New series: The Halachot of Women & Men
Lesson # 472 (Based on Shulhan Aruch Eben haEzer 6)
Kohanim and whom they may not marry
Torah law prohibits a kohen from marrying the following women:
1. a divorcee, whether she was divorced after betrothal or after marriage. (there were times and in a few places today, where there may be a time lapse of months between betrothal and marriage (this does not refer to what today we call engagement) and the husband may divorce her although they are only betrothed and not yet married.) A divorce is effected by the prior husband giving the wife a "get" which we can define as a divorce document.
2. a zonah, defined in Shulhan Aruch as a woman who was not born Jewish; or a Jewish girl who had sex with a man who she is not permitted to marry;
3. a profaned woman, generally described as a woman who had relations with a man who is prohibited to marry her.
4. A kohen may not marry a convert
5. A kohen should not marry the daughter of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father
According to strict halacha, if a kohen married any of the foregoing he must divorce her. Even if there is a "scent of a divorce (get)": that she had from a prior marriage he must divorce her. A "scent of a get" is defined as a woman whose prior marriage has been terminated by her husband giving her a get that stated "you are divorced from me, but you are not permitted to marry any other man." Although such get did not terminate the prior marriage, and her husband died she may not marry a kohen. Even if a man gave a get to a woman based on a rumor that she was married to him, and he thought they were not married, but he gave her the get to end all rumors that they were married, she may not marry a kohen. In these situations a kohen can be compelled to divorce this wife.
Rabbinic law prohibits a kohen from marrying a woman who has undergone the chalitza ritual. If he married a woman who is a doubtful chalutza, he is not compelled to divorce her. Or if he married her not knowing that he may not marry a chalutza, there are cases reported where he was not compelled to divorce her, since so much hinges on his really being a kohen, and sometimes there is a doubt if all those professing to be kohanim are really kohanim.
If a husband gave his wife a conditional get and he died and the condition was not complied with, she may marry a kohen.
The Torah gives a father the right to espouse his minor daughter. If the father died while she is yet a minor, the Rabbis permitted her mother and adult brothers to give her in marriage to a man. The girl may, however, disavow the marriage before she reaches maturity, 12 years and a day. If she was so married and she disavowed the marriage, she may marry a kohen. If while she was so married her husband gave her a get she may not marry a kohen. If after he gave her a get he remarried her and while she was still a minor she disavowed the marriage she may marry a kohen, since the disavowance vitiated the get. If after her husband divorced the minor girl and she married a second man and while she was still a minor she disavowed his second marriage there is an opinion that she may marry a kohen.
There was a rumor that a kohen divorced his wife, but she continued to reside in his residence, he is not compelled to remove her from his residence. But if he then died she may not marry a kohen.
There was a rumor that a kohen wrote a get for his wife. If in that community the term writing a get means the writing and the giving of a get then she cannot marry a kohen.
If there is a rumor in the community that a woman was betrothed and then divorced, she is not permitted to a kohen. This applies only if the rumor has a basis which would prohibit her from marrying a kohen. But if the rumor is based on some facts that would not be the basis to prohibit her to a kohen, no heed is paid to the rumor.
If a kohen divorced his wife he should not live in the same residential complex with her. If they both had apartments in the same residential complex she should be required to move unless she owned her apartment in which event he would be urged to move.
If an unmarried girl was seen having sex with a man and he is no longer here to ascertain his status, and when questioned as to who he was, she answers that the man was someone whom she could have married, she is believed and she can still marry a kohen. Even more than that - if the girl is pregnant and when asked who is the father of the child she states that he is a man she could have married, she is believed and can still marry a kohen. These laws depend upon the makeup of the community, are the majority of men there Jews or Gentiles. If Jews then she is believed as to whom she had relations with.
If a kohen did marry any of those who he is prohibited to marry, Beit Din should put pressure on him to divorce her even to the extent of excommunicating him.
If a kohen marries a woman who is prohibited to him, he does not duchen, nor is he called up for the kohen aliya. It is important to note that this is not a matter of choice. A Kohen may not "abdicate" his kohen status for the woman he loves.
Ed. note: Although such a kohein is not given the honor due a kohein, he is a kohein nonetheless. Prohibitions - such as going to a cemetery - still apply to him.
Rav Betzalel Stern (20th century Hungary) was asked if pressure could be put on a kohen to divorce by prohibiting his wife from immersing in the community mikva, thus rendering her permanently forbidden to him, and he ruled in certain cases this would be effective.
Nowadays where there are so many young people returning to the observance of the Torah and some girls now want to get married to men who may be kohanim, many questions arise regarding some of these young ladies because of their past. There are rabbis who are expert in these areas of halacha and they should be consulted.