Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow

About Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow

Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow received his MA and Rabbinic ordination from the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Shlomo is the mesadder gittin (adjudicator of religious divorce) for the Masorti Movement in Israel and is certified as mashgiah kashrut and shohet l’ofot (ritual slaughterer). In addition, he is on the faculty of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary and mentors Rabbis via Masorti Olami. Previously he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo. He teaches Biblical Hebrew, Halakha (Jewish Law) and Pos’kim (The Development of Jewish Law).

Rabbi Shlomo Zacharow

Musical Instruments In Synagogue – Contemporary Issues In Halakha

Musical Instruments In Synagogue


After a stimulating journey, we have arrived to our final topic . . . Musical Instruments in the Synagogue on Shabbat.  To shake things up a bit, I’d like to try to approach this topic slightly differently.  For the next few days, I’d like to hear from you on what grounds instruments have traditionally been forbidden in the synagogue on Shabbat and H.aggim (Holidays).  Hopefully we will discuss a number of issues together.

Towards the end of this week, I will post the source sheet which in my opinion will examine the most serious obstacle.  We will study and then discuss once again.

As a stimulus and a little bit of background to the contemporary nature of the topic, I’ve copied below an interesting article which appeared not long ago.

Haaretz.com March 11, 2008

Rocking out the Shabbat: U.S. synagogues turn to music

By Rebecca Spence, The Forward

LOS ANGELES – Most major cities offer plenty of venues for rock music, but the newest ones are those you’d least expect: synagogues.

In an era in which synagogue membership rolls have seen a sharp decline, congregations across the country are increasingly turning to live music, from electric guitars and conga beats to world music and jazz, as a way of bringing Jews back to the fold.

The notion is not entirely new – music has frequently played a role in the history of the Jewish liturgical experience – but according to observers and participants, the trend is now moving far beyond limited corners and into the mainstream establishment. In the most recent indication, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s biennial conference featured, for the first time in its history, a Saturday worship service that included singing the traditional prayers while a musician strummed a guitar and another tickled the ivories of an electronic keyboard.

The move was seen by many as a watershed in the history of music in Jewish life, an issue that has long sparked controversy, and sometimes outrage, among more traditional adherents. But to its proponents, live music is a fundamental cornerstone of enticing Jews back to religious observance.

“Those Jews who don’t know the structure, or don’t know Hebrew, will only give you an hour,” said Ron Wolfson, president of the not-for-profit organization Synagogue 3000, which is dedicated to revitalizing synagogue life. “You’ve got to grab them spiritually and emotionally right off the bat, and music is the key to engaging them.”

Historically, music has played a central role in Judaism. Traditional interpretation of Jewish law holds that musical instruments should not be played on the Sabbath, the reason being that the act of fixing a string, if it were to break, is strictly forbidden. Also cited is the decree following the destruction of the First Temple that such joyous activities as music-making are no longer appropriate in such a mournful period.

While music’s ability to engage has been long noted by innovators, it has also long engendered controversy. When organ music was first introduced in early Reform congregations, in mid-19th-century Germany, the Orthodox railed against it, cementing in part the split between the “Reformers” and the Orthodox. That first breach opened the floodgates for professionally trained musicians to enter synagogues, in the role of cantors. In America, cantors became revered as stars during the period between the two World Wars, known as the “golden age” of cantors.

In mid-20th-century America, organ music was used widely in Reform congregations, and the instrument, which was appropriated from Protestant worship services, was even played in Conservative congregations. In the 1960s, the emergence of the Jewish Renewal movement – which sought to re-engage Jews with their religion by infusing it with elements of spirituality – popularized the use of drum circles and folk music in services.

While Orthodox congregations don’t allow instruments in services, many use song as a way to bring music into their worship. Indeed, there is a resurgence of interest in cantorial music, even among the Orthodox today.  Historically, Hasidic Jews were known for niggunim, wordless musical melodies. And, beginning in the 1950s, Shlomo Carlebach, a Hasidic religious teacher, singer and composer, began writing liturgical melodies that found their way into many non-Orthodox congregations. But recent years have seen a decidedly increased interest in incorporating music into Jewish life.

“There’s a trend around the country of ramping up musical instrumentation in services,” said J. Shawn Landres, director of research for Synagogue 3000. “It’s part of a broader trend where changing music and music styles is associated nationally with congregational revitalization.”

