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Section: Questions   Category: Hashkafa
TAGS:funeral  kibud av v'eim  Kohein
Hashkafa - Kohen Funeral
Submitted by Robert  Answered by Rabbi Tzvi Frank
Question: Is it really true that there is a law in Orthodox Jewry that a Cohen cannot attend his own grandmother's funeral or go to her gravesite? Where can I find official information in the Torah regarding such a strange (and to my mind, such a hurtful) law? It seems to me that such a law goes directly against one of the commandments passed on to us by Moses -- Honor thy parents.
Answer: Hi Robert,

That a Kohen cannot become ritually impure by coming into contact with the dead is clearly defined in the Torah itself. This is not a Rabbinic ordinance but rather a Biblical one.

However, close relatives such as a mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter and spouse have a special leniency applied (also at a Biblical level) which allows the Kohen to bury his loved ones. This leniency does not extend to grandparents and grandchildren unless there is no one else to help with the burial.

That said, this does not mean that a grandchild should not attend the funeral of his grandmother!
Accompanying the deceased on his/her final journey and comforting the mourning is a HUGE mitzvah often expounded upon in the Talmud.

There are workarounds that allow a Kohen to attend the funeral while not transgressing the law. In many funeral parlors there are loudspeakers that allow a Kohen to attend while standing just outside the building, some funeral homes have a special Kohen room where the Kohen is allowed to enter and there is a window separating the two places so he can view and be a part of the funeral. Indeed I have attended funerals that the Kohen was in that special room (constructed according to the legal guidelines spelled out in the Talmud) and delivered a eulogy to the entire audience. We all saw him, heard him and all felt that he was part of the funeral and was respectful to the deceased and to the mourners. After the funeral parlor when the deceased is on the way to be buried the Kohen joins the procession albeit at a distance from the coffin. At the cemetery the Kohen can attend again by keeping a certain distance following the halachic rulings clearly spelled out in the Talmud., if there is a gate erected he can come even closer. All he needs is a knowledgeable Orthodox Rabbi to point out to him the various ways that he can work around the Biblical Law and still be able to pay his respects.

After the actual burial, the son can no longer come in direct contact with the grave, but again, Kohanim in our community bury their loved ones in choice areas of the cemetery where they would be able to come in quite close to the grave in order to pay their respects over the following years. All that is required is the halachic education necessary to understand what he may or may not do.

I hope this addresses your concerns.

Tell me if they don't!

Regards,

Tzvi Frank
posted:2009-02-17 00:23:44


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