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A Concise Guide to the Halachos of Taharas Hakohanim

Becoming Tamei for Relatives

Seven Relatives

1. A kohen is not only permitted to become tamei for his deceased closest relatives, but is obligated to do so. The follow ing relatives are included in this ruling: the kohen’s father, mother, brother, unmarried sister, wife, son, and daughter. For other relatives, such as a maternal half-brother or sister, grandparents and grandchildren, a kohen may not become tamei.

2. A kohen may not refrain from becoming tamei for close relatives, except in cases where the relationship is in doubt.

When Becoming Tamei for Relatives Is Prohibited

3. A kohen becomes tamei for relatives only if the body is completely intact (as the relative was while alive). He may not become tamei for an amputated limb from his own body or from anyone else. The body of someone who died a violent death is assumed not intact until proven otherwise. In such a case, a kohen should not become tamei.

4. There are opinions that this obligation applies only when the kohen would become tamei in order to take care of the relative’s burial needs. It is an honor for the deceased person when his relatives personally take care of his burial needs. In such circumstances, a kohen may remain in a room with the deceased as long as there is a need for him to be on hand to supervise and make decisions concerning the funeral. If his presence is unnecessary, as, for example, on Shabbos, when no decisions need to be made, according to these opinions, the kohen should leave.

5. The mitzva of becoming tamei for relatives applies only until the burial. From the moment the body is covered in the grave, a kohen should stay four cubits away.

6. If the relative was not Torah observant, a halachic authority must be consulted as to whether a kohen should become tamei for him.

Becoming Tamei for a Non-Relative at the Same Time as a Relative

7. A kohen may not make himself tamei-mes for non-relatives in order to reach his dead relative. Some opinions forbid a kohen from unnecessarily becoming tamei-mes for a nonrelative even while touching or carrying his dead relative.

8. If he cannot take care of his relative’s needs properly without becoming tamei for a non-relative as well, he may do so. However, the kohen must ensure that he becomes tamei to both of them simultaneously, and that the degree of tuma from the non-relative is no greater than the degree of tuma from his relative.

9. Similarly, if a kohen is in a hospital with a relative who dies, he should not leave his relative alone, even if there is another corpse there.

10. It is customary to bury a kohen’s relatives at the edge of a cemetery so that the kohen need not become tamei from other graves while attending the relative’s funeral.


1. If a kohen discovers the corpse of a Jew and cannot call other Jews to bury it, he must not leave the body alone but must bury it himself, though by doing so he becomes tamei.

2. This applies only if the kohen found the head or most of the body.

3. If other people available to bury the body insist on being paid, the kohen is not obliged to pay them, and he can bury it himself.

4. If it is uncertain whether the dead person was Jewish, the kohen should not become tamei. However, if the majority of people in the place are Jewish, he may assume that the body is that of a Jew and bury it.

5. In countries where burial is forbidden without a license, rocks or other heavy objects should be placed around the body to protect it from animals. One may then leave the body in order to arrange a proper funeral.

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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