Landres pointed to the Faith Communities Today Study, a survey that Synagogue 3000 participated in and that was carried out in 2005 in both synagogues and mainstream churches, showing an uptick in attendance that correlates directly with live music. According to the study, Landres said, 58% of congregations that always use live percussion in services report that they are growing compared with growth having been reported by only 23% of congregations that never use percussion. Moreover, he said, 56% of congregations that say they use electric guitars in services report that they have “high vitality.”

Most observers say that the recent trend began 12 years ago, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, at B’nai Jeshurun, where the rabbis introduced songs and a smattering of basic instruments, including percussion and strings. One person who took particular notice was David Wolpe, rabbi of Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple, located on Wilshire Boulevard. Inspired by BJ’s success, Wolpe enlisted musician Craig Taubman to create a musical prayer service with original melodies. Many others in the surrounding area have followed suit, including Beverly Hills’ Temple Emanuel, a major Reform temple that holds not one but two musical services. Friday Night Live, as Sinai Temple’s monthly musical service is known, became an overnight sensation, raising Friday synagogue service attendance to some 1,500 people from an average of 100 people, Wolpe said.

And the trend is hardly limited to the coasts. Wolfson pointed to a Conservative congregation in Omaha, Neb., Beth El Synagogue, which in the year and half since introducing live instrumentation on the Sabbath has tripled attendance at its weekly prayer service.
Still, some in the Conservative movement are reluctant to embrace the trend. While the Reform movement has no restrictions on live music at services the Conservative movement is more bound by Jewish law than its more liberal counterpart.

In order to address these concerns, Elliot Dorff, chairman of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards – the 25-member body that interprets Halakha – and Elie Spitz, a pulpit rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin, Calif., banded together to draft an opinion paper, or teshuvah, advocating for a legal interpretation that permits the use of musical instruments on the Sabbath. Their opinion paper, which will be presented in its second draft at a law committee meeting in March, holds that the actual playing of instruments is not explicitly forbidden.

“I anticipate there will be controversy,” Spitz said. “As is often the case, a judicial body is often more conservative than the larger community, and in that sense, there will be some discomfort with the opening of that gate.”

Indeed, at the USCJ’s biennial conference, not everyone was comfortable with the introduction of a musical service. “There were some who were upset,” said Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the organization. In fact, according to Epstein, a group of attendees actually walked out of the service.

Still, the trend toward live music in synagogues seems only to be growing. Even the Reform movement, which has never opposed using music in services, seems to have increased its commitment. The Union for Reform Judaism, at its recent biennial convention in San Diego, held a plenary session on creating sacred communities that touched on how the use of live music can function as a means to that end. The plenary discussion featured Synagogue 3000’s Wolfson; Sinai Temple’s Wolpe; Laura Geller, senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel, and mega-church preacher Rick Warren. Evangelical congregations like Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., have long used live music as a way of attracting adherents.

In his Sabbath sermon, URJ President Eric Yoffie credited music with helping to revitalize the movement’s Friday night services.
“On erev Shabbat, our synagogues are often overflowing,” he noted. “And our worship is often a sustained celebration in song.”

Source Sheets

Source Sheet Part 1

Source Sheet Part 2

Go to Next Class – Waiting Between Meat and Milk

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 h.allah.  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

Go to Next Class – Musical Instruments

Contemporary Issues In Halakha – Kohen And Giyyoret Summary Part 1

Summary of Sources for Week 1 and Intro to Week 2

We’ve seem numerous disparate opinions over how to define the zona from the Torah (Leviticus 21:7).  The one constant that was eventually codified by the Rambam and others into halakha was the position of the Sages which appeared in sources #3, 4, and 4A.  This should not be surprising, as the “Sages” are the majority of the Rabbis and their opinion should hold weight over other singular opinions.  The Sages defined a zona as a female convert, an emancipated slave woman and a woman who had licentious fortification.  Rashi defined the latter category in source #4A as a woman who cohabitated with a forbidden sexual partner.  Rambam, in source #8 delineates this category.

A question which we haven’t touched upon yet is whether the forbidden union between a Kohen and a convert is derived דאוריתא from the Torah or דרבנן from the Rabbis.  On the face of it, it would seem that Rambam believes that it is a Toraitc prohibition and that the Rabad disagrees and believes that it is derived from the verse in Ezekiel, which would seemingly make it דרבנן.  However, the Rambam and Rabad have more writings which may contradict this and those who came afterwards are split on how to interpret them and the other Rabbis who wrote on this issue.  The matter is convoluted and time considerations preclude us from examining this point in detail.  It is important to note that if a law is changed, it is a bit easier to do so if it is דרבנן and not דאוריתא.

