In the Torah it says (Numbers 19:17-19)

An unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and running water shall be put on them in a vessel. A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the tent, on all the vessels, on the persons who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave. The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, wash his clothes, and bathe in water; and at evening he shall be clean.

Do modern Jews still do this? Like say in Israel when they have wars, if a Jew touches a dead body is there still a water of separation? Do they have waters of separation here in the United States? I know there are still Kohanim.

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    Ian, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for your first question! If you haven’t done so already, you should take a look at the tour. I hope you find more Q&A of interest and stay learning with us!
    – mbloch
    May 18, 2016 at 13:24
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    Ian, welcome. Short answer: no. Long answer: we want to but can't for technical/logistical reasons.
    – Seth J
    May 18, 2016 at 14:49

2 Answers 2


No such thing exists today for a few reasons

  1. There would need to be a red hefer that does not have two consecutive non red hairs and has not had any type of burden placed on it or preformed any sort of labor
  2. After the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash (holy temple) the Jews were considered to be on a lower spiritual level (tumas hames) and therefore incapable of making the mixture needed to make others pure. The mixture must be prepared by a pure cohein and when all the Jews are impure after the destruction of the beis hamikdash it cannot be prepared right now.

There is a tradition that says the last "para aduma" that was made into these waters was hidden away to be found when moshiach (the messiah) comes. Since it is already made there will be some cohanim who will be able to make themselves pure with it and also make more to then make the rest of the Jewish people pure so we may enter the Beis HaMikdash (holy temple)

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    So what do Jews do today if they touch a dead body? May 18, 2016 at 12:41
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    @IanMarshall Simply remain in an impure state.
    – Scimonster
    May 18, 2016 at 12:44
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    2 is wrong. [15]
    – Double AA
    May 18, 2016 at 13:53
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    Citing the existence of this tradition would improve this post, which already has low believably given its two errors noted above.
    – Double AA
    May 18, 2016 at 14:14
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    @Ian Today, if we touch a corpse or are even under the same roof, we wash our hands. I asked my rabbi once after we cleaned and prepared someone for burial, "Why wash, aren't we all tumai (ritually unclean) anyway?" (for the reasons listed above). He explained that there were levels of tumah (impurity). That concept is explained more fully here.
    – Mike
    May 19, 2016 at 1:18

Properly addressing this question involves dealing with a large amount of Jewish source material - about a quarter of the Mishna (by length) deals with the laws surrounding ritual impurity.

The short answer is no - we do not posses the "waters of separation" anymore, as you called it.

The rabbis decreed long ago that the land outside of Israel was considered to convey ritual impurity as a dead body since (among other reasons) it is possible that one may traverse an unmarked grave. It is debated in the Talmud whether this impurity is only through contact or even through proximity. Thus, anyone living outside of the land of Israel would be automatically considered impure as if they had touched a dead body.

This isn't particularly problematic, as this level of impurity needs cleansing predominantly to avoid the sin of entering the Holy Temple in an impure state. No temple, ergo no clear prohibition and no requirement to purify yourself before entry. There are other issues regarding tithing priestly gifts, but there are solutions to those that avoid infringing on biblical commandments.

The process of gathering the water requires a setup where the water carrier is guarded from birth from encountering death impurity (Parah 3:2), which is not something we do nowadays since 1) most people are assumed already impure and 2) as above, there's no specific need for the water since impurity itself is not a sin.

Technically, kohanim are forbidden from making themselves impure from having contact with a dead body and from participating in burial with non-family members. The prohibition here is the act the Kohen takes (or his lack of avoiding impurity), not the state of impurity itself.

The production of the ashes for the water appears to require the presence of the temple (3:8) which we no longer have. You promenade the heifer on ramp from the temple to Har Hamishcha (3:7) It also requires that the Kohen performing the ceremony be held in a special chamber in the Temple and sanctified with the waters of separation with ashes from a previous red heifer. (3:1)

Despite this last point, the law dictates that some of the ashes are preserved separately in order to perform the purification ritual under circumstances where the production of new ashes isn't available, such as in the current day. Unfortunately, I do not think anyone has found a cache of ancient red heifer ashes suitable for the reinstatement of complete ritual purity, nor is anyone setting up a "ritual clean room" to ensure there are children raised in complete purity to allow them to gather the water.

Even according to those opinions who state that we might be able to make the ashes without the Temple being built (that the portions of the Mishnah regarding the temple were historical and not legislative), no one has actually done so, and thus we do not have them in the modern day.

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    Editing in sources for your claims would improve your answer greatly. (Note also that Double AA claims that "The production of the ashes for the water appears to require the presence of the temple" is an incorrect appearance (in a comment on another answer).)
    – msh210
    May 18, 2016 at 16:21
  • @msh210 The production of the ashes specifically requires orienting the parah and oneself with the architecture of the temple as a reference point. Without a temple, it one cannot "face" the entrance of a non-existent door, and thus cannot perform the service. I will look to add links for the sources. May 18, 2016 at 16:23
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    @isaackotlicky What about someone who never came into contact with a dead body? Why couldn't they go to the Mikva and then prepare the water? May 18, 2016 at 16:35
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    @isaackotlicky do you have a source that a completely unsubstantiated safek like that has significance in terms of actual halacha? There is also "no guarantee" that a random tree was never worshipped as an ashera but you are still allowed to use wood that wasn't guarded from a seedling (and who knows if its parent tree was worshipped...) May 18, 2016 at 17:12
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    @DoubleAA See my last edit to the ending of the answer - does this clarify things sufficiently for you - no one has made the ashes, no one has drawn water in complete ritual purity, ergo, even according to those opinions who say it might be possible to do we do not have mei chatas nowadays. May 18, 2016 at 18:08

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