Parshas Emor begins with the commandment prohibiting kohanim from becoming tamei. This prohibition only applies to male, not female, kohanim. Additionally, the Gemara in Yevamos 114 states that the Torah commands adult kohanim to ensure that kohanim under the age of thirteen do not become tamei.
An interesting question arises based on these halachos: Can a kohen’s pregnant wife enter a cemetery? On the one hand, why shouldn’t she be permitted to do so since the halachos of tumah only apply to male kohanim? On the other hand, perhaps the fetus she is carrying is a male kohen, in which case she would be obligated to ensure that he does not become tamei.
The Shach (Yoreh De’ah 361) quotes the Rokeach who says that a pregnant woman married to a kohen may enter a room with a dead person in it. He says this is permitted because it is a sfeik s’feika (double safek). One safek is regards her fetus’s gender – it may or may not be male; the other regards the fetus’s viability – it may or may not be a nefel (a child who doesn’t live for 30 days or who is born after a pregnancy that didn’t reach full-term).
The Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 343:2) says that he does not know why the Rokeach had to rely on a sfeik s’feika in order to permit a kohen’s pregnant wife to enter a room with a dead person in it. The Magen Avraham suggests that this should be permitted because of the concept known as taharah baluah – if something is completely enveloped inside something else, it cannot contract tumah. The Gemara, in the fourth perek of Chullin, clearly extends this law to something inside a uterus; since the fetus is considered baluah, it cannot contract tumah. Therefore, a kohen’s pregnant wife should be permitted to enter a cemetery – even if she knows she is carrying a male fetus – as the fetus will not contract tumah.
In volume 2 of Kovetz Shiurim, siman 41, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, zt”l, Hy”d, discusses whether the prohibition against a kohen becoming tamei requires that he remains tahor, or if it also requires that a kohen not be in the same room as a dead person – even if he doesn’t contract tumah.
Rav Elchonon also discusses whether the concept of taharah baluah dictates that the fetus does not contract tumah because enveloped items simply do not contract tumah or because the fetus is halachically not considered to be in the same room as the dead person. If we say the latter (and keeping in mind that the Torah dictates that kohanim remain tahor) it would be prohibited for a kohen’s pregnant wife to enter a room with a dead person in it. Even though the fetus would not contract tumah, it would nevertheless be in the same room as a dead person – which is prohibited.
According to the Rokeach, a kohen’s pregnant wife may enter a cemetery because of a sfeik s’feika while according to the Magen Avraham, she may enter because the fetus is considered baluah and therefore cannot contract tumah.
One difference between these two approaches is when one is aware that the fetus is a male, i.e. through ultra sound. One of the Rokeach’s s’feikos concerns the fetus’s gender. If one knows that the fetus is a male, there is no longer a sfeik s’feika; rather, there is only one safek, which a person is forbidden to chance.
But according to the Magen Avraham, it is still permissible for a kohen’s pregnant wife to enter a cemetery even if she knows with certainty that the fetus is a male. This is because the fetus is still enveloped inside the womb; therefore, it cannot contract tumah.
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