Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mummies and Kohanim Entering the Land of the Nations

By: Reb Avi Lebovitz (Heoros al Hadaf)

The Mishna L'melech (Avel 3:1) has a teshuva where he discusses Kohanim going into the mummy business. He begins by saying that although they may consist of very dry bones, theywill still transmit tumah. However, his reason to be lenient is based on the opinion of the Yerai'im that we follow the opinion of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that aside from idolaters not transmitting tumah through roof association, they also do not transmit tumah via “touching.” (Tosafos 54a clearly rejects this and says that even according to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, they will transmit tumah via “touching.”) Based on the combination of the Yerai'im, and the Ra'avad who says that any Kohen who is already tamei (even after he separates from the corpse) has no prohibition of becoming tamei again, the Mishna L’melech creates a s'fek sfeika (double doubt) to be lenient, but eventually rejects it, since it is clear from the many places, including our Tosfos, in the name of Rabbeinu Chaim Cohen that a Kohen cannot make himself tamei even if he is already a tamei meis.

The issue that is related to our Gemora is that the Gemora in Avoda Zara (13a) says that a Kohen cannot enter into the Land of the Nations except for a mitzvah because of the decree of tumah on the Land of the Nations. The Rambam in Hilchos Ohalos (2:3) seems to understand that the concern of the Land of the Nations is because of the fetuses of idolaters that are buried there. This would clearly indicate that there is at least a prohibition of touching and carrying for Kohanim even related to the corpses of idolaters. However, the Mishna L'melech rejects this proof based on Tosfos, who says that the decree of tumah on the Land of the Nations is due to “the many Jews that were killed outside of Eretz Yisroel,” not because of the idolaters.

Practically speaking, what happened to the prohibition for a Kohen to go from Eretz Yisroel to the Land of the Nations (other than for mitzvah purposes)? The Shulchan Aruch (369) rules that a Kohen cannot go into the Land of the Nations, but the Shach (3) writes that it only applies when Eretz Yisroel is presumed to be in a state of taharah, but nowadays, this does not apply. This opinion is also quoted in the b'er hagola from the maharshal. The Shevus Yakov (brought in pischei teshuva) argues and claims that it applies even nowadays. Reb Akiva Eiger justifies the custom to be lenient about this, either because “sustaining one’s family” is a significant enough of a mitzvah (but this would not justify those who travel to chutz la'aretz for vacation) or because we are all tamei meisim. The second rationale seems to be either based on the opinion of the Ra’avad that the prohibition of tumas meis in general only applies when the Kohen is tahor, and although we are not lenient for a Biblical tumah, we rely on the Ra'avad for the Land of the Nations, which is only Rabbinical. But more likely he means to say that the entire decree of the Land of the Nations is in order to maintain the taharah of the Kohen, and it would not apply when the Kohen is a tamei meis.