Praying While Carrying A Weapon

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

“Pinchas the son of Elazar the son of Aaron the kohen saw this, arose from the congregation, and took a spear in his hand.” (Balak 25:7)

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 82a) cites the above verse regarding Pinchas’ courageous act and explains that it serves as a source to prohibit entering into a bais medrash while carrying a weapon.

The Yad Rama explains that the Gemara understood the aforementioned verse to be stating the following, “he arose” from the bais medrash and only then “took a spear”. As long as he was in the bais medrash he did not have any weapon readily available.

This hallacha prohibits carrying a weapon in a study house. In this article we will focus on whether one is allowed to pray and to enter a bais knesses (house of worship) while carrying a weapon and how these hallachos may affect Israeli soldiers who must carry a weapon on their person at all times.
Prayer While Carrying a Weapon

The Orchos Chaim (Bais Knesses 7) writes that it is prohibited to enter a house of prayer while carrying a weapon. He explains that prayer extends one’s life and it would be inappropriate to do so while carrying a weapon which cuts life short. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 151:6) codifies this ruling, he writes: “There are those that prohibit entering (a bais knesses) with a long knife or with an uncovered head.”
The Tzitz Eliezer (10:18) notes that although the Shulchan Aruch wrote this law in the section of laws of the beis knesses, the hallacha would apply as well for one who is praying alone at home. Meaning that one may not even pray at home while carrying a weapon. He explains that the reason for the prohibition exists when praying at home as well, for while one is praying, which extends life, one should not be carrying an item which cuts life short. He adds that one may not even enter a Synagogue while carrying a weapon. A similar view can be found in the sefer Beer Sarim (2:10).

See however Yechave Daas (5:18) who disagrees and feels that the prohibition exists only in a synagogue which has a lot of holiness. Praying at home while carrying a weapon would be permitted. It is also worthy to note that the Sefer Tzedaka Umishpat (chapter 1 note 42) feels that it is better to daven without a minian than to enter a house of prayer with a weapon.

We have thus found that there exists a prohibition of entering a shul while carrying a weapon and according to some authorities this prohibition exists even while praying in one’s home. It would seem to the reader that an Israeli soldier who must carry a weapon would never be allowed to pray, which is clearly problematic. In this article we will offer a few possible suggestions which may help avoid any hallachic problems.
Concealing the Weapon

The Torah Temimah, on this verse, cites the words of the Shulchan Aruch and he raises a question. The Shulchan Aruch writes that one should not enter a shul “with a long knife or with an uncovered head”. The simple reading of the Shulchan Aruch seems to suggest that there are two entirely different topics being discussed: firstly, one should not enter a shul with a weapon and secondly one should not enter without properly covering one’s head (yarmulka). The Torah Temimah wonders what connection there is between these two statements. What’s more the Shulchan Aruch already discussed the hallacha of praying without a head covering in siman 91, why then would he feel compelled to repeat himself?

He therefore offers an entirely different interpretation of the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. The Shulchan Aruch is actually discussing one topic throughout and that is weapons in the synagogue. When the Shulchan Aruch writes that one should not enter with an “uncovered head” he is actually referring to the “head” of the weapon. The prohibition exists only if the weapon is uncovered. One is allowed to pray as long as the weapon is concealed. Although the Levush seems to not agree with this novel interpretation of the words of the Shulchan Aruch, the Elya Raba seems to concur with the Torah Temimah.

Rav Avigdor Neventzhal shlit”a (Pirush Viyitzhak Yikarey on the Mishnah Berurah) feels that according to the Torah Temimah one is allowed to pray as long as the nozzle of the gun is covered. However, the Tzitz Eliezer proves from the words of the Mor U’Ktziah that in order to rule leniently, the gun must be completely covered and not be noticeable to others.

Removing the bullets

The Tzitz Eliezer feels that if the bullets are removed from the gun one can enter into shul and pray. He explains that unlike a knife, a gun without bullets is not considered at this moment a weapon and therefore the strict ruling would not apply.

The Tzitz Eliezer continues to write that a soldier or guard who must carry a weapon on his person at all times is permitted to enter a synagogue and pray while carrying his weapon. For these people removing the weapon can lead to dangerous and possibly life threatening situations and they therefore may pray while carrying a weapon. He does write that if possible one should place the gun on the floor during tefila and if that is not possible one should at least cover the weapon with his tallis.

