Excuse the extreme hypothetical, but:

If a Cohen were locked in a room with no windows and a dead body, and just so happened to have lighter fluid and a pack of matches (and there were small holes in the ceiling for the smoke to escape), should he/could he burn the body in order to escape the prohibition of being in the same enclosure of a corpse (Rama YD 372:1 - the prohibition is not just to enter a place of impurity, but also to remain there)?

In more general terms, would alleviating his prohibition of being with a corpse override the seeming denigration of the body through burning it1?

(I've heard before that in such a situation, the Cohen would be required to actually eat the body in order to get rid of it, but even if true it seems rather impractical, as he would have to eat practically all of the bone mass as well.)

1 Yes I am aware that the issue of burning a body does not have such a clear source

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    Technically he'd have to burn the corpse so thoroughly that even the skeleton doesn't remain (Rambam Tumat Meit 3:9-10). Since it's a hypothetical I suppose we can assume that he is capable of this.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 4:28
  • What is the law to remain, I know the lav to not generate chiburim according to tosfot nazir 42b, Rambam and shut Rashba 324, but the lav to remain chiburim, especially when it is a chibur Al Yede ohel, without active maintain of achiza or kayo"b. I ame pretty sure that there is no such Lav, perhaps an Asse?
    – kouty
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 18:45
  • @kouty he can't delay bemeizid kedei hishtachavaya iinm
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 19:11
  • @DoubleAA Good but here he doesnt can go out, and this is not Kohen Shenitma Baazara (I'm not a specialist of Masechet Shvuot...)
    – kouty
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 19:16
  • 1
    @kouty see rambam avel 3:4 he can't get out but he can stop the tumah by burning it which is effectively the same
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 28, 2016 at 19:20

4 Answers 4



Recall that a Cohen -- even a Cohen Gadol -- is obligated to contact a dead body if that's the only way it will receive a proper burial -- this is known as meis mitzva.

So in your hypothetical scenario, the Cohen is now in a position whereby he is the only one who can ensure this corpse remains intact for proper burial. Hence, halacha requires him to do just that.

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    What if there is another Jew in the room too? Then it's not a MM. I think this post is just nitpicking the hypothetical case, not actually addressing the question.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 15:48
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    @Double It didn't sound to me like Shalom has turned this into a meis mitzvah. He is making a limud from a meis mitzvah to prove that the kavod hameis outweighs the kohein's purity issues.
    – user6591
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 21:06
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    @yEz I don't see how you can construct a real situation in which the duty to make sure that the body is buried properly becomes irrelevant.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 0:26
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    @IsaacMoses The simple case would be if someone else is in the room. But IAE, it doesn't have to become irrelevant, just impossible at the moment. At that point, he doesn't have the option to "do just that" and bury the body, and he is currently in a situation of impurity that he could obviate. Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 1:52
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    @YEz this dead person requires burial. The cohen is in a unique position to enable the person's burial ASAP by not burning him. Thus, the not-burning is the kohen's duty to this meit mitzva. It is very hard to believe that someone can be obligated to effect an outcome ASAP through kum va'aseh and also permitted to totally prevent that outcome through another kum va'aseh.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 3:09

Rabbi Moshe Shemuel Glasner (1856-1924) writes in the introduction of his Dor HaRevi'i to Chullin that if one has the option to consume human flesh or non-kosher meat, even though the former is at most prohibited by a positive commandment, while the latter is prohibited by a more stringent negative commandment, it is preferable to consume the animal flesh. This stems from meta-halachic concerns which he discusses there at length. The primary issue is that cannibalism is something which ought to be repulsive to us even sans technicalities, and is to be avoided even at the expense of the prohibition of forbidden meat:

כל מה שנתקבל בעיני בני אדם הנאורים לתועבה, אפילו אינו מפורש בתורה לאיסור, העובר על זה גרע מן העובר על חוקי התורה . . . ועתה אמור נא, בחולה שיש בו סכנה ולפניו בשר בהמה נחורה או טרפה ובשר אדם, איזה בשר יאכל, הכי נאמר דיאכל בשר אדם שאין בו איסור תורה אע"פ שמחוק הנימוס שמקובל מכלל האנושי, כל האוכל או מאכיל בשר אדם מודח מלהיות נמנה בין האישים, ולא יאכל בשר שהתורה אסרו בלאו, היעלה על הדעת שאנו עם הנבחר עם חכם ונבון נעבור על חוק הנימוס כזה להינצל מאיסור תורה? אתמהה!

