May a Kohen, who is not allowed to be around dead bodies and the like, become a doctor?

Please mention only sourced answers, and I realize that there are some programs that don't require work with cadavers, but please leave those out of the answers.

  • 1
    Why would you think he couldn't become a doctor?
    – Double AA
    Dec 15, 2013 at 21:28
  • 3
    Why did this get voted down??
    – Shimon bM
    Dec 15, 2013 at 22:23
  • 3
    @ShimonbM Probably because it doesn't give context or motivation for the question. Kohanim may not "be around" dead bodies. Kohanim might be doctors. But are doctors required to be around dead bodies?
    – WAF
    Dec 15, 2013 at 22:50
  • 6
    @WAF Indeed, most doctors would be of little help to an already dead patient.
    – Double AA
    Dec 15, 2013 at 23:00
  • Furthermore, excluding pertinent information from the answer makes this a pretty weak question. (cc @WAF)
    – Seth J
    Dec 16, 2013 at 3:30

3 Answers 3


In an article titled "The Study of Medicine by Kohanim," Dr. Edward R. Burns concludes:

The overwhelming majority of authoritative rabbinic scholars prohibit the study of medicine by a kohen in any school where the dissection of human corpses is required. If a student is given permission to learn anatomy by observation of dissection without participation there is room for leniency, although the problem of encountering corpses in the hospital for an as yet unlicensed medical student remains...

If a kohen chooses to ignore the stated prohibitions and studies anatomy nevertheless, he is permitted to practice medicine once he achieves his medical degree and license.


A Kohen may not be a Doctor in accordance with the opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein (אג"מ יו"ד ח"ג קנה) Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik as quoted by Rav Herschel Schachter. The reason is that it is almost impossible to not come in contact or be under the same roof with a dead body.

Rav Moshe Feinstiens opinion and some interesting backround can be found in this article of the RJJ Journal:

A number of years ago, a certain kuntress (pamphlet) was published on this question and came to the attention of Rav Shimon Schwab of Washington Heights, who sent it to Rav Moshe Feinstein for comment. Rav Feinstein at first refused to read it, vehemently rejecting the very premise of the kuntress that medical training for a kohen might be permissible. 50 His immediate reaction was that it is so obviously forbidden that .even were the greatest rabbis in the world to try to permit it, we would not consider their opinion. He compared it to a passage in the Gemara (Yevamot 104) which declares that even if the Prophet Elijah himself appears and expounds a law contrary to our prevailing custom, we are not to listen to him. At first, Rav Feinstein was under the impression that the author's thesis was that since all]ews nowadays are considered to be unavoidably Tameh anyway, there is no reason not to increase their Tl-lmeah; this premise he dismissed as totally unaceeptable. However, finally he acceded to the request to respond to the specifics of the kuntress. Rav Feinstein notes that the author attempts a lenient ruling based on the argument of pikuach nefesh - that the kohen-doctor would be able to save lives. This reasoning, too, he rejects as "emptiness and nonsense" . One is only obligated to heal the sick if he knows how; there is no requirement for any person to go out and study medicine so that he will be able to practice it! In the same way, one is not obligated to go out and earn money to become rich so that he will have what to give a poor man; rather, if he has money when a beggar asks, then he must give him.

However, there have been Rabbis that permitted it. Most notably Rabbi Shlomo Goren who came up with a novel approach to mitigate the issue of Tumaas Meis.

Rav Goren has a questionable קולא About Metal Watches:

We generally assume like the רמב"ם (not like the ראב"ד) that מוסיף טומאה על טומאתו only means that a כהן who is physically touching one thing that is טמא מת may touch another thing that is טמא מת , against רבינו תם and the ראב"ד . We Also hold that מעיקר הדין a piece of metal that was in contact with טומאת מת becomes טומאת מת itself, even though for some reason the רמ"א was מקיל with regard to such metal. Based on these two ,דינים Rav Goren claimed that if a כהן wants to come into contact with a מת , all he has to do is put on a watch that is טמא מת , which the רמ"א says is מותר , and then even according to the רמב"ם one could come into contact with a מת.

(This is highly questionable. First of all, the רמב"ם may have only meant that there is no אסור דאורייתא for a כהן in contact with one מת to touch another, not that it is completely מותר. Also, the דין of מוסיף טומאה על טומאתו is learned from the word " להחלו ," which is interpreted as excluding anyone who is already מחולל ועומד . One could argue that a person is only considered מחולל ועומד when he is in contact with something that is אסור for him to come into contact with or something that is actually מטמא him. Only then is there already a חלל that coming into contact with another מת cannot worsen. It seems like somewhat of a תרתי דסתרי to paskin that one can touch the watch and then consider himself מחולל ועומד after doing so.)


Rav Moshe Feinstein, p58 does not allow it and

“strongly rejects the permissive rulings of some rabbis …”

  • 1
    "...which are based on [etc.]" It never says he rejects all permissive rulings.
    – Double AA
    Dec 15, 2013 at 21:54
  • 1
    @DoubleAA - p59 Rabbi Feinstein permits a kohen to work in a hospital if he can leave a hospital when a death occurs and if most patients are non-Jews. Dec 15, 2013 at 22:00
  • Yes..............
    – Double AA
    Dec 15, 2013 at 22:01
  • 2
    @AvrohomYitzchok That's assuming he already finished medical school. R' Moshe did not permit kohanim to attend medical schools where they would be required to come into contact with cadavers.
    – Fred
    Dec 15, 2013 at 22:56
  • @Fred Yes, thanks. I think it's now pretty clear that it is would be very difficult for a kohen to qualify and work as a doctor according to Rabbi Feinstein ztz"l. Dec 16, 2013 at 10:25

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