Contemporary Issues In Halakha Kohen And Giyyoret, Summary Part 2

Summary of Week 2 & Possible Solutions

I tried to explore a number of sources to see if it would be feasible for a Kohen to renounce his Kehunah(priesthood) for the purpose of marrying a convert.

We saw that in the first 2 sources, which describe the period after the return from Babylon (source #1) and during the second Temple (source #2) that genealogy was checked in order to ensure who was a Kohen. Following the destruction of the Second Temple we know longer have any records. The priesthood is inherited by the son through his father. We must rely on the genuine passage of this tradition.

Although the poskim in sources #3 – #6 relate to different situations and are not sure if someone who claims that he is a kohen really is 100%, they all decide in the direction of stringency.

In source #3, Isaac ben Sheshet declares that the presumed Kohen should nonetheless have the first aliyah to the Torah. Perhaps he is a kohen and certainly no harm can come from it.

In source #5, Jacob Emden writes that although the presumed Kohen performs the pidyon haben, he should return the money lest he may be involved in thievery, which would be worse than simply giving back the funds.

In source #6, the Magen Avraham rules not to give the presumed Kohen the hallah. If he is not a Kohen, eating the h.allah would be worse than not eating it.

Coming closer to our issue, Joseph Trani in source #4 rules that not only is it not allowed for the Kohen to marry a divorcee, but if he does, we must force him to divorce her. He might really be a true Kohen!

Some possible solutions:

1) Renouncing the Priesthood

According to the sources that we saw this is not possible. If there is a doubt from the Torah ספק דאורייתא לחומרא the principle is that we decide stringently. In other words, although the Kohen is only presumed to be a kohen he might really be a kohen and marrying a convert would be a violation of the Torah. We can’t take that chance.

However, there are a few poskim who learn that the forbidden nature of the kohen to marry a convert is not דאורייתא but דרבנן.. In that case, we can go according to the principle ספק דרבנן לקולא when there is a doubt which might result in a violation of a law that was derived Rabbinically, we decide leniently. Since we have a doubt regarding the genealogy of the kohen, we needn’t be so strict in not allowing him to marry a convert.

2) A Convert is not a זונה

We could turn the clock back and adopt Rabbi Akiva’s position from source 4A – a zonah is a woman who has abandoned herself. As Rashi describes, this is a woman who yields herself to all – she is a prostitute or one who sleeps around. This would keep the Kohen in tact and redefine the zonah. Of course, this solution would be radical because it is going back to a sugiya (discource) in the Talmud and choosing a position that was rejected.

3) פלגשות Concubinage

The Kohen would live with the convert but without the benefit of a Jewish marriage. Their children would be legitimate. Living together as common law partners in a committed monogamous relationship without marriage would perhaps not transgress Torah law; as opposed to marrying which would be a prohibition. This arrangement is called pilagshut (concubinage) in Jewish Law.

Of course, we are not the first to examine this situation. For those who want further reading, I am pasting a link below (I can’t copy and paste the actual responsum) to a teshuva that was written by Rabbi Arnold Goodman in 1996 and approved by the Conservative Law Committee. His lenient position echoes many of the sentiments that have been heard in our forum and is a nice summary.

Once in the site,

– Go to Contemporary Halakhah

– To view individual teshuvot click here

– Even HaEzer, Marriage and Fertility

– Arnold Goodman, Solemnizing a marriage between a כהן and a Convert