Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Meit Mitzvah

I thought I would shift some posts that I wrote on a now-defunct blog to this one. This post is from 2/05, with minor edits and comments:
I was browsing through R' Irving Bunim's "Ever Since Sinai" today. It looks like a very interesting sefer of essays on a variety of topics, written in the same style as his "Ethics From Sinai" work on Pirkei Avos which I very much enjoy. One of his essays was regarding the reasoning behind the importance of a meit mitzvah, in that it overrides so many other mitzvos, such as property rights (a meit mitzvah is koneh his 4 amos for burial) and the issurim for a nazir or kohein gadol to become tamei meit. This brought me to think about some of the dinim of meit mitzvah. The answers to these questions are likely stated b'feirush in the poskim, but I don't have time now to look things up.
  • What is the din of a meit mitzvah by nochriim? Is m"m a din of Yisr'elim, or do we invoke tzelem Elokim even by nochriim? {I don't recall why I thought that m"m is connected to tzelem Elokim, but it's a possibility)
  • Does it apply equally in Chu"L? My recollection is that the right of a meit mitzvah to acquire his 4 amos was one of the 10 t'naim of Yehoshua when the Jews entered the land, which would imply that he can't be necessarily buried on the spot in Chu"L. If so, would the finder be obligated to attend to his burial elsewhere? Would this extra tircha and cost exempt him from the chiyuv (I find it hard to believe that it would)?
  • Does a meit mitzvah acquire 4 amos even in private property? What if he was there illegally?
  • If an unattended corpse is found in an abandoned building, does he have to be buried inside the building? [Say that it has a stone foundation]
  • What is the interplay between meit mitzvah and eglah arufah? Is it possible for a corpse to qualify for both sets of dinim?
  • As a follow up to the previous question, what is the time frame of a meit mitzvah? Granted, one probably cannot leave the corpse unattended, but if 2 people find it, can 1 stay and watch the corpse while the other makes arrangements of some sort (read further on)? If so, for how long can this go on? Would the same dinim apply by a regular corpse? In Yerushalayim, we can never leave a corpse unburied overnight, but elsewhere, we're more meikel for special cases (e.g., close relatives have to fly in from abroad). Taking the case of a regular identified corpse, is there any time limit for delaying the levaya? Does it make a difference if part of the post-death process has been done? [I'm particularly thinking of the case of the Rambam, whose coffin was transported from Egypt to T'verya after his death].
  • How does one know that a body is a meit mitzvah? Maybe he has relatives in the city? Relatives in the next town over? Is there some process to announce the finding of a meit mitzvah before/after the burial? Bear in mind that once the burial is done, positive identification is nigh impossible - so the burying of a meit mitzvah by a solitary stranger who doesn't announce it or who cannot testify as to the identification of the corpse is potentially creating an aguna and all sorts of other halachic complications. Maybe kavod ha-meit overrides these issues? [I can't rule it out].
Food for thought. Maybe I'll do some research when I have time.


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