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Praying To Angels And To The Dead: A Hallachic Analysis

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

“They (the spies) went up in, the south, and he (Calev) came to Chevron, where there were Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of the giant. Now Chevron had been built seven years before Zoan of Egypt.” (Shelach 12:22)

In the above verse we are told of the journey of the Spies as they entered Eretz Yisroel. Rashi, citing the Gemara (Sotah 34b), explains that Calev alone went to Chevron (it is for that reason that the verse writes “he” went to Chevron). He journeyed to Chevron in order to pray at the graves of the Patriarchs. He said to them: “My fathers ask for mercy upon me that I may be saved from being ensnared by the designs of the spies.”

The nature of Calev’s prayer may have hallachic ramifications and may shed some light on an age old machlokes as to whether one is allowed to pray to Angels, or to the dead, to intercede on our behalf.

The purpose of this article is not to give a clear cut ruling for the reader. Rather, to elucidate both opinions of the poskim, each person should follow his or her custom and when necessary a Rav should be consulted.

1) Idolatry

Before we begin it is important to clarify one point and that is that praying to Angels or to the dead directly so that they can help us, is unequivocally forbidden. These beings have no strength of their own and praying for them to grant a yeshua or refua is akin to idol worship. The nature of our discussion is whether one may pray and ask for them to intercede on his behalf and pray for him, but of course the prayer must be directed towards the Almighty.

2) Prayer to Angels

The Permissible View

Many poskim discuss whether one is allowed to beseech Angels to intercede on our behalf. Rashi (Sanhedrin 44b) explains that the opinion of Rav Yochanan is that: “One should always pray for the help of the administrating Angels to strengthen his power of prayer.”

Indeed, many tefillos, authored by great Tzaddikim and Rishonim, implore Angels to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. Most notably the prayer (recited during Selichos of Aseres Yimei Teshuva) “Machnisei Rachamim hachnisu rachameinu” (those who bring in mercy bring in our plea for mercy) calls upon the angels to help take our prayers before Hashem and intercede on our behalf.

The author of the Shibolei Haleket cited the aforementioned prayer of “Machnisei Rachamim” and commented that there is no hallachic problem with its recital- this prayer is in no way connected to Idolatry. Rav Avigdor Cohen Tzedek agreed with this permissible view.

Rav Aryeh Leib Gordon zt”l, in the introduction to the Sidur Otzer Hatefillos, cited a response from Rav Shrira Gaon, who wrote the following: “When praying to Angels one must do so in Lashon Hakodesh. However, when praying directly to G-d, the prayer may be recited in any language.” It is thus evident that Rav Shrira Gaon allowed one to pray for the intercession of Angels. The Minchas Elazar (Y.D. 1:46) also rules leniently.

Those Who Rule Stringently

There were, however, many authorities who forbade any form of worship towards Angels. The Abarbanel (Sefer Rosh Amana 12) takes a stringent view as well. His source is a Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos chapter 9), which states: “If Jews have hardships, they should not cry out to the Angels Michael or Gavriel, rather I (G-d) should receive their outcries”.

It is for this very reason that the Sefer Hameoros (Meoros Harshonim page 29) testifies that many kehilos omit the tefila of “Machnisei Rachamim”. The Maharal of Prague (Netiv Haovoda 12) objects as well to the recitation of this prayer because it appears as if we are praying to the angels and not to the Almighty. He therefore amends the text from “machnisei rachamim hachnisu rachameinu” (those who bring in mercy bring in our plea for mercy) to “machnisei rachamim yachnisu rachameinu,” (allow those who bring in mercy to bring in our plea for mercy) which is directed towards the Almighty. [See Otzer Hatefilos who cites other rabbanim (including Rav Chaim Volozhiner) who amended other tefilos in order that it not seem that we are praying to Angels.]

