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Umbrellas, Trees and Other Kohen Concerns


Rabbi Yoel Lieberman

Cheshvan 30, 5783
Dear Rabbi In a small town in the Netherlands there is a small Jewish cemetery, with 8 gravestones. It was closed down for burial over a century ago. The place is owned by the city government and is protected as a cultural heritage monument. The city government has to maintain the place, upkeep and restauration. Recently it was decided that a restauration is necessary. The city asked an expert from the main Jewish organization N.I.K. for guidance and this expert voiced the opinion that the trees at the cemetery had to go because of the Kohanim ruling. As far as known there are no Kohanim buried and it seems unlikely that Kohanim would want to visit the place in future. Question: Is it necessary to cut down the trees in this age of global heating ?
ב"ה Shalom, Cutting down trees for no reason, even if they are not fruit trees is forbidden, because one may not waste things unnecessarily.(Bal Tashchit) However, in this case, it is forbidden for a Kohain to impurify himself as written in the Shulchan Aruch ( Yoreh De'ah 369: 1) and if a tree hangs over a grave and a Kohain walks under the tree, the Kohain becomes impurified. In addition, there may be considerations of restoration which are being taken into account. In my own experience, three and a half years ago, I visited the burial place of my maternal great grandfather and great grandmother in Tarnow, Poland , where no one from our family had been in at least 80 years. The roots of trees in places like these can cause irreparable damage to the tombstones as I saw with my own eyes. Interestingly, while researching your question, I came across a question , from Rabbi P.A. Meyers, who in 1987 sent a question to the then Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu zt"l regarding the planting of trees in a cemetery in Holland. So, it seems that there is a concern for Kohanim visiting in these places. The necessity to remove the trees would only be for trees which hang over the tombstones or could cause damage to the tombstones with their roots. If only what is necessary is done, hopefully there will not be significant damage to the green lung these trees create. All the best
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