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    What about burning the human flesh instead of eating it? Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 5:32
  • Similarly he writes that if one finds himself undressed and forced to flee a burning building, it is preferable to don clothing intended for the opposite sex, than to run naked into the street: ובעיני פשוט הדבר דלצאת ערום עבירה יותר גדולה מל השהות באוהל המת, או לבישת שעטנז ובגד אשה, כי היא עבירה המוסכמת אצל כל בעלי דעה, והעובר עליה יצא מכלל ארם שנברא בצלם אלקים
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 5:33
  • @yEz Well by your reckoning, eating it would be preferable as according to Rashba there is no prohibition at all, as opposed to burning which might violate the prohibition of desecrating the dead. Since you mentioned it in the question, I addressed it. Personally I am very inclined to assume that the Dor Harevii would say the same thing about pouring lighter fluid over the deceased and setting him (or her) alight. This seems unseemly on the scale of running out of a burning building naked.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 5:37
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    @mevaqesh Doesn't the Gemara explicitly say that it's better to be naked than wear Shaatnez Deoraita?
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 5:40
  • @mevaqesh the only literature you will find in Rishonim about cremation is allowing it. Speaking of the Rashba, IIRC he's front and center of those who permit it. (But I guess the assumption of my question was it's not such a good thing. But we can find shittos who hold eating people is not so good either.) Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 5:58

this is a good Question, very interesting. I want to separate it in a couple of different parts: Your first assumption is that Cohen, will be less unclean when the dead will disappear.

--> You consider the being in the same Ohel as a Tum'a bechiburim, and you rule as the opinion on Gemara that Chibure Adam Bemet Deorayta. So without dead in the Ohel, not chiburim. This opinion is agreed by Rambam and Shulchan Aruch follows it. But to reach this psak, we see 2 ways in Rishonim: 1.- following Tosfot Nazir 42b, Abbaye is the "Baal Hadea" aliba deRabba. But following Shut Harashba 324, Rav Yosef is Baal Hadea, against Rabba. Concerning Rambam, Lechem Mishne and Raavad learned it as the Rashba Psak. So, (lehagdil Tora Ulehaadira) the psak is of Rav Yosef.

Additionally, you need to deal with the Tosfot Rid in Avoda Zara 37b, who comments the above cited Gemara Benazir. The Gemara is seeking a case of nazir Tame who becomes tame again, Tum'a Veohel, Tum'a Vetum'a. He thinks that following one step of Rabba (at least at the starting of the Gemara) if someone touch a dead and after this is Maahil, he is flagelled twice. So, when he eat the dead, he touch it and adds a Lav. If he can burn it without any touching, may be good.

I will be very happy to discuss the topic and discover errors in my answer.

I was still not convinced that there is a Lav to leave a chiburin through Ohel which is by Shev Veal Taasse. But @DoubleAA show me Rambam Avelut 3, 4, and I have found there in Lechem Mishne in name of Kesef Mishne Kilayim in name of Ritba that a lav Sheein Bo maasse that you can cancel is considered as an act by uncancellation and as an Asse.


Acknowledging a distinction between the following and a full body, the Mishna (Ohelos 4:2) says that one is allowed to burn a piece of a dead body, seemingly for convenience:

תֵּבַת הַמִּגְדָּל, יֶשׁ בָּהּ פּוֹתֵחַ טֶפַח וְאֵין בִּיצִיאָתָהּ פּוֹתֵחַ טֶפַח, טֻמְאָה בְתוֹכָהּ, הַבַּיִת טָמֵא. טֻמְאָה בַבַּיִת, מַה שֶּׁבְּתוֹכָהּ טָהוֹר, שֶׁדֶּרֶךְ הַטֻּמְאָה לָצֵאת וְאֵין דַּרְכָּהּ לְהִכָּנֵס. רַבִּי יוֹסֵי מְטַהֵר, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהוּא יָכוֹל לְהוֹצִיאָהּ לַחֲצָאִים אוֹ לְשָׂרְפָהּ בִּמְקוֹמָהּ:

[With regard to] a drawer of the cupboard, which is one cubic handbreadth, but whose outlet is not a square handbreadth, if there is uncleanness inside it, the house becomes unclean; But if there is uncleanness in the house, that which is within [the drawer] remains clean, for the manner of uncleanness is to go out and not to go in. Rabbi Yose declares [the house] clean, since he can remove [the uncleanness] by halves or burn it where it stands.

The distinction between a small piece of a dead body and a whole body is brought by Tosafos Chulin 125b.

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