The Chatam Sofer, (Orach Chaim no. 166), records his personal practice to skip the aforementioned prayer. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe O.C. vol. 5 page 146), while discussing whether it is permissible to pray for Angels to intercede on our behalf, notes that his father omitted the stanza of “Barchuni L’Shalom” from the prayer Shalom Aleichem, recited on Friday nights for the same reasons cited above. The Gesher Hachaim (3:26), after quoting both opinions, writes that those who are lenient are basing their opinion on great rabbanim and therefore others should not try to correct them.

3) Praying to the dead

As previously cited, Calev prayed for the Patriarchs to please ask for mercy that he not become ensnared by the Spies. One can deduce from the actions of Calev that praying to the dead (or from Angels) for intercession is permissible. The Gesher Hachaim notes that a lenient view was expressed by the Zohar Hakadosh. The sefer Darkei Teshuva (Y.D. 179:36) lists other authorities who rule leniently as well.

However, the Chochmas Adam (24:5) was vehemently against directing prayer towards the dead, he explains that care must be taken to only pray to the Almighty. The Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 581) records the minhag of many to visit cemeteries on Erev Rosh Hashana, he warns, however, against praying to the dead directly, rather, one must be careful to pray directly to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. See Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 5 page 147), where Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explains whether praying to the dead should be more problematic or less problematic then praying to the Angels.

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Tikkun Chatzos (Assorted Halachos)

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

Tikkun chatzos is a midnight ritual which focuses on mourning over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and beseeching God to rebuild it speedily. The poskim and the mekubalim stress the importance of performing tikkun chatzos (See Magen Avraham 1:4 and Sefer Tikun Chatzos by Harav Saryah Deblitzky shlit”a). The Mishna Brurah also writes that the mekubalim emphasized the great importance of waking up at chatzos to say a certain seder of tefilos organized by the Arizal, which are printed in the siddurim.
1. Harav Saryah Deblitzki shlit”a writes that the most preferred method is to wake up and recite the tikkun chatzos and then to learn until sunrise. However, this is extremely difficult to fulfill. He continues to cite many poskim who explain that the most important aspect of this custom is to be awake at the time of chatzos. It is permitted to go to sleep after reciting tikkun chatzos (Sefer Tikun Chatzos. See also Sefer Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 1 page 13, Sefer Nimukei Orach Chaim 1, and Sefer Shulchan Hatahor).
2. The Malbim (Ortzos Hachaim 1:31) and the Mishanh Berurah (1:9) write that one should recite the tikkun chatzos a little before chatzos. However, Harav Deblitzky shlit”a explains that according to the Arizal and other kabbalists one should recite the tikkun chatzos exactly at the moment of chatzos.
3. The Ben Ish Chai writes that for kabbalistic reasons women should not recite tikkun chatzos (Ben Ish Chai Vayishlach 6 and Shu”t Rav Poalim vol. 1 Sod Yesharim 9). The Kaf Hachaim, however, rules that women may recite tikkun chatzos (1:16). For normative halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.
4. It is the practice to say tikkun chatzos while sitting on the floor near a doorpost that has a mezuzah. Many place ashes on one’s head in the area where the tefilin shel rosh is placed. Another practice is to not to wear shoes during tikkun chatzos (see Kaf Hachaim 1:18-19).
5.The Ben Ish Chai writes that one should recite tikkun chatzos even if he does not fully comprehend what he is saying. And even if he does not cry and mourn the loss of the Temple, he should still recite tikkun chatzos (Od Yosef Chai Vayishlach). Rav Deblitzky shlit”a feels that many people refrain from reciting tikkun chatzos because they assume that this prayer and custom is reserved for great rabbis and kabbalists. He cites that Ben Ish Chai as proof that this is not so. Everyone may and should recite tikkun chatzos (See also Minhag Yosroel Torah page 40).
6. According to many authorities, including the Kaf Hachaim, Mishnah Berurah, and Rav Shalom Sherabi, chatzos at night is exactly twelve hours after hallachic midday (the mid point between sunrise and sunset), or chatzos hayom (See Sefer Tikun Chatzos, Chida Moreh Betzbah 45, and Yalkut Yosef). Harav Yitzchak Eisik Yehuda Yechiel Safrin zt”l of Komarno, known as the Komarno Rebbe, writes that tikkun chatzos should always be recited at midnight 12 o’clock (Shulchan Hatahor 1. For a dissenting view see Minchas Shlomo Vol. 2 91:16).
7. There are many calender days where one does not recite tikkun chatzos. For a complete list see Harav Diblitzsky’s Sefer Tikkun Chatzos.
8. Many people are lenient and do not recite tikkun chatzos. While there is very little hallachic basis for this, some feel that this can be explained based upon the view of Harav Yaakov Emden zt”l. Harav Emden zt”l, in Mor UKetziah (1), writes that the obligation to recite tikkun chatzos only applies to torah scholars and in Israel. However, the majority of authorities who do not make this distinction clearly maintain that the obligation to recite tikkun chatzos applies to all people in all countries.
9. If one cannot awaken before morning or before chatzos, then at the very least he should not sleep past the time that the congregation gathers for prayer. The Mishnah Berurah (1:9) advises to wake up early enough to give him enough time to get ready and prepared to pray properly.