What I ask of you now is to think of different ways we might be able to ameliorate this edict.  I want to examine one line of thought over the next few days.  Can a Kohen renounce his kehunah (priesthood)?  We have a concept of a ספק כהן regarding someone where there is a doubt if he is really a kohen.  Can anyone today prove that there is uninterrupted pure lineage all the way back to the kohanim who served in the temple?

I hope that we may also have a parallel discussion regarding other creative “solutions” that you may ponder (I have one or two up my sleeve which I will share as well).

What happens if we don’t come up with a satisfactory “solution”?  Do we remain loyal to the law rather than to our moral conscience?  Do we maintain the tradition even if certain individuals may suffer?  Or perhaps when we speak of a Kohen and a Convert this cannot really be a match made in heaven?

Go to Kohen and Giyyoret Part 2

Contemporary Issues In Halakha – Kohen And Giyyoret Sources Part 2

כהן וגיורת

A Kohen & A Convert
Part II
ר’ שלמה זכרוב

1)  עזרא פרק ב

(סא)   וּמִבְּנֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי חֳבַיָּה בְּנֵי הַקּוֹץ בְּנֵי בַרְזִלַּי אֲשֶׁר לָקַח מִבְּנוֹת בַּרְזִלַּי הַגִּלְעָדִי אִשָּׁה וַיִּקָּרֵא עַל  שְׁמָם:

(סב)   אֵלֶּה בִּקְשׁוּ כְתָבָם הַמִּתְיַחְשִׂים וְלֹא נִמְצָאוּ וַיְגֹאֲלוּ מִן הַכְּהֻנָּה:

(סג)   וַיֹּאמֶר הַתִּרְשָׁתָא לָהֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יֹאכְלוּ מִקֹּדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים עַד עֲמֹד כֹּהֵן לְאוּרִים וּלְתֻמִּים:

1)  Ezra chapter 2:61-63

And of the children of the priests:  the children of Hovayya, the children of Haqqotz; and the children of Barzillay, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillay the Giladi, and was called after their name.  These sought their register of genealogy, but they were not found; therefore, they were excluded from the priesthood.  The governor said to them that they should not eat among the most holy things, until there stood up a priest with the Urim and Tummim.

Background:  Ezra (Hebrew: עֶזְרָא) was a Jewish priestly scribe who led Israelite exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem in the fifth century BCE.  Ezra reconstituted the dispersed Jewish community on the basis of the Torah and with an emphasis on the law.

2)  תוספתא מסכת חגיגה (ליברמן) פרק ב הלכה ט

. . . ומושיבין אותו [הדיין] ללשכת הגזית ושם יושבין ובודקין יחסי כהונה יחסי לויה. כהן שנמצא בו פסול  לובש שחורין ומתעטף שחורין יוצא והולך לו, ושלא נמצא בו פסול לובש לבנים ומתעטף לבנים נכנס ומשמש עם  אחיו הכהנים, ויום טוב היו עושין שלא נמצא פסול בזרעו של אהרן . . .

2)  Tosefta Hagiga (Lieberman) chapter 2, halakha 9

[They] seat him [the judge] in the hall of the hewn stones and there they sat and would check the genealogy of the kohanim and the levi-im.  If a defect was found in a kohen, he would wear black and wrap himself in black and depart and would go on his way.  If no defect was found, he would wear white and wrap himself in white and he would enter and work with his brothers the kohanim.  They would make a festive day since no defect was found in the seed of Aharon.

Background:  The Tosefta (Aramaic: תוספתא) is a secondary compilation of the Jewish oral law from the period of the Mishnah.  In many ways, the Tosefta acts as a supplement to the Mishnah (tosefta means “supplement”). The Tosefta is a Halakhic work which corresponds in structure almost exactly to the Mishnah, with the same divisions for sedarim (“orders”) and masekhot (“tractates”).

According to rabbinic tradition, the Mishnah was redacted by Judah HaNasi in consultation with members of his yeshiva (“academy”), while the Tosefta was edited by Rabbis Hiya and Oshaiah on their own, thus the Tosefta is considered less authoritative. (Rashi in his commentary on Talmud Sanhedrin 33a).

At times the text of the Tosefta agrees nearly verbatim with the Mishnah. At others there are significant differences. The Tosefta attributes laws that are anonymous in the Mishnah to named Tannaim. It also augments the Mishnah with additional glosses and discussions. The Tosefta as we have it today functions like a commentary on unquoted Mishnaic material. It offers additional aggadic and midrashic material, and it sometimes contradicts the Mishnah in the ruling of halakha, or in declaring in whose name a law was given.

