This article is an excerpt from our Sefer
Chapter 9: Kohen attending a funeral or burial
1. Background of laws of impurity:
It is forbidden for a male Kohen to defile himself to a corpse or to any of the impurities which come from a corpse [i.e. Tumas Meis]. [This applies even to a Nefel, which is a still born, or baby who died within thirty days of birth. This applies even in today’s times that all Kohanim are anyways carrying the impurity of Tumas Meis.] The Kohen may not come into contact with the amputated limb of a person [including even if it was amputated from his own body]. The Kohen may not come into contact with a grave, or the tombstone that rests on a grave. Thus, he may not walk in a field in which a body was buried in an unknown location [i.e. Beis Haperas]. He may not even enter within four Amos [196 cm] of either a corpse or grave, unless there is a Mechitza of ten Tefachim surrounding him or the grave, in which case he must only distance himself 4 Tefachim [32 cm] from the graves. He may not walk under an item which is hovering over a body or grave, such as a tree or tent or building. He may, however, stand outside the building/house that contains the corpse, even within four Amos of its walls, and he may even touch the walls. However, some Poskim are stringent to prohibit standing within four Amos of the walls.
Grave of a Tzaddik: A Kohen is not to defile himself even to the grave [and certainly body] of a Tzaddik. See chapter 31 Halacha 7B for the full details of this subject!
Entering the home of a Goseis: See Chapter 2 Halacha 1F!
Gentile graves and corpses: It is forbidden for a Kohen to come into contact with the corpse of a gentile. It is disputed amongst Poskim if the Tuma of Ohel applies to the corpse of a gentile. Thus, it is disputed as to whether a Kohen may enter a gentile cemetery and step on the grave of a gentile. Practically [although the main opinion follows the lenient approach] it is proper to beware not to step on their graves. [It is questionable if a Kohen may enter within four Amos of the grave or body of a gentile.]
Grave of Jewish heretic: The body of an apostate Jew has the same status as the body of a regular Jew regarding Tumas Meis, and hence a Kohen may not come into contact with his body or grave, or be under the same roofing/Ohel.
Coming into contact with an item that touched a corpse: Some Poskim rule that a Kohen may not come into contact with a sword [or other metals] that touched a dead body. Other Poskim, however are lenient, and so is the custom. [According to all, he may touch other items that became impure to a corpse, such as the grave stone after it has been removed from the grave.]
Rabbinical impurities: It is permitted for a Kohen to transgress Rabbinical impurities, such as entering a Beis Haperas, for the sake of a Mitzvah, such as to learn Torah, or get married, or comfort a mourner, or sue a gentile, if there is no other path available.
A child under Bar Mitzvah who is a Kohen: It is forbidden for any Jew to cause a child of any age who is a Kohen to become impure to Tumas Meis. However, one is not required to protest against a Kohen child who is defiling himself with Tumas Meis, unless the child has reached the age of Chinuch. This obligation of protest against the child if he has reached the age of Chinuch, applies only to the father of the child.
The pregnant wife of a Kohen avoiding Tumas Meis: See Chapter 31 Halacha 7C!
2. Kohanim attending a funeral/burial of non-seven relatives:
Memorial service: It is forbidden for a Kohen to attend a memorial service that is taking place indoors, if the body is found in the room. It is permitted for him to attend an outdoors service, so long as he remains at least a four Amos [196 cm] distance from the body and does not stand under any item hovering over the deceased.
Funeral procession: It is permitted for a Kohen to attend a funeral procession so long as he remains at least a four Amos [196 cm] distance from the deceased. In addition, he must beware not to walk under any item that hovers over the deceased.
Entering the cemetery: It is forbidden for a Kohen to enter a cemetery unless he remains at least a four Amos distance from any graves, or walks around with a surrounding wall like structure that is at least 10 Tefachim high, in which case he must only distance himself 4 Tefachim [32 cm] from the graves. In addition, he must beware not to walk under any item that hovers over the graves. If the above conditions are adhered to, then he may enter even into a gated cemetery.
Car: A Kohen who remains in his car is protected from any impurity, and he may thus enter the cemetery grounds in his car and remain inside it throughout the burial.