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Praying For The Sick

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

“And Hashem will remove from you all illness, and all of the evil diseases of Egypt which you knew, He will not set upon you, but He will lay them upon all your enemies.” (Ekav 7:15)

One who prays for the sick has fulfilled the mitzvos of “Love your brother as yourself” and performing chesed. The Gemara (Brachos 12a) tells us that “anyone who is able to pray for his friend and does not is called a sinner.” It is therefore very important to become familiar with the different hallachos that may be relevant when praying for the sick.
Praying in front of the choleh

The mitzvah of bikor cholim (visiting the sick) is considered one of the great mitzvos of the Torah. The Tur (Y.D. 335), quoting the Gemara, explains that it is one of the few ways that a person can follow in the ways G-d. Just as G-d visited Avraham when he was sick so to every Jew should visit his brethren when they are sick. Praying for the sick is an extremely important part of the mitzvah of bikor chlim. The Ramban (cited by Bais Yosef and Rama) writes that one who visits the sick and does not pray for him has not fulfilled his obligation. Rav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach zt”l is cited as ruling that simply wishing the choleh a speedy recovery “refua shleima” is a fulfillment of this obligation (see Halichus Shlomo Tefila chapter 8 note 63). This prayer, writes the Gesher Hachaim (vol. 1 page 30), if done so in front of the choleh should be done quickly and quietly. [See Gesher Hachaim who cites which verses one should pray when visiting the sick.]
The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 335:5) rules that when one is praying in front of the choleh one may do so in any language. The Shach explains that the shechina (G-d’s presence) rests with those who are sick and therefore when one is praying in front of the choleh he is doing so directly in front of Hashem, in which case one may pray in any language. However, the shulchan aruch rules that when praying for the sick not in the presence of the choleh one must do so in Lashon Hakodesh. The reason given is that when one is praying (not in the presence of Hashem) one needs the heavenly angels to escort the tefillos in front of Hashem and since the angels are unfamiliar with any language other then Lashon Hakodesh, one must only pray in Lashon Hakodesh. [See the Taz who feels that this is actually a machlokes rishonim, for the opinion of the Rosh is that the angels understand all languages other then Aramaic.] The Maharil Diskin (Kuntres Achron 184) did advance a possibility that even in the presence of the choleh one should only pray in Lashon Hakodesh. However, as explained above, this is not the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and the other poskim. The Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 5 Ramat Rahcel page 17) also notes  that the opinion of the Maharil Diskin is in contention of many poskim.

It is worthy to note the ruling of the Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 119:1) who writes that when praying in front of the sick person one need not mention the name of the choleh, rather one should pray that Hashem send a speedy recovery to “this sick person.” His source is from the verse which describes Moshe Rabbeinu praying for his sister Miriam Hanivea. The verse states: “Moshe cried out to the Lord, saying, “I beseech you, God, please heal her.” (Bahaloscha 12:13) He explains that Moshe Rabbeinu did not mention the name of Miriam because she was present at the time of the prayer. This opinion actually preceded the Aruch Hashulchan. The Maharil (cited by Magen Avraham 119) expressed a similar view.

Praying for a choleh, while not in his presence

The Gesher Hachaim writes that when praying for the sick not in the presence of the choleh, one should recite the following eighteen chapters of tehillim; 2,6,13,22,25,30,32,38,69,88,102,103,107,116,118,142,143,130. He adds that if one wishes to add more Tehillim he should recite the following chapters: 9,16,17,18,23,31,33,36,3,41,4,55,56,86,89,90,91,104. [See the Gesher Hachaim for more instructions when praying for the sick.]

