Parashat Emor: Cohanim in Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah in Hevron

Question: Is it permissible for a Cohain to enter Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah?

Answer: There is a halachic dispute about whether or not the graves of the righteous are impure. If the graves of the righteous are not impure, then it would be permissible for Cohanim to enter Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah, Kever Rachel, the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, et al. While some do permit this, most authorities rule that the graves of the righteous are impure and it is therefore forbidden for Cohanim to enter. It is not permissible however, to give lashes to someone who does enter, since there are those who permit it. Some authorities also explain that Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah is built so that the lower structure, where the graves are located, is covered and detached from the building. Much has been written about this issue. I do not know much about this, though, since I am a Cohain and have never been inside Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah. Maran Ha-Rav Kook did not visit the graves of the righteous in general since he was a Cohain (Le-Shelosha Be-Elul vol. 1, p. 76) and accordingly did not enter Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah. I am not more righteous than Maran Ha-Rav Kook, so I also do not enter.
The same question applies to Kever Rachel. Even according to the opinion that the graves of the righteous are impure, some say that the building was made in a way to make it permissible for Cohanim to enter. Ha-Rav Mordechai Eliyahu relates that he once told our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, that it is written in the book "Kuntres Yechi’eli" that it is permissible for Cohanim to enter Kever Rachel. Our Rabbi asked him: what do people say there? He answered: they read the verses about our mother Rachel. Our Rabbi travelled there, but only went as far as the door. When he returned, Ha-Rav Eliyahu asked him: why didn’t you enter? He answered: My father did not enter, therefore I did not enter" (Parashah Sheet "Kol Tzofa’ich #279. See also Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah - Eretz Yisrael p. 142 note 1 that after the Six-Day War, the students of our Rabbi organized a trip to the liberated areas in the Shomron. One of the places they visited was Kever Yosef. The students entered, but our Rabbi remained outside, because he was a Cohain). Again, Maran Ha-Rav Kook did not enter Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah, so I do not.
[M. Tzion – note: We can also mention that in the book "Ke-Chitzim Be-Yad Giborim" (vol. 3, p. 108), Ha-Rav Avichai Ronski, the former Chief Rabbi of Tzahal, was asked: is it permissible for a soldier who is a Cohain to enter Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah for a tour, in order to learn about the place in the event that there is a terrorist attack there and his unit needs to take action? Ha-Rav Ronski answers that it is permissible for three reasons: 1. It is obvious and clear that the security apparatus which would be sent on such a mission must train for it properly. 2. In general, it is not clear that the graves of our forefathers are directly located under the floor of the prayer halls, and even if they are located there, it is possible that the impurity does not break out and spread upward since it there may be hollow spaces larger than a "tefach" (handbreath – 7.6 cm-9.6 cm) which separate the floor from the graves. 3. There are Rishonim (Rabbis of the Middle Ages) who ruled that the graves of the righteous do not cause impurity, and Ha-Rav Mordechai Eliyahu permits Cohanim to enter Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah and Kever Rachel. Even though the majority of authorities prohibit entering, it is possible to add this lenient opinion to the other reasons that permit it. Ha-Rav Aviner writes in his comments to this book that it is important to know that the first reason is the main one, and the second and third reasons are only additional minority positions which can be added to permit it. And we must point this out so that people do not learn that there is an all-encompassing heter to enter.]
Question: If Cohanim enter one of the Kivrei Tzadikim, such as Ma'arat Ha-Machpelah or Kever Rachel, and they recite Birkat Cohanim, should one recite Amen since there are a minority of authorities who allow Cohanim to enter, or should one refrain from reciting Amen since it is a Mitzvah which is performed through a transgression?

Answer: Yes, one should recite Amen, since they have on whom to rely to enter. In a case where there is a dispute as to whether to recite a blessing, and one relies on the permissive opinion, he does not perform a transgression. But, those who follow the authorities who rule that one should not recite a blessing, should not recite Amen, since it is an Amen in vain. The dispute here, however, is not regarding whether one should recite the blessing, but rather if one should enter. But after he enters, he should recite the Birkat Cohanim, and one should respond Amen.

Q: If a Cohain receives the first Aliyah of the Torah reading in one of the Kivrei Tzadikim, should one respond Amen?

A: Yes. Same as above.