Saul Lieberman‘s Tosefta Kifshuta is widely considered the authoritative critical edition of the Tosefta.

3)  שו”ת הריב”ש סימן צד

 והראן, לרבי עמרם בן מרואם, י”א. שאלת: מעשה בא לפניך, כי יהודי קלל כהן אחד ואבותיו, קללות נמרצות בפני העם, ואמרו לך  להענישו . . .

3)  Responsum of Isaac ben Sheshet 94:

Veharan [Algeria] to Rebbe Amram the son of Maruam, may God bless him.  You asked:  a matter that came before you, that a Jew cursed a certain kohen and his ancestors, vicious curses in front of the people, and they told you to punish him . . .

. . . הנה, שלא היו אלו החכמים נזהרין מלקלל הכהנים, אף אם היו נודעים ביחוסם, כל שלא היו נוהגין כשורה, או שלא היו בני  תורה. כ”ש כהנים שבדורנו, שאין להם כתב היחס, אלא מפני חזקתן נהגו היום לקרוא ראשון בתורת כהן, ואפי’ הוא ע”ה לפני חכם  גדול שבישראל . . .

 . . . Herein, those sages [of old] were not hesitant to curse the kohanim, even if their lineage was known, if they were not acting properly, or were not students of Torah.  Even more so regarding kohanim in our generation, for they have no document of their lineage, instead because of presumption [presumptive continuance of an actual condition until evidence of a change is produced] it is customary to call a kohen first to the Torah, even if he is unlearned [he is called] prior to a great sage in Israel.

Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (1326 – 1408) (Hebrew: יצחק בן ששת) was a Spanish Talmudic authority, also know by his acronym, Rivash (ריב”ש). He was born at Valencia and settled early in life at Barcelona, where he studied under Perez ha-Kohen, under Hasdai ben Judah, and especially under R. Nissim ben Reuben (RaN), for whom he professed throughout his life the greatest veneration.  In 1391 occurred the great persecutions of the Jews of Spain and Isaac saved himself by flight. After sojourning a certain time, he settled in Algiers, where he was received with great honor.

4)  שו”ת מהרי”ט חלק א סימן קמט

. . . ומעשה שהיה כך היה ר’ יעקב כהן שלום בחור בן כה”ר אברהם כהן שלם זה ט”ו שנים שמש עם אביו ואחיו בכהונה היינו עלו  לספר לקרוא ראשון ונשאו את כפיהם וחתמ’ אגרותיהם בשם כהן בכל מקום שהיו עומדים שם מהיום הנז’ והנה הבחור ר’ יעקב  כהן הנז’ קדש גרושה זקנה עשירה בצינעא אחרי שהוגד לאביו שהיא גרושה ואינו יכול לקדשה ולישא אותה ואחר שקדשה ונאמרו  לו שאינו יכול לקיימה אמר שאינו כהן ורוצה להחזיקה ונשאלה שאלה שאלה מה יהא בדינו של הבחור ר’ יעקב כהן הלז האם  יחוייב לגרשה וכופין אותו להוציא כמו שכופין למקדשי פסולות ומהן גרושה לכהן או יהיה כח בידו מדין תורה לומר אינו כהן . . .

4) Responsum of Our Teacher, Our Rabbi Joseph Trani 1:149

. . . There was an occurrence that R’ Ya-akov Kohen Shalom, a young man the son of the honorable R’ Avraham Kohen Shalom – already for 15 years he acted with his father and with his brothers as a kohen; in other words they went up to the Torah to read first, they lifted their hands, and they signed letters by the title “kohen” in all places where they were from the day mentioned.  Now, the young man Ya-akov Kohen bethrothed an old rich divorcee privately, after he told his father that she is a divorcee and that he can’t betrothe and marry her; after he betrothed her it was told to him that he can’t maintain her.  He said that he is not a kohen and he wants to remain married.  The question was asked regarding what to do with this young man, R’ Ya-akov Kohen; must he divorce her and do we force him to do so like we do to those who betrothe those who are disqualified, among them a divorceed to a kohen, or does he have the power according to the Torah to say that he isn’t a kohen?

