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Are Kohanim prohibited from going to a cemetery?

By

Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner

Question: Are Kohanim prohibited from going to a cemetery?

Dear Rabbi,
I understand if you are a Kohen, you may not be near a dead body. Does this mean that Kohanim may never enter a cemetery? Also, if a Rabbi is a Kohen, how can he perform any services in a cemetery?
Thanks, Larry

Answer: Dear Larry,

A kohen initially was not supposed to approach any dead body, and if he did so he became ritually impure (tameh). There were rituals that could be employed in ancient days to restore him to ritual purity, but that is no longer possible.

The fact is that all of us have sat on a chair where there was a dead fly, been in a building where there was a deceased animal, etc. Thus, we are all ritually impure, including the Kohanim.

Nevertheless, there is the custom still today of Kohanim of respecting their heritage and not overextending their "exposure" to death and the dead. Some hold that you may only go up to the gate of the cemetery but not enter, while others permit you to go in but stay on the road, at least 6 feet from any grave or stone. For a close relative (parent, sibling, child, spouse) one is permitted to go to the grave.

Some Rabbis who are Kohanim won't do funerals, and there are those who use special "Kohen rooms" for the Rabbi at the chapel and another - the Cantor - will supervise the interment in the cemetery. (And I don't know what to do if the Rabbi, Cantor and Shamash are all Kohanim. :-)

Lastly, there are many Kohanim who are Rabbis who officiate as if they were not a Kohen, based primarily on the assumption that we are all ritually impure today in any event.

Best Wishes,
Rabbi Dov

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