A Kohain visiting a cemetery
- Who is a Kohain?
A Kohain is a direct descendant of the High Priest, Aaron (Aharon HaKohain) through the male line.
- How do I know if I’m a Kohain?
If your father never told you that you’re a Kohain, you’re probably not a Kohain.
- What’s the issue with a Kohain visiting a cemetery?
The Torah states (Leviticus 21:1) "And God said to Moses, speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron and tell them that they may not “defile” themselves through contact with a dead body."
“Defile” isn’t the best translation because it’s a pejorative that implies something that isn’t true. So let’s use the Hebrew word, “Tuma”. Tuma is hard to translate because there’s no English counterpart. Tuma is a spiritual state that requires distance or separation. Therefore, a Kohain needs to keep his distance from a dead body. This means he can’t be under the same roof or canopy (or tree) as a dead body and he can’t come within about 8 feet of a dead body.
South Florida Jewish Cemetery was designed with this issue in mind and the main driveway does not have any trees that overhang it and the driveway has a 15-foot buffer between the edge of pavement and the first graves. A Kohain may enter the cemetery, stay on the driveway, and even go up to the hedges along the driveway. The first two rows of graves are reserved for Kohanim so that their relatives may visit the graves in the future.
- Can a Kohain attend the funeral of a family member?
Yes, a Kohain may attend the funeral of his mother, father, wife, daughter, son, brother, and unmarried sister. He should not visit the grave afterwards. (Unless of course we’re talking about a grave at SFJC in the Kohain section, where he may visit the grave while still maintaining the proper distance)