3. Relatives of a Kohen who passed away-Attending to the Taharah, Shemirah, funeral, burial:
The Mitzvah to defile: It is permitted, and a Mitzvah obligation, for a Kohen to defile himself to certain relatives who have passed away. If the Kohen refuses to defile himself to these relatives, he is to be forced to do so. This obligation applies to both a male and female Kohen. This allowance and obligation only applies until the burial of the relative is completed. Once the Golel is closed [i.e. the grave is covered with earth, or the casket is entered into the grave and properly closed with nails] he may no longer impurify himself to the relative. [Thus, after the burial, the Kohen may never return to visit his relative, unless he remains a four Amos distance from any of the graves throughout his visit, or enters with a Mechitza of ten Tefach, as explained in B.]
The body must be whole: The Mitzvah/allowance for a Kohen to defile himself to relatives only applies if the body of the relative is whole, however if the body of the deceased is missing a part, then the Kohen may not defile himself on their behalf. This applies even if the missing part is in the same room as the body. Thus, a Kohen may not defile himself for the sake of burying a limb of his father [or other relative]. This applies whether the limb was amputated from a living relative, or was dismembered after death. Likewise, he may not defile himself on behalf of the bone of a relative, or for the skeletal remains of a relative whose body has decomposed. Some Poskim, however, rule that the above law only applies if the body of the relative lost a part after death [or in the process of being killed]. If, however, the body part was lost while he was alive and only later did the relative die, then it is permitted for the Kohen to defile oneself on behalf of the relative. [Practically, one is to be stringent not to defile himself even if the relative lost the limb while alive. If the deceased relative had an inner organ removed while alive, then some Poskim rule it is permitted to defile oneself to him. Other Poskim, however, are stringent.] Some Poskim rule based on the above requirement for the body to be whole, that one cannot defile himself to a relative who was murdered [as the loss of blood is considered that he has lost a part]. Practically, it is proper to be stringent.
The list of relatives that a Kohen may/must defile himself to: A Kohen and Kohenes is obligated to impurify himself/herself for the sake of burial of the following relatives: 1) His wife, or her husband, to whom he/she is married in a permitted manner; 2) Mother, even if she became a Chalalah; 3) [Father] 4) Jewish son, who is not a Safek Nefel [i.e. still born, or baby who died within thirty days of birth], even if Pasul; 5) Jewish daughter, who is not a Safek Nefel, even if Pasul; 6) Jewish Paternal brother, even if Pasul; 7) Jewish Paternal sister who is a virgin, even if Pasul. 8) Shomeres Yavam.
The list of relatives that a Kohen may not defile himself to: A Kohen may not defile himself to the following relatives: 1) Maternal brother and sister, whether one’s sister is a virgin or is married; 2) Paternal sister who is no longer a virgin. [3) Uncles; 4) Aunts; 5) Cousins; 6) Niece and Nephews; 7) Grandchildren; 8) Grandparents].
For what purpose may the Kohen impurify himself to the relative? It is disputed amongst the Poskim as to whether the Kohen may defile himself to the relative prior to burial without restriction. Some Poskim rule that it is only permitted, and a Mitzvah, to defile himself if it is for sake of a need, such as for the sake of the burial [i.e. to enter the body into the grave], or to perform the Taharah, dress the body and enter him into the coffin. However, it is forbidden for him to defile himself for no need at all [of the burial, such as to perform Shemirah on the body]. Other Poskim, however, rule it is permitted for him to defile himself even for no need at all. According to this latter approach, it is permitted for the Kohen to act as a Shomer for his deceased relative even on Shabbos. Practically, it is proper to be stringent like the former opinion, and that the Kohen not defile himself even for his relative [even for Shemirah] unless it is for the need of the burial, or Taharah process [although those who are lenient have upon whom to rely]. [Thus, he should not even remain in the same home as the body of his relative for no need, such as on Shabbos. However, he may remain in the same home as the body of the deceased during the weekday, just in case his help is needed on behalf of the deceased. Likewise, he may attend the eulogy, funeral and burial, even if his help is not necessary, and he will be under the same roof as the body.]
