a corpse. Rav Nissan Karalitz (Chut Shani 1 at the end of the sefer 4) says you don't need to find out the gender as Pitchay Teshuva Y.D. 110:35 that if you can only solve one doubt, then there is no obligation to do so.
- Rambam Hilchos Aveilut 2:6
- Rama 371:5
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 371:5
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 373:6
- Nitei Gavriel 130:29 quotes some who consider an internal organ as an incomplete body and others who say it is still considered complete. Shut Maharam Shick Y.D. 359, Igrot Moshe Y.D. 251, and Tzitz Eliezer 9:48 are lenient as an internal limb missing doesn't effect the appearance of the relative. Chazon Ish Y,D, 210, Shevet HaLevi 3:161 and 6:244, and Mishna Halachot 3:191 are strict
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 373:9
- Yeish Omrim in Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 373:9. Shach Y.D. 373:14 says that if it happens at the time of death, it would be prohibited for the kohen to become tamay to this relative. Nitei Gavriel 130:28:44 says when necessary can rely on this lenient opinion.
- Rama Y.D. 373:5 says one should be strict about this matter. Accordingly, Shevet HaLevi 9:251 says if it is possible when taking a corpse to Israel, a kohen should fly on a different flight then his deceased relative.
- Shach in Nekudas Hakesef 373:5. Accordingly, Chazon Ovadia, Aveilut, vol. 2, p. 51. allows a kohen can accompany the body of a relative on the plane for burial in Israel. Nitei Gavriel 130:24 allows the kohen to be in the same room as the corpse of a relative during the eulogies.
- Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 373:7 suggests having kohanim buried at the edge of a cemetery.
- Rama Y.D. 373:7. If this was not arranged, and a kohen's relative is being buried among other graves in a way that the kohen will have to become tamay after burying his relative, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 1:249) allows the kohen to attend the burial.
- Rambam Hilchot Nezeirut 5:17. The Raavad argues that the same is true even if the kohen is still tamay and no longer in contact with a corpse. Therefore, nowadays, when all kohanim are tamay, there is no issue coming in contact with a corpse. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 3:155) says that nobody has the ability anymore to say we can follow the opinion of the Raavad. Pitchay Teshuva 372:9 says that we don't follow the Raavad. Additionally, he adds that the Raavad may just mean that there is no punishment, but it is still prohibited for a tamay kohen to come in contact with a corpse. Rav Schachter (Ikvay Hatzon Siman 35:3) says the Raavad only means that one can continue to come into contact with a corpse that day as there is no delay in the purification process
- Igrot Moshe, YD 2:164; Chelkat Yaakov YD 213; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:678. See also Teshuvot V’hanhagot 3:347.
- Shema Shlomo, YD 6:18:5. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:164) says that if planes are not made one of the six metals mentioned in the Torah (Bamidbar 32:22), the baggage section would block tumah from spreading to the passengers on the plane. Rav Schachter (Ikvay Hatzon Siman 35) notes that this idea of Rav Moshe is not agreed upon. Additionally, he notes that a plane while flying would be considered an ohel zaruk and would not block tumah.
- Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:569; She’arim Metzuyanim B’halacha 202:8; V’harim Hacohen 3:63. See also Even Yisrael 9:124.
- Chelkat Yaakov, YD 209–12. Rav Schachter (Ikvay Hatzon Siman 35:1) notes that once the plane is above the clouds, there is no issue of flying over a grave as the language of chazal (Mishna Ohalot Perek 9) is that tumat meit goes up until the sky. Once you are above the clouds, there is no issue as you are out of range of the tumah. Even when the plane is below the clouds, Rav Schachter (Ikvay Hatzon Siman 35:11) suggests there is no prohibition. He explains that the problem isn't the tumah per-say, but coming close to a corpse. When one is flying on a plane, and there is a corpse below, even though the kohen may become tamay, he did not come close to the corpse, so it is permitted. This idea is seen in Avhiezer 3:65:5-6 and Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Shearim 2:41).
- Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 3:155) says that in medical school you are faced with being in the same room and often forced to touch a cadaver which is a problem for kohanim. He rejects the idea that kohanim nowadays are tamay, so there is no issue to continue to come into contact with a corpse. Additionally, a life threatening situation requires one to help in anyway that he can, but does not require him to go and learn medicine, so that he can help in the future. Plus, there are many other doctors and there is no need for the kohen to become a doctor. Rav Schachter (Ikvay Hatzon 35:10 and Peninay HaRav 256) quotes those that suggest a kohen can go to medical school using the following idea. A kohen can hold onto a metal object that came into contact with a corpse, and while still holding onto this object, he can touch a corpse. He suggests that this would be permitted as it is mosif tumah al tumato. Rav Schachter rejects this as the issue is not becoming tamay, but coming close to a corpse. The reason a kohen can touch the metal is that it is not coming close to a corpse, so of course it doesn't allow him to touch a corpse.