Parsha Emor 5771: The Kohanic Paradigm of Purity, and Little-Known Eligibility Cases

by Moshe Burt

The positioning in Torah of our Parsha Emor, following last week’s Parsha Kedoshim gives rise to thought and contemplation. In the previous 2 twin Parshas; Acharei Mos and Kedoshim, and Tazria and Metzora before them, we learn about the Kohen as the only one Divinely invested with ruling as to Tumah or Ta’Hara regarding ones’ skin, hair, clothing or homes as well as with being the vehicle for Yom Kippur avodah in the Kadosh Kedoshim and as the model of Darchim for the entire B’nai Yisrael to ideally emulate as a model for all mankind.

In Parsha