Defiling himself to other corpses/grave-Attending the burial: The above allowance for a Kohen to defile himself for the sake of burying his relative only applies to defiling himself to the body of the relative, however, he may not defile himself to other graves or corpses [even in the process of the Taharah, funeral, and burial, if this can be avoided]. Thus, in order for the Kohen to be able to participate in the burial [of which he is obligated], the relative must be buried in an area of the cemetery which does not require him to pass over other graves, such as the edge of the cemetery. However, some Poskim rule it is permitted for the Kohen to defile himself to even other graves and bodies of deceased in the process of assisting and participating in the funeral and burial. Thus, he may walk over graves for the sake of participating in the funeral. However, once the burial is complete, he may no longer defile himself to any deceased, and hence practically, the relative must be buried at the edge of the cemetery in order for the Kohen to participate in the burial and be able to return from it without defiling himself to other graves. [Practically, we rule like the former opinion, that he may not defile himself to other corpses or graves in the process of dealing with the body of his relative, unless there is no other option available. Thus, if the relative is being buried in an area of the cemetery which requires him to pass over other graves, as is done in some communities, he may not attend the burial.]
Where in the cemetery to bury the relative? The relative of the Kohen is to be buried in an area of the cemetery which does not require him to pass over other graves on his way to or from the grave of his relative, such as the edge of the cemetery, as explained above.
It is permitted, and is a Mitzvah obligation, for a Kohen to attend to the funeral and burial of his seven close relatives, which include his wife, father, mother, son, daughter, brother and virgin sister. This Mitzvah applies likewise to a Kohenes, that she has a Mitzvah to attend to the funeral and burial of her seven close relatives. The Kohen may only defile himself to his deceased relative if the relative does not have any limbs missing from his body, and did not die due to an injury that caused a loss of blood. The Kohen may only defile himself for necessary matters involving the burial of the deceased, such as attending the funeral, burial, and helping with the Taharah. He should not, however, perform Shemirah on the body. He may not defile himself to any other grave or body even in the process of defiling himself on behalf of his relative. Once the body is entered into the grave and covered, he may no longer defile himself even to his relative. Practically, the relative must be buried in an area of the cemetery that does not require him to pass over other graves, such as the edge of the cemetery, in order for the Kohen to attend.
May a Kohen defile himself on Shabbos for the sake of the deceased?
This matter is subject to the dispute brought above regarding defiling oneself for purposes unrelated to the burial, of which we concluded that one is to be stringent.
May a Kohen defile himself to the deceased on Yom Tov?
If the burial will not take place on Yom Tov, then this matter is subject to the dispute brought above regarding defiling oneself for purposes unrelated to the burial, of which we concluded that one is to be stringent.
May a Chasan who is a Kohen defile himself to a relative during the Sheva Brachos?
In the event that the Shiva will begin only after the conclusion of Sheva Brachos, some Poskim rule that a Chasan who is a Kohen may not defile himself to a deceased relative during Sheva Brachos.
4. Meis Mitzvah:
It is a Mitzvah for a Kohen to defile himself for the sake of burying a Meis Mitzvah. A Kohen may defile himself to a Meis Mitzvah even if the body is not complete, such as it is missing a limb, so long as his head, and majority of the body of the deceased is found for burial. A Meis Mitzvah in this regard is defined as the body of a Jew which is found by a Kohen in an area that is desolate of other Jews who could bury him. Thus, if he discovers the body of a Jew in a gentile city, which does not have a Jewish community who could bury him, then he is to bury the Jew. If, however, he could call other Jews from nearby to come and help bury the body, without needing to leave the body’s side [i.e. the other Jews are an ear distance away], then he should do so and wait for their arrival. Upon their arrival, he should allow them to bury the body and remove himself from any involvement with the burial, unless there are not enough men available. If, however, the nearest Jews are not close by, and he will need to leave the body in order to call them, then he is to bury the body himself. Likewise, if the ear distant Jews demand payment for the burial, the Kohen may bury him himself.
Prevent desecration: The Kohen may defile himself to a dead body of a Jew in order to prevent its desecration, such as if it is sitting in the sun, or in the path of a fire. [The same applies to defiling himself to prevent an autopsy.]
Unsure if person is gentile or Jew: If the identity of the found body is unknown, then we follow the majority of the population in that area, if the law of Kevius does not apply. If the majority of those who pass the area are Jewish, then the Kohen is to bury him. If the majority is not Jewish, then he is not to be buried by the Kohen even if there is a Kevius of Jews in the area.
