Halachic Musings

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

In the United States, the spiraling and out-of-control assimilation rate in the past few decades has yielded a number of children with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers. In the past few decades as well, the ba’al teshuvah movement has created an inspiring influx of Jews returning to their Torah roots. The combination of these two trends, however, has brought the following halachic question up hundreds, if not thousands, of times: May a girl whose father was not Jewish marry or date a kohein?

One young lady who recently posed this question to this author explained: “I have dated more modern kohanim who told me that they looked into it and their rabbis said that it was okay. But I have also looked into more yeshivish kohanim, and their rabbi forbade it. Will the real halachah please stand up?”

The Gemara. In Yevamos 45b, it simply states that the final halachah is that if a gentile had a child with a Jewish woman, the child is kosher. Some poskim, however, have questioned whether this refers strictly to a case of a regular Jew marrying that child or whether it even allows a kohein to marry that child. The Rif cites the Gemara and the controversy in understanding it.

The general halachah. The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer both in 4:19 and in 7:17) states that if a gentile fathered a female child with a Jewish woman, that child is paguma to a kohein. The language of “paguma” that the Shulchan Aruch employs is interesting. It seems that he is not ruling that this is a full-fledged halachic prohibition–otherwise, the child of such a union would have been called a challalah, like the cases in the chapter immediately preceding this one. Nonetheless, he does seem to forbid it. The Chelkas Mechokek picks up on the different wording and rules that if for some reason they did end up marrying, they are not forced to divorce. The Shulchan Aruch seems to be both strict and lenient at the same time. He is strict in the sense that he forbids the marriage, but he is lenient in the sense that he does not deem the woman a challalah–like the other forbidden marriages.

Rationale of the Shulchan Aruch. The rationale for the Shulchan Aruch’s simultaneous strictness and leniency would seem to be predicated on the fact that, as stated in his introduction, he relied upon three main halachic authorities: the Rif, the Rambam, and the Rosh. Whenever a halachic issue was in debate he relied upon the majority view of these three.

Yet, in this case, the Rif and the Rambam are understood by the poskim to rule that the girl is entirely permitted to a kohein.1 It is the Rosh (Yevamos, chapter 4), however, who is strict. Since whenever we deal with matters of yuchasin we try and go over and above the law, the Shulchan Aruch seems to adopt the position of the Rosh.

The question also arises as to whether the Rosh’s position is that it is forbidden by Torah law or by rabbinic law. Rabbi Akiva Eiger in his rulings (Psakim #91) understands the Rosh’s position as a rabbinic stringency rather than a Torah law.

There are also two other pertinent questions in regard to such a marriage. May a rabbi be mesader kiddushin under such circumstances? Or perhaps would we consider officiating at such a wedding as a form of lifnei iver? Another issue is whether a kohein who is married to such a girl may duchen or not.

It would also seem that the Shulchan Aruch only adopted this position as a lechatchila–an ideal position. Thus, it could very well be that there may be times when rabbis would permit such a marriage.

Three scenarios. The Sefer Dvar Yehoshua (siman 5) states that if a woman has fallen in love and is concerned that this is the love of her life and she will not find another to marry, and the couple was about to actually marry, this should halachically be considered like an agunah (see Tosfos, Yevanos 94a), which would warrant a marriage in such a case. This position, however, has been summarily rejected by Rav Elyashiv, zt’l (see Avnei Choshein by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, p. 528).

A second scenario in which rabbis may rule that the couple can get married is if the couple would blow off observant Jewry by saying, “Okay, then, we will just get married through a Reform or Conservative rabbi!”

Finally, a third scenario is when the couple was married legally but not halachically. This situation may also be considered by poskim as b’dieved. Rabbi Yoseph Mashash in his Otzer HaMichtavim (vol. III #1887) is lenient in such circumstances. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, however (Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer, vol. I #5) rules stringently and states that in such a case it is not considered b’dieved–even though there is a child involved and for him it would certainly not be good to not have two parents together. Rav Feinstein, zt’l, rules strictly because he says that it is a question of Torah law. As pointed out earlier, however, Rabbi Akiva Eiger is of the opinion that the question is only rabbinic in nature.2 It is interesting to conjecture as to whether Rav Feinstein would have adjusted his position if he were to have accepted that the view that the Rosh’s stringency was only rabbinic.

There is also another point that may be a contributing factor in this matter. Are kohanim nowadays really considered kohanim? The Maharshdam in his responsa (E.H., vol. I #235) was asked this question regarding a wife of a kohein who was kidnapped but said that she was untouched by her abductors. He permitted her to her husband based upon a responsum of the Rivash, who states that our kohanim are not certain kohanim. This position is also found in the Magen Avraham (O.C. 457:9) and the Shach (Y.D. 322:9). While we must never allow a possible kohein to violate halachos based upon these opinions, it may perhaps be considered as an additional factor when there is a debate about the underlying halachah in the first place.

Conclusions. Notwithstanding all the factors discussed above, it was the conclusion of both Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein not to rely on the leniencies involved here and not consider such cases as b’dieved. This is the normative view in the Torah world. It is this author’s understanding, however, that there have been some Modern Orthodox rabbis who have expressed leniencies in the scenarios described above.

May a rabbi officiate at such a wedding? It is this author’s view that it should be avoided unless the issue of taharas ha’mishpachah is at stake. If the couple will not be observing taharas ha’mishpachah on account of the rabbi not participating, then he should be involved in such a wedding. Otherwise he should avoid it.

May such a kohein duchen? It seems that since he may remain married to her if he did marry, he did not lose his status as a kohein (see Shvus Yaakov, vol. I #93 indicating likewise).

When informing a young lady of these issues, it is important not to just express the underlying halachic issues in a cold, clinical fashion. Rather, one should validate her self-worth by taking time to find other non-kohanim shidduchim for her. Ultimately, since it is an issue of a doubt in halachah, may the coming of Mashiach resolve all these questions, and may all the single adults in Klal Yisrael find their proper shidduchim and build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael. v

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.


1. This is the reading of the Rif as understood by the Nemukei Yoseph as well as the Rema in a responsum (#69). The Mishkenos Yaakov, E.H. #2, also understands the Rif in this manner. The Rambam in Issurei Biah 15:3 is also understood by the Maggid Mishnah there and Beis Yoseph, E.H. 4, as permitting the child to marry a kohein.

2. The Rosh under discussion writes of the case of a slave and a gentile. Rabbi Eiger writes that the Rosh’s position of stringency is mostly referring to the case of a slave, but that he only prohibits the case of the gentile by rabbinic law.

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