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Emor Question


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Question: I am having wisdom teeth removed. Do I need to bury them?

Answer: There are a few reasons to bury parts of the human body, and we will have to look at each one and see whether it applies to the tooth of a, baruch Hashem, live person.
Regarding the mitzva of kevura (burial), there is a major question whether the obligation applies even to an individual limb of a deceased person (see Mishna Lamelech, Avel 14:21). (If the majority of the corpse is present, all agree that the mitzva applies to every part of it.) There are those who say that while there is a mitzva of burial for an individual part of the body, this applies only for a dead person, where it is a disgrace for part of his body to be unburied and not to one who goes on living without the part (compare Noda B’Yehuda I, YD 90 and ibid. II, YD 209). The Igrot Moshe (YD I, 231) tries to prove that there is an obligation of burial even for an individual limb or a sizable amount of flesh of a live person from the fact that the gemara (Nazir 43b) needs a pasuk to say that a kohen may not make himself tameh in order to bury a limb of his live father. In any case, it appears that the majority opinion is like the Noda B’Yehuda (see Ateret Paz III, CM 7).
Even if the mitzva of burial does not apply, there are additional issues that could put limitations on what to do with a part of the body. A limb of even a live person is tameh (ritually impure) (Rambam, Tumat Met 2:3). As such it is not proper to allow such a limb to be in the open, where a kohen can come in contact with it. Another issue that could create requirements for proper disposal is if it is forbidden to receive benefit from the body part (see Binyan Tzion 119).
Let us now look into the matter of a tooth. The gemara (Berachot 5b) tells that Rabbi Yochanan would walk around and show people a bone from his tenth son to have died (Tosafot- he did so to console others who were distraught over tragedy). Commentators are troubled how Rabbi Yochanan could have acted in this way, as he should have, ostensibly, buried it. Rashi says that it was a tiny bone, smaller than the size of a grain of barley. The Rashbam (Bava Batra 116a) says that the ‘bone’ was actually a tooth, which is not tameh. Indeed, it says in the mishna (Ohalot 3:3) that neither hair, nor nails, nor teeth that are separated from the human body are tameh. Although not everyone explains that it was a tooth that Rabbi Yochanan kept, we do not have a clear indication that there is a fundamental machloket on the matter. It is not clear whether a tooth from the deceased is permitted in benefit (see Ran, Chulin 122a; Yabia Omer, III, YD 21). However, the tooth of a live person is not forbidden in benefit. Therefore, we are not aware of a halachic source or strong reason to place restrictions on what can be done with an extracted tooth.
There is a venerable source that talks about what to do with extracted or fallen teeth, but apparently not one that follows halachic lines. The Chida (Yosef Ometz 30) wrote to someone who was upset that his tooth, which he had been saving to have buried with him, was lost. The Chida told him that although such a custom is mentioned in Ma’avar Yabok, it is not clear that he agreed with it and that it seems to contradict the story of Rabbi Yochanan. The Tzitz Eliezer (X, 5:8) seems to dismiss the practice. It is also interesting that even this uncommon minhag does not require burying the tooth right away, as many require for limbs, but specifically waiting with it until burial of the person. This actually seems to discount the potential halachic stringencies as above. Therefore, we see no reason to take any special measures in regard to a tooth that is removed or falls from a person. (The matter of disposing of cut nails is a totally technical matter (i.e., it could cause damage- see Moed Katan 18a) that does not apply here.)
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