 See Michaber 369-374; Gesher Hachaim 6; Pnei Baruch Chapter 2; Nitei Gavriel 130
 Michaber 369:1
 Kohenes: A female Kohen is not prohibited from defiling himself to Tumas Meis. [Michaber 373:2]
 Baal Mum: This prohibition applies even to a Kohen who is a Baal Mum. [Michaber 373:2]
Chalal: A Kohen who is a [Biblical] Chalal is not prohibited from defiling himself to Tumas Meis. [Michaber 373:2] However, a Rabbinical Chalal is Biblically prohibited from defiling himself to Tumas Meis. [Shach 373:2 in name of Bach]
 See Michaber 370:1 for the definition of dead
 Taz 369:1; Chidushei Hagirshoni; Pischeiy Teshuvah 369:2; Kitzur SHU”A 202:1; Nitei Gavriel 130:12; 135:9
Miscarriage within 40 days of conception: Does not give off Tumas Meis. [Pischeiy Teshuvah 369:2; Kitzur SHU”A 202:1; Nitei Gavriel ibid]
Nefel who is still alive: Does not impurify a Kohen. [Divrei Malkiel 4:93; Nitei Gavriel 135:10]
 Setimas Haposkim; See Gloss of Rav Akiva Eiger 369; Hasagos Haraavad on Nezirus 5; Semag 231; Zera Avraham 1:17
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that a Kohen who is in already impure due to Tumas Meis does not carry the prohibition of defiling himself to a corpse. [Hasagos Haraavad on Nezirus 5:17 as understands Mishneh Limelech Avel 3, unlike understanding of other Poskim in Ravaad] Practically, we do not rule like this opinion. Although one may join it to other cases and opinions of leniency. [See Degul Mirivava 372; Pischeiy Teshuvah 372:9]
 Noda Beyehuda Tinyana Y.D. 209, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 369:2
 Michaber 369:1
What areas of the grave give off Tumas Ohel? If the grave contains a Chalal Tefach [vacuum of 8 centimeters within], and does not contain a Tefach Pasuch, as is common today for the grave to contain a vacuum between it and the body, and the grave is completely closed off, then the entire grave stone gives off Biblical impurity, even from the areas that do not contain the actual body under them. If, however, the grave does not contain a Challal Tefach, then only the area opposite the body gives off Tumas Ohel. [Taz 372:1; However see Pischeiy Teshuvah 372:2 that if there is Challal Tefach there is only Rabbinical Tuma] If it contains a vacuum of a Tefach but also contains a Tefach Pasuach, then it only gives off Rabbinical impurity over the grave. [See Shach 372:2]
 Michaber 369:1; 372:1
 Michaber 371:5 “It is forbidden to come within four Amos of the corpse or grave”; Derisha, brought in Shach 371:18;
Other opinions regarding funeral: Some Poskim rule it is permitted to be within four Amos of the body of the deceased throughout the funeral [so long as one is not under the same Ohel]. It is thus permitted for a Kohen to give a Hesped within four Amos from the body. [Shach 371:18; Rokeiach 315; Yeish Makilin in Peirsha ibid; Chochmas Adam 159:14; Kitzur SHU”A 202:8; Nitei Gavriel 130:4] Practically, the custom is to be stringent to distant oneself four Amos from the body due to fear of Ohel Hameis. [Gesher Hachaim p. 79; Nitei Gavriel ibid]
 See Pischeiy Teshuvah 371:14 that we measure the four Amos from the corpse and not the grave.
