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A Concise Guide to the Halachos of Taharas Hakohanim

What Tuma Is Included in the Prohibition?

Types of Tuma

1. The only sort of tuma that kohanim are warned against is tumas-mes. They are also permitted to become tamei from utensils that touched a corpse.

What Parts of a Corpse Are Forbidden?

2. Every part of a corpse connected to the body causes tuma, including hair (some authorities include wigs) and fingernails. Therefore, if a corpse is lying outside a house and just one hair of his body extends into the house, the entire house becomes tamei-mes.

3. Parts of a corpse that are disconnected from the body sometimes cause tuma and sometimes do not:

  • Hair, fingernails, and teeth do not cause tuma.
  • There are parts of a corpse that transmit tuma only if they are touched or carried (tumas maga umasa).
  • Some parts of a corpse even transmit tuma by being under the same roof (tumas-ohel).
  • A cremated corpse no longer causes tuma once the shape of the body is no longer identifiable.


4. A fetus that died forty days or more after conception conveys tumas-mes. While the fetus is still in utero, it does not convey tuma until labor begins.


5. The corpse of a non-Jew conveys tuma through touch or carrying. Many authorities maintain that it also transmits tuma to the house it is in. This opinion should be followed.


6. A grave conveys tumas-mes through maga (touch) and ohel (roof). Therefore, a kohen may not touch a grave or position himself above one.

Limbs Severed from a Live Person

7. A complete limb that was severed from a live person’s body conveys tumas-mes. Therefore, a kohen may not come into contact with a severed limb even from his own body.

8. What is considered a complete limb? A bone that has both flesh and sinuous material (such as tendons) attached to it is considered a whole limb. This applies even to a segment of one’s small finger. However, an organ removed from a living person that does not contain a whole bone does not convey tuma. Because of this, a kohen may remain in the same room as a kidney, appendix, or spleen removed from a living person.

A Person Near Death (Gosess)

9. Though a person is considered absolutely alive until the moment of death, a kohen may not enter a building where someone is near death. This is due to the concern that the person might pass away while the kohen is there. However, if a kohen is asleep in a room where someone is near death, there is no obligation to wake him until the actual moment of death.

Rabbinical Tumas-Mes

10. A kohen may not enter within four cubits of a corpse or a grave, even if the corpse or grave is a non-Jew’s. If a wall or partition separates the kohen from the corpse or grave, he may approach to within four handbreadths.

11. A kohen may not enter a field known to contain an unmarked grave or a grave that was plowed over (beis hapras). This rule applies only in Eretz Yisrael.

12. The sages decreed that every country outside Eretz Yisrael and all the dwelling places of gentiles even in the Land of Israel are considered tamei-mes. The authorities disagree over whether this decree applies in our time.

13. A kohen may enter a place that has rabbinical tumas-mes in order to do a mitzva if there is no other way to do the mitzva. But some authorities permit this only in order to learn Torah, get married, or to avoid extreme embarrassment.

Join the Conversation


  1. Dear Rabbi,

    I have a couple questions pertaining to this article:

    The article states that “A challal (a descendant of a kohen who defiled his status as a kohen in a way that
    disqualifies him mi’de’Oraisa) is also allowed to become tamei”

    Is this only the case when absolutely necessary, for example for the burial needs of a close relative (ie those close relatived permitted for any Kohein) or can a challal become temei mes for any relative or any other person’s burial needs. Does this also allow for becoming tamei to visit graves or a yortzeit, for example a relatives or the yortzeit of a great rabbinic figure? Can a challal visit places in eretz yisrael or elsewhere where it is known there are Jewish graves or those of non Jews or should he still not purposely become tamei.

    Can a challal go into a hospital for his own medical needs or to accompany or visit someone (a wife or close relative) when there may be tumas mes or can they carte blanche enter with no problem.

    The essense of my question is – is the challals allowance to become tamei a carte blanche all encompassing pass to ingore the restricitons of (regular) kohanim or should a challal be careful in any way?

    1. Yes, a challal is just like a non-kohen and is allowed to marry a divorcee etc. The only difference between him and a non-kohen is that his daughters, and the daughters of his sons and sons’ sons ad infinitum, may not marry kohanim.

  2. Dear Rabbi,
    Situation: A Kohen marries a giyores.
    I know his children are challalim.
    He loses “Kohanic privileges.”
    Question: Does he retain restrictions (to not become tamei, etc)?
    Kol tuv,

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