Adding a name for the choleh

The Rama (Y.D. 335:10) writes that many have the custom of adding a name to one who is sick. He adds that “changing one’s name tears up the evil decree.” A person’s soul is “hinted” and connected to their name and therefore a change in their name is essentially a change of their being. It is thus understandable that one should not make any changes lightly and should only do so after consulting with a competent rabbinical authority.
The Gesher Hachaim notes that the changing of the name is accompanied by the recitation of Tehillim in the presence of a Minyan and various other special Tefillos, including a special Yehi Ratzon recited specifically when giving someone an additional name, as printed in many Siddurim. He continues to note that the name should be added in front of the choleh’s preexisting name. For example if his name is Moshe and they wish to add the name Rafael. His name for the future will be Rafael Moshe and not Moshe Rafael.
He continues to explain that whether or not the person will continue to be referred to by the new name will depend upon whether he recovers from the illness, and upon the nature of his recovery. If he recovers even a little bit, and is able to get up from this illness and establish himself with his new name for at least thirty days, even if he then gets sick again and dies after these thirty days, since he had established himself after having recovered from his illness for at least thirty days, that new name remains associated with him forever. It is thus written on his tombstone, and is used when a Keil Molei Rachamim is said, when Yizkor is recited, and when Mishanyos are learned in his memory, and so on. If, however, the person does not recover from the illness, meaning that he does not establish himself after having gotten up from the illness for at least thirty days with this new name, then he is referred to and remembered only by his original name, and the new name is ignored.
The Sefer Ta’amei HaMinhagim (Kuntras Acharon to Siman 217, Inyanei Berachos Ot 7, Amud 105) quotes from the Chida (Sefer Dvash, Maareches 300:4) that there are certain other names which should not be used for this purpose, and certain names which should be used. The common practice today is to give the sick person a name which somehow symbolizes life, health, strength, or some other type of Beracha which expresses the hope that the person will recover from his illness.

Different reasons why we use the mothers name during prayers

The prevalent minhag of Klal Yisroel is that when we pray for the sick we use their mother’s name, for example if a choleh’s name is Yaakov and his fathers name is Yitzchak while his mother’s name is Rivka, we pray for the recovery of Yaakov ben Rivka and we do not pray for Yaakov ben Yitzchak. While for other rituals (writing the Kesuba, receiving an aliyah in shul etc.) we use the father’s name. This custom is based on the Gemara (Shabbos 66b) which cites the ruling of Abaya, namely that when praying for the sick we use the mother’s name. The poskim offer many reasons why this has become the custom of klal yisroel, as we shall discuss:

1) The Sefer Gvul Yehuda (O.C. 2) explains that the reason we use the mother’s name and not the father’s name is because we can never be certain that a person’s father is indeed his father. However, we are able to be one hundred percent certain that his mother is indeed his mother. A similar notion can be found in the Sefer Chochmas Shlomo by the Maharshal. This explanation was already advanced by the Zohar Hakadosh (Lech Licha). The Ben Ish Chai in his Sefer Ben Yehoyada (Brachos 55b) writes that many seforim have offered the previous explanation, however, he disagrees and feels that it is actually disrespectful to question the accuracy of the fathers paternity. Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer O.C. 2:11) wonders how it is possible that the Ben Ish Chai, a gaon who was very well versed in the writings of the Zohar, could dismiss this explanation when it is actually the opinion of the Zohar.

2) The Ben Ish Chai, himself, offers an entirely different explanation. He writes that the reason why we mention the mothers name is to invoke mercy. A woman does not transgress many of the sins that many men commit (bitul torah, hotzas zera etc.) and therefore mentioning the mothers name will help the choleh in a positive way. As apposed to mentioning the name of the father, which may remind the Heavenly court of the numerous sins that the average men transgresses.

3) A third explanation can be found in the sefer Gvul Yehuda (ibid.). He explains that we recall the mothers name so as not to embarrass the children of intermarried couples, whose father’s are not Jewish.

Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that if one does not know the name of the mother one may recall the father’s name in it’s stead. The Chazon Ish (Oral ruling cited in Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 1 page 64) adds that one may also mention his surname.
Prayer for a Rebbi or a parent

The Maver Yabok (cited by Chida in Shiurei Bracha Y.D. 335) rules that when one is praying for a parent or a rebbi one should not recall any titles (Hagaon, Chacham, etc.) for “there is no honor in the presence of G-d.” He does note that regarding people that referencing them by name is forbidden (father, rebbi) one is allowed to say “father ploni” or “rebbi ploni.” The Tzitz Eliezer (ibid.) writes the following: “The halacha is that when one is praying for the health of his father, mother, or rebbi, they should be mentioned by name. He should state the following, ‘Please heal and send a speedy recovery, to my father ploni, or my mother plonit, or to my rebbi ploni.’ No other title should be given.”

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Are Kohanim Allowed To Visit Kivrei Tzadikim (the graves of the Righteous)?

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

Jewish law prohibits a kohen from coming in close proximity to any dead body or to a cemetery.  In this article we will focus on the discussion amongst the poskim as to whether there is legitimate basis to allow kohanim to visit the graves of tzadikim or is this act unequivocally prohibited.

Sources which suggest a lenient ruling

1) The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 944) records an episode that occurred immediately following the brutal murder of Rav Akiva. Eliyahu Hanavi came to bury Rav Akiva. As Eliyahu carried Rav Akiva’s body on his shoulders, Rav Yehoshua, one of Rav Akiva’s main disciples, wondered how this is permitted if in fact Eliyahu was a kohen (as was indicated previously in the Midrash). Eliyahu responded: “Rav Yehoshua, my son, heaven forbid for tumah does not exist when it comes to talmidei chachamim or their sudents.” Some poskim feel that the statement of Eliyahu can serve as a source to allow kohanim to visit the graves of tzadikim.

Tosafos (Baba Metzia 114b), however, maintains that there exists a prohibition for kohanim to come in close proximity of the corpse or graves of the righteous. He addresses the Midrash and explains that Eliyahus response to Rav Yehoshua was aimed at preventing further questioning rather than expressing a true halacha. The real reason Eliyahu was permitted to bury Rav Akiva was due to the fact that Rav Akiva had the status of a “meis mitzvah” (a body without enough people for burial) which a kohen is allowed to contaminate himself for. He was considered a “meis mitzvah” because no one else would bury him out of fear of facing repercussions from the government. [The Ramban (Yevamos 61a) rejects this opinion of Tosafos on the grounds that it would seem unacceptable for  Eliyahu Hanavi to offer a false response in order to avoid further questions. One who hears that statement is likely to take him literally and may issue an erroneous hallachic ruling.] In addition the Sefer Haeshkol (vol. 2 page 174) cites the lenient ruling of the Midrash and comments that we should not base our hallachic rulings upon aggadic statements of the Midrashim unless the ruling was codified by the Gemara.

2) The second source that suggests a lenient ruling is a Gemara in Kesubos (103b). The Gemara tells us that when Rav Yehuda Hanasi died, “kedusha” (holiness) was removed from the world. Tosafos cites the opinion of Rav Chaim Kohen who explains that the “holiness” in this context is referencing the holiness of the kohanim. Meaning that kohanim took place in the burial of Harav Yehuda Hanasi. He adds that if he had been present for the funeral of Rabbeinu Tam he would have attended, even though he himself was a kohen. The Rashash feels that this too would suggest that there is no prohibition for a kohen to become tamei through touching a tzaddik’s grave.

However, it should be noted that most authorities feel that one cannot extend the comments of Tosafos to allow kohanim to visit kivrei tzadikim. It could be easily argued that there is a special leniency to allow a kohen to become tamei for a Nasi (such as Rav Yehuda Hanasi) who dies, and this dispensation does not apply to other tzadikim. In fact the Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 374:10) rules that a kohen is permitted to become tamei by exposing himself to come in contact with the body of a Nasi. The logic for this ruling is that the position of the Nasi is considered to be so exalted that he is always considered to be a “meis mitzvah”, as there are never a sufficient amount if people to pay him the proper respect. [The Bais Yosef comments that Rav Chaim Kohen merely felt that this leniency may be applied to any leader of klal yisroel and therefore he would have allowed himself to attend the funeral of Rabbeinu Tam.]