 Michaber 371:5; Chochmas Adam 159:14
Is this prohibition Biblical or Rabbinical? The prohibition of being within four Amos of the deceased is a Rabbinical decree. [See Shach 371:18; Beis Yosef Y.D. 371 in name of Rosh] This is according to all opinions. [Igros Kodesh 6:348, printed in Shulchan Menachem 5:331]
 Michaber 369:1; 371:1 in greater detail
 Rama 371:5
 Shach 371:19 in name of Bach
 See Michaber 372:2
 Shach 372:4 that some Poskim rule that even according to lenient opinion it is forbidden to touch and carry a gentile corpse, and they are only lenient regarding the laws of Ohel of a gentile corpse; Beis Yosef; Aruch Hashulchan 372:5; See Gesher Hachaim 6:3 that some say this impurity is Biblical
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that it is permitted to even touch a gentile corpse and they do not give off any impurity at all. [Yireim; See Shach ibid; Birkeiy Yosef 372; Aruch Hashulchan 372:5]
 Rambam Avel 3:3 rules a gentile does not give off Tumas Ohel, and hence it is permitted to step on the graves of gentile. However, Tosfos Bava Metzia 114 rules that gentiles give off Ohel impurity. See Birkeiy Yosef 372; Aruch Hashulchan 372:5
 Michaber ibid is stringent, Rama ibid brings lenient opinion
 Implication of Michaber and Rama ibid; Aruch Hashulchan 372:5
 Michaber ibid; Rama “Nachon Lehachmir”; Maharam; Tosfos; Conclusion of Noda Beyehuda, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 372:9; Kitzur SHU”A 202:10
 Chomos Yerushalayim 6, brought ion Pischeiy Teshuvah 371:13 [he however explains that certainly by a grave it is permitted, as there is no worry of touch]
 Rama 372:2; Rashba 194; Kitzur SHU”A 202:10
 Rama 369:1
 1st opinion in Rama ibid; Kol Bo in name of Yireim
 Shach 369:3
 2nd opinion in Rama ibid; Rashba in name of Raavad
 Rama ibid
 Chochmas Adam Matzeivas Moshe 11; Nitei Gavriel 130:33
 Michaber 372:1; See Pischeiy Teshuvah 372:1-4 for various other cases of leniency by Rabbinical Tuma
 See Michaber 373:1; Nitei Gavriel 130:11
 See Admur 343:5 who writes “Any person”; However, see wording in Michaber ibid and explanation of Taz 373:1 that the prohibition applies only to the Kohanim which are adults, and the Beis Din, that they may not actively cause the child to become impure.
 Michaber and Rama 373:1; Admur 343:5
 Shach 373:1; Admur 343:2-3
Child sleeping in Ohel Hameis: See Shach and Taz 373:1 that one is not required to awaken him, although it is proper to do so due to Chinuch.
 Admur 343:1-3
 Michaber 369:1; 371:1 in greater detail
 Michaber 371:5; See above Halacha 1
 Michaber 369:1; 371:1 in greater detail
 See Nitei Gavriel 130:20
 Michaber 371:5
 Michaber 369:1; 371:1 in greater detail
 Igros Kodesh 6:348, printed in Shulchan Menachem 5:331
 Michaber 373:3
A Kohen child who is below Bar Mitzvah: Some Poskim rule that a child who is a Kohen should not impurify himself even to relatives who have passed away, as he has no obligation to mourn them. [See Vishev Hakohen 56, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 373:1; Shvus Yaakov 3:92; Nitei Gavriel 130:21]
 Michaber ibid; See Shach 373:3
 See Shach 373:11 for dispute in Rishonim [Rashi/Rabbeinu Tam] regarding the definition of Setimas Hagolel, if it means placing the tombstone on the grave, or if it means closing the casket. Shach ibid concludes that even according to Rashi, who holds of the latter approach, the Kohen may defile himself to the relative until the casket is entered into the grave and closed there, and it does not suffice for it to simply be closed in a home.
