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Most (see for example the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch Y"D 369) rishonim (notably excepting the Raavad) hold that even in our time, kohanim are prohibited from contracting טומאת מת "anew" even if they, like virtually everyone these days, are already טמאי מת.

A meis is an avi avos, and a person or keli that touches it becomes an av hatummah, and an av hatummah in turn can be מטמא a person or kelim to become a rishon.

Therefore, someone who was in contact with a meis can make another person a rishon through a simple handshake. I think everyone's experience is that kohanim in our days are not careful to not shake hands with (male) non-kohanim in case they are טמאי מת.

However, what is the rationale or source for not being careful with this? I thought to say that perhaps the "refreshing" of טומאת מת that we are concerned about by an already טמא kohen is only to make the kohen an av hatummah, and perhaps therefore we are only concerned with the kohen being in contact (through masa/maga/ohel) with the meis (the avi avos) itself. Also, perhaps we do not assume that most people are avos hatummah, but merely rishonim, who would then not be מטמא a person through maga.

I couldn't find any source to confirm or deny this, so I would be most thankful if someone has a source or an alternative answer.

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See Rambam Hilchot Evel 3:1-2. The prohibition is for a kohen to come into "contact" (via maga, masa or ohel) with a corpse or part of a corpse (which is capable of imparting tum'ah).

There is no prohibition for a kohen to touch a person who is t'mei met, thereby rendering the kohen merely a rishon letum'ah.

(In fact, according to Rambam, a kohen can even touch clothing which had touched a corpse, even though that makes the kohen an av hatum'ah midivrei kabbalah.)

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  • ...and so is our custom
    – AKA
    Commented Apr 1 at 14:11
  • And we come out they can even touch metal that touched the corpse, right?
    – Shalom
    Commented Apr 1 at 17:48
  • @Shalom I believe so
    – Joel K
    Commented Apr 1 at 20:14

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