What’s more, this leniency to contaminate for a Nasi is only extended to allow kohanim to attend the funeral; however, to subsequently visit the grave would be prohibited. In addition it is worthy to note that Rabbeinu Bachya (Kad Hakemach- Ahava) limits this leniency even more still. He explains that this leniency applies only to Rav Yehuda Hanasi who died with G-d’s kiss (“misas neshika”). Tumah stems from the angel of death and therefore tzadikim who were worthy of dying through G-d directly do not transmit any tumah. Other tzadikim who did not merit this form of death would indeed contaminate kohanim.

Sources which suggest a stringent ruling

1) The Gemara in Sukah (25b) states that (according to some) the people who initially approached Moshe Rabbeinu about the possibility of making up for the korban pesach that was missed due to tumah, were the men carrying the body of Yosef Hatzadik. Now it is obvious that Yosef was a tremendous tzadik, yet these men became contaminated from contacting his body. It is thus clear that the corpse of a tzadik can transmit tumah and kohanim should not be allowed to visit their gravesites. [It should be noted that the Avnei Nezer (Y.D. 166:17) wishes to reconcile the fact that Yosef Hatzadik seemingly transmitted tumah while Eliyahu buried Rav Akiva (as cited in the Midrash earlier). He explains that if the tzadik was murdered, his body will not contaminate others, however, if he died naturally then he will make others tamei. He based his opinion on the words of the Zohar Hakadosh. According to the Avnei Nezer, kohanim would be allowed to visit the grave of a tzadik who was murdered, such as Rav Akiva.]

2) The Gemara in Baba Basra (58a) tells us that Rav Binah marked off the graves of the Patriarchs in Maaras Hamachpela. The Rashbam, Tosafos and the Rif all explain that the reason that Rav Binah marked off the graves was to alert the kohanim of the presence of tumah so that they can avoid those areas entirely.

[However, Rav Yaakov Emden zt”l, in his Hagaos Yaavetz, offers an alternate explanation. He writes that the purpose of marking the locations of the graves in the Maaras Hamachpela could not have been for kohanim to avoid tumah because kivrei tzadikim do not transmit tumah. Rather, the graves were marked so that Jews in future generations would be able to daven at the graves of the Avos.

3) The Gemara in Sanhedrin (39a) records a conversation that took place between a heretic and Rav Avahu. The heretic asked how G-d purified himself after burying Moshe Rabbeinu, because the pasuk indicates that G-d is a kohen. Rav Avahu responded that instead of using water, G-d purified Himself by immersing in fire. Tosafos wonders why the heretic did not question how G-d was allowed to bury Moshe in the first place if He is in fact a kohen. Tosafos explains that because the Jews are considered children of G-d (“banim lamakom”) there is no problem with G-d contaminating Himself by coming in contact with a Jewish body, the same way a kohen is allowed to bury his own son. The Gemara seems to indicate that even though Moshe Rabbeinu was both a tzadik and a talmid chacham his body would transmit tumah.

The rulings of the poskim

While some poskim  permitted kohanim to visit the graves of tzadikim, however, the overwhelming majority of the poskim forbid any kohen to come in contact with the corpse or grave of a tzadik, I will list some of them here: Sefer Haeshkol, Maharil (150), Shu”t Batei Kehuna (1:23), Mishpitei Tzedek (76), Sdei Chemed (vol. 8 page 292), Hilchos Ketanos (177), Zais Ranan (Y.D. 2:27), Pe’as Hashulchan (2:16), Tuv Tam V’Daas (Rav Shlomo Kluger Y.D. 2:231), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (202:14), Divrei Yechezkel, Yaskil Avdi (vol. 8 page 192), Yechave Daas (Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l 4:48) and Tzitz Eliezer (15:58).

[See Tzitz Eliezer 15:58, 16:18,3 for a discussion as to whether Kever Rachel was constructed in a way to permit kohanim entry according to all authorities. Rav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo Sefiras Haomer chapter eleven note 86) denies the claim that kohanim can enter the kever of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai. He writes that the construction does not permit entry under any circumstance.]

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