 Michaber 373:6
 Nitei Gavriel 130:31
 Michaber 373:9
 Yeish Mi Sheomer in Michaber ibid; Rokeiach
 Shach 373:14
 Nitei Gavriel 130:28; See Shevet Halevi 3:161
 Maharam Shick Y.D. 359; Igros Moshe Y.D. 251; Tzitz Eliezer 9:48; See Nitei Gavriel 130:29
 Chazon Ish Y.D. 201; Shevet Halevi 3:161; 6:244; Mishneh Halachos 3:191; See Nitei Gavriel ibid
 Opinion in Rama ibid; Kol Bo
 Rama ibid; Birkeiy Yosef 370:3; Chochmas Adam 160:7; Kitzur SHU”A 202:13; Nitei Gavriel 130:27
 Michaber 373:4
A non-observant relative: If a Kohen’s parents [or other relatives] swayed from the Jewish tradition, the Kohen may not defile himself to them when they pass away. [Michaber 373:8]
Harugei Beis Din: If a Kohen’s relative was killed by Beis Din under capital punishment for a sin, the Kohen may not defile himself to him. [Michaber 373:8]
Suicide: If a Kohen’s relative committed suicide, the Kohen may not defile himself to him. [Michaber 373:8]
Safek relative: If the person who died is a questionable relative, then the Kohen may not defile himself to them. [Michaber 373:8; See Pischeiy Teshuvah 373:5; Nachalas Tzvi 373; Hagahos Rebbe Akiva Eiger 373]
 A Kohen may not defile himself on behalf of his deceased wife if she was a Pesula, Gerusha, or if they did not yet get married, even though they were already engaged/Eirusin/Kiddushin. [Michaber ibid]
 Michaber 373:4
 Although a Kohen may not impurify himself to these relatives, nevertheless the Sages established that one must mourn for their passing. [Michaber ibid]
Other opinions: Some Poskim rule one is Biblically obligated to mourn a paternal sister, even if married. [Rambam 2:2, brought in Gilyon Maharsha 374] The Ramban questioned his ruling, as a Kohen may not impurify himself to her. [Gilyon Maharsha ibid]
 Michaber 373:5; See Zekan Aaron 108
 2nd opinion in Michaber ibid; Terumas Hadeshen 283 based on Tosfos Pesachim 9a and Tosfos Shantz
 See Rama ibid
 1st opinion in Michaber ibid; Braisa in Miseches Semachos; Ramban in Toras Habayis; Shach 363 in Nekudos Hakesef that so is the main opinion and so is custom
 Rama ibid
 Rama ibid; See Nitei Gavriel 130:15
 Shach 363 in Nekudos Hakesef rules that the custom is to be lenient
 Rama ibid; Chochmas Adam 160:5; Kitzur SHU”A 202:11; Nitei Gavriel 130:15; Conclusion of Zekan Aaron 108
 Pischeiy Teshuvah 373:4 in name of Derech Chaim; Nitei Gavriel 130:16
 Nitei Gavriel 130:24
 See Michaber 373:7; Nitei Gavriel 130:30
 Implication of Michaber ibid; Shach 373:12 in name of Bach, Levush
 See Shach ibid in name of Bach; This implies that if one cannot assist with the deceased relative unless he also defiles himself to other bodies, then he may do so, even according to this opinion. Vetzaruch Iyun, as this is not the simple implication of the Michaber ibid
 Michaber ibid; Rambam Avel 2; Rivash 124; Chochmas Adam 160:6; Aruch Hashulchan 373:10; Nitei Gavriel 75:2
 Rama ibid [explained in Shach ibid]; Tur 373; Maggid Mishneh p. 117, brought in Shach ibid
 Shach ibid in name of Bach; Sheilas Yaavetz 2:26; Har Tzevi Y.D. 282; Shevet Halevi 5:182; Nitei Gavriel 130:17
 Shut Maharil 43 that the Kohanim may only enter until the entrance of the cemetery when attending the funeral; Kneses Hagedola 373:7; Chochmas Adam 160:6; Nitei Gavriel 130:30
Other opinions/Customs: Some communities are accustomed to allowing the Kohanim to attend the burial of their relatives even if they are being buried amongst other graves, and they will need to step on the graves upon entering and leaving the area. The reason for this is because in any event, today the Kohanim are already all Tamei Meisim [of which the Raavad rules the main Issur no longer applies]. [Shulchan Gavoa 373:23; See Nitei Gavriel 130 footnote 48]
 Zekan Aaron 108, brought in Ikarei Hadaat 35:14; Nitei Gavriel Nissuin 112:5 [see footnote 9 for other opinions]
 Michaber 374:1-3; See Nitei Gavriel 130:14
 Michaber 374:1
 Shach 374:1
 Michaber 374:2
 Michaber 374:3
 Rama ibid
 Rav Akiva Eiger 374:1; Nitei Gavriel 130:23
 Nitei Gavriel ibid
 Rama 374:3; See Shach 374:2-3, Admur 329:2, Michaber Even Haezer 4:34, regarding the status of Kavua
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