 . . . ולו חכמו השכילו זאת שהריב”ש שהביאו ראיה מדבריו שכתב בזמנינו אין לו כתב יחס אלא בחזקה דקורא ראשון  הוא עצמו בסי’ שע”א כתב על אותו הכהן שרצ’ להחזיר את גרושתו שכופין אותו להוציא וכייפינן ליה בשוטין וקיימא לן דמעשין  לפסולות והיינו בשוטין דבדברים לא יוסר עבד ואם אין בנו כח לייסר בשוטין צריך לנדותם ולהחרימם בכל גבול ישראל  ולהבדל מהם בכל מיני הבדלה כמו שמפורש בתשובה להרמב”ם ז”ל שהביא בטור אבן העזר על הכהן שנשא גרושה אותו ואת  האשה החרימו בנדוי ובשמתא עליהם ועל כל הנלוים אליהם הנכנסים אתם בגילם או באבלם והמשתתף עמהם בחיים ובמות וכן  ראוי לעשות באיש ובאשה האלו

If only they had been wise to learn that the Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet brought proof for his words that he wrote that in our time he has no record of lineage instead he is presumed [to be a kohen] that he reads first.  He himself wrote that regarding a kohen who wanted to remarry his divorcee that we force him to expel her and we force him by whipping . . . and if we don’t have the authority to whip then we excommunicate them from Israel and separate from them in all types of separation as is explicit in the responsum of the Rambam, may his memory be blessed . . .  [who wrote] that regarding the kohen who married a divorcee, they excommunicated them and all those who associated with them in happiness or in sorrow and who participated with them in life and death.  It is likewise fitting to do with this man and woman . . .


Trani, Joseph Ben Moses (1568–1639), rabbi and halakhist. Trani, known as the “Maharit” (Morenu ha-Rav Joseph Trani), was born in Tzfat, where he founded and taught in a yeshivah and headed the Sephardi community. In 1599 he was sent by the Tzfat community to Constantinople, and in 1604 took up permanent residence there. Trani headed a large yeshivah in Constantinople which became a center of Torah for all Turkish Jewry and produced many of the great Turkish rabbis of the 17th century.  Trani was eventually elected chief rabbi of Turkey.

5)  שו”ת שאילת יעבץ חלק א סימן קנה

ראיתי להזכיר בענין מה שנוהגים הרבה כהנים להחזיר הפדיון שנכון הוא בעיני. וטוב וישר לנהוג כן תמיד, אע”פ שכתבו ז”ל שלא יהא הכהן רגיל בכך הני מילי בכהנים מיוחסים דידהו. אבל בכהני חזקה בעלמא כי האידנא. אע”ג דלחומרא אזלינן בהו לכל מילי ופרקינן בכורים על ידייהו ,משום דלא אפשר באחריני מיהא להקל לא, דהיינו להוציא ממון האב מספק, נראה שאין כחן יפה להפקיע ממון בחזקתן הגרוע’. וכמעט שאני אומר דמדינא צריכין להחזיר, ולפחות כל כהן יחוש לעצמו לפרוש מספק גזל שמא אינו כהן

5)  Responsum of Jacob Emden 1:154.

It is worthwhile to mention in this matter that many Kohanim have the custom to return the redemption money and this is correct in my opinion.  It is good and right to act in this manner always, even though [our sages] may their memory be blessed, wrote that a kohen should not do this habitually.  However, those words are regarding kohanim of proper lineage.   But we are dealing with those who are presumed to be kohanim.  Although we act stringently towards them in all matters and the first born are redeemed by them since it’s not possible to be done by others, [nonetheless] in order to take money from the father, it appears that there is not enough certainty for them to accept funds due to their questionable presumed status.  I almost say that from the law they must return (the money); at any rate at least each kohen should be sensitive to extricate himself from the possibility of stealing since he may not be a kohen.

Background:  Jacob Emden יעב”ץ (יעקב בן צבי)1697-1776, Altona, Holland.  Emden was a Rabbi and notable talmudist, and prominent opponent of the Shabbetians.  He was the son of the Hakham Tzvi.  This responsum deals with the money that a kohen receives in the ceremony of פדיון הבן – redemption of the first born.

6)  שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן תנז:ב

. . .  הגה:  ואם יש כהן קטן שלא ראה קרי, או גדול שטבל לקריו, מותרים לאפות החלה בשבילו (טור). ויש אומרים שאין  מאכילין חלה בזמן הזה לשום כהן (מהרי”ו).

6)  Shulhan Arukh 457:2

. . . (Rama) And if there is a kohen who is a minor and hasn’t had an ejaculation, or an adult (kohen) who has immersed himself after ejaculating, it’s permissible to bake halla for him (Tur).  And there are those who say that these days we don’t feed the halla to any kohen (MaHaRIV).

Background:  When dough is kneaded for bread, a certain amount called חלה halla, must be set aside for kohanimHalla must be eaten by priests in a state of ritual purity.

In our source, there is a debate whether or not the halla should still be given to kohanim or not.  The word hallah is popularly employed for the special Shabbat loaves.

מגן אברהם אורח חיים סימן תנז

 שאין מאכילין –  שאין מחזיקים אותו ככהן ודאי דדילמא נתחללה א’ מאמותיו

Magen Avraham Shulhan Arukh Orekh Hayyim 457:9  “We don’t feed” – That we don’t hold him to be a kohen for certain, for one of his maternal ancestors may have been profaned.

Abraham Abele Gombiner (c.1633-c.1683) (Hebrew: אברהם לוי אבלה הומבינר), known as the Magen Avraham, born in Gąbin (Gombin), Poland, was a rabbi, Talmudist and a leading religious authority in the Jewish community of Kalisch, Poland during the seventeenth century. His full name is Avraham Avli ben Chaim HaLevi from the town of Gombin. There are texts that list his family name as Kalisch after the city of his residence. After his parents were killed in the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648, he moved to live and study with his relative in Lithuania, Jacob Isaac, Gombiner.

He is known to scholars of Judaism for his Magen Avraham commentary on the Orah Hayim section of Rabbi Joseph Karo‘s Shulhan Arukh, which he began writing in 1665 and finished in 1671. His brother Yehudah traveled in 1673 to Amsterdam to print the work but died on the journey. It was not published until 1692 after Rabbi Gombiner’s death. His son wrote in the preface to the work that his father was frequently sick and suffered pain and discomfort.

Questions:  In the sources we have seen several examples of the treatment of someone who is presumed to be a kohen.  What happens regarding the first aliyah to the Torah?  The money he receives for redeeming the first born?  Does he eat the hallah?  Are these cases any different than the one where the kohen married a divorcee?

Go to Kohen and Giyyoret Summary Part 2

Contemporary Issues In Halakha – Kohen And Giyyoret Sources Part 1

כהן וגיורת

A Kohen & A Convert
ר’ שלמה זכרוב

1)  ויקרא פרק כא

(א)  וַיֹּאמֶר יְדֹוָד אֶל מֹשֶׁה אֱמֹר אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם . . .

(ז)  אִשָּׁה זֹנָה וַחֲלָלָה לֹא יִקָּחוּ וְאִשָּׁה גְּרוּשָׁה מֵאִישָׁהּ לֹא יִקָּחוּ כִּי קָדֹשׁ הוּא לֵאלֹהָיו:

1)  Leviticus 21:1, 21:7

(1) The Lord said to Moses:  Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them:

(7)  They shall not take a zona vah.alala (a woman defiled by harlotry), nor shall they marry one divorced from her husband, for he is holy to his God.

2)  יחזקאל פרק מד:כב

וְאַלְמָנָה וּגְרוּשָׁה לֹא יִקְחוּ לָהֶם לְנָשִׁים כִּי אִם בְּתוּלֹת מִזֶּרַע בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר תִּהְיֶה אַלְמָנָה מִכֹּהֵן יִקָּחוּ:

2)  Ezekiel 44:22

A widow and a divorcee they [kohanim] should not take for themselves for wives; but they shall take virgins of the seed of the house of Israel or a widow which is the widow of a priest.

Question:  How does Ezekiel differ from the verses in Leviticus?  Does it matter if we learn the prohibition from Ezekiel or from Leviticus?

3)  ספרא אמור פרשה א ד”ה פרק א

(ז) אשה זונה רבי יהודה אומר זונה זו איילונית

וחכמים אומרים אין זונה אלא גיורת ומשוחררת ושנבעלה בעילת זנות

רבי אלעזר אומר אף הפנוי הבא על הפנויה שלא לשם אישות.

3)  Torat Kohanim 1:7

A woman who is a zona, Rebbe Yehuda says that a zona is a barren woman.

The sages say that a zona is a female convert, an emancipated slave woman or a woman who had licentious fornication.

Rebbe Elazar says even a single man who had relations with a single woman, not for the purposes of matrimony.


The Sifra or Torat Kohanim, is from the tannaitc period and is of the genre of a Midrash Halakha on the Book of Leviticus.  This means that it provides a running halakhic commentary on Leviticus which explains or turns almost every word into a source for a halakhic maxim.


Can you differentiate between the different positions regarding the definition of a zona?  Which is the strictest and which is most lenient?

 4)  משנה מסכת יבמות פרק ו משנה ה

כהן הדיוט לא ישא אילונית אלא אם כן יש לו אשה ובנים

ר’ יהודה אומר אע”פ שיש לו אשה ובנים לא ישא אילונית שהיא זונה האמורה בתורה

וחכמים אומרים אין זונה אלא גיורת ומשוחררת ושנבעלה בעילת זנות:

4)  Mishna Yevamot 6:5

An ordinary Kohen may not marry a barren woman unless he already has a wife and children.

Rebbe Yehuda says that even though he has a wife and children, he shouldn’t marry a barren woman because she is a zona according to the Torah.

The sages say that a zona is a female convert, an emancipated slave woman or a woman who had licentious fornication.


How does the Mishna differ from the previous source, the Sifra?

5)  תוספות לתלמוד בבלי מסכת יבמות דף סא עמוד א

אין זונה אלא גיורת ומשוחררת  – אפי’ נתגיירה פחותה מבת ג’ שנים אסורה מטעם זונה . . . וטעמא לפי שבאה מן העובדי כוכבים השטופים בזימה

5)  Tosafot to Yevamot 61a:

A zona is a female convert and a freed slave woman – even if she converted at less than three years of age, she is forbidden . . . the reason is that anyone coming from a place of idolatry is steeped in depravity.

6)  תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף עח עמוד א

תניא, רבי שמעון בן יוחי אומר: גיורת פחותה מבת שלש שנים ויום אחד – כשרה  לכהונה, שנאמר:  (במדבר לא: יח) (וְעַתָּה הִרְגוּ כָל זָכָר בַּטָּף וְכָל אִשָּׁה יֹדַעַת אִישׁ לְמִשְׁכַּב זָכָר הֲרֹגוּ): וְכֹל הַטַּף בַּנָּשִׁים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ מִשְׁכַּב זָכָר הַחֲיוּ לָכֶם:

והלא פינחס היה עמהם?

ורבנן “החיו לכם” – לעבדים ולשפחות.

וכולן מקרא אחד דרשו:  (יחזקאל מד:כב) “אלמנה וגרושה לא יקחו להם לנשים כי אם בתולות מזרע בית ישראל”  –

רבי יהודה סבר: עד דאית כל זרע מישראל,

רבי אליעזר בן יעקב סבר: מזרע – ואפילו מקצת זרע,

רבי יוסי סבר: מי שנזרעו בישראל,

רבי שמעון בן יוחי סבר: מי שנזרעו בתוליה בישראל.

6)  Tractate Kiddushin 78a

It was taught, Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai said, ‘A girl who converted when she was less than three years and a day is eligible to marry a kohen, as it is said [in the context of a battle against the Midianites, ‘kill every boy and every woman that has known man by lying with him,] but all the young women, who have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves (Num 31:17&18).  But Pinhas [a kohen] was among them!

But the Rabbis said, “keep alive for yourselves” means as slaves.

Everyone expounded the same verse,

” . . . they [the kohanim] shall not take widows or divorced women for wives, but they shall take virgins of the seed of the house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 44:22)

Rebbe Yehudah says unless the entire seed is from Israel.

Rebbe Eliezer ben Yaacov says even some of the seed.

Rebbe Yosi says the one who was “seeded” in Israel.

Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai says one whose virginity was “seeded” in Israel.


What is the proof text for Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai’s position?  Does it work?

Try your best differentiate between the opinions of Rav Yehudah, Rebbe Elizer, Rebbe Yosi and Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai.  Afterwards, examine Rashi’s commentary in the next source, which is indispensable.

7)  רש”י לתלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף עח עמוד א

רש”א כו’ –  הרי ארבע מחלוקת בדבר לר”י בת גר זכר פסולה ואפי’ נשא ישראלית לר’ אליעזר אי איכא צד אחד ישראל מכשיר ומיהו גר וגיורת בתו פסולה

ולר’ יוסי אפי’ גר שנשא גיורת בתו כשרה ומיהו הורתה ולידתה בקדושה בעי

ור’ שמעון אפי’ גיורת עצמה מכשיר ובלבד שלא תהא ראויה לביאה בגיותה דתיפוק לה מכלל זונה.

7)  Rashi to Tractate Kiddushin 78a

“Rebbe Shimon says” etc.  – There are four positions in the dispute.  According to Rebbe Yehudah, the daughter of a man who converted is forbidden, even if he married an Israelite woman.

According to Rebbe Eliezer, if one side is Israeli, it is kosher, however the daughter of parents who are both converts would be forbidden.

Rebbe Yosi says that the daughter of two parents who are both converts is kosher as long as she was conceived and born in holiness.

Rebbe Shimon says even a convert herself is kosher as long as she wasn’t suitable for intercourse when she was a gentile; if that is the case she is no longer considered a zonah.

והרי פינחס היה ביניהם –  בין היוצאים למלחמת מדין שנאמר להם המקרא הזה.

“But Pinhas [a kohen] was among them!” – among those going out to wage battle against Midyan as it is stated in that verse.

כל זרע –  כלומר כל עיקר הקרוי זרע היינו מן האב לאפוקי בת גר זכר.

“The entire seed” – In other words, the essence of what is called “seed”, meaning from the father; this would eliminate the daughter of a man who converted.

מקצת זרע –  אפי’ זרע כחוש כגון מן האם גר שנשא ישראלית.

“From some of the seed” –  even if it is the “weak” seed, such as from the mother; a convert who married and Israelite woman.

מי שנזרעו בישראל –  שתהא הורתה בקדושה.

“The one who was seeded in Israel” – that the conception was in holiness.

מי שנזרעו בתוליה בישראל –  שצמחו וגמרו בתוליה משבאה לכלל ישראל דהיינו כשנעשית בת שלש גמרו  בתוליה לביאה שאם תבעל מכאן ואילך אינן חוזרין אבל קודם שלש כל שעה הם חוזרין וצומחים ובאין . . .

“One whose virginity was seeded in Israel” – that her virginity came into being after she already became part of the nation of Israel; in other words, at the age of three her virginity is “complete”.  If she has intercourse after this point [her virginity] doesn’t return.  However, before the age of three her virginity “grows back.


How would you differentiate conceptually between the four positions?

8)  רמב”ם הלכות איסורי ביאה פרק יח:ג

וכן הגיורת והמשוחררת אפילו נתגיירה ונשתחררה פחותה מבת שלש שנים הואיל ואינה בת ישראל הרי זו זונה ואסורה לכהן,

מכאן אמרו עכו”ם או נתין או ממזר או גר עמוני ומואבי או מצרי ואדומי ראשון ושני או פצוע דכא וכרות שפכה או חלל שבאו על היהודית עשו אותה זונה ונפסלה לכהונה

ואם היתה כהנת פסלוה מן התרומה, וכן  יבמה שבא עליה זר עשאה זונה, והאילונית מותרת לכהן ואינה זונה.  +/השגת הראב”ד/ וכן הגיורת וכו’. כתב הראב”ד ז”ל /א”א/ אינה משום זונה אלא משום דכתיב בתולות מזרע בית ישראל והכי איתא בקידושין עכ”ל.+

8)  Rambam, The Laws of Forbidden Intercourse, 18:3

Similarly, a female convert or an emancipated slave woman, even if she converted or was emancipated when less than three years old, since she is not a daughter of Israel she is considered a zona and is forbidden to a kohen.

Hence the sages said that an idolater or a natin or a mamzer or an Ammonite or Moabite convert, an Egyptian or Edomite convert of the first and second generations, a man with crushed or maimed private parts or a h.alal (unfit priest) who has intercourse with an Israelite woman renders her a zona and she is thereby forbidden to the priesthood.

If she herself is of priestly descent, she is invalidated from eating of the heave offering.  Similarly, if a non priest has intercourse with a woman subject to levirate marriage, he renders her a zona.  A woman who is barren is permitted to a kohen and is not considered a zona.

RABaDA female convert is not derived from “zona”, instead it is because of the verse “the virgins of the seed of the house of Israel”. 

Background:  RABaD – Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquieres, French Talmudic commentator; born in Provence, France, about 1125; died at Posquières, Nov. 27, 1198. Abraham’s criticism of the of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah  is often very harsh. This was due to radical differences of view in matters of faith between the two greatest Talmudists of the twelfth century. Maimonides’ aim was to bring order into the vast labyrinth of the Halakhah by presenting final results in a definite, systematic, and methodical manner. But in the opinion of RABaD this very aim was the principal defect of the work. A legal code which did not state the sources and authorities from which its decisions were derived and offered no proofs of the correctness of its statements was, in the opinion of Abraham ben David, entirely unreliable, even in the practical religious life.  If it ha
d been the intention of Maimonides to stem the further development of the study of the Talmud by reducing it to the form of a code, RABaD felt it his duty to oppose such an attempt, as contrary to the free spirit of rabbinical Judaism, which refuses to surrender blindly to authority.

Questions:   With whom does Rambam seem to agree?   Does he have any positions that we have not yet seen?  What does the RABaD add?

Go to Kohen Summary 1 and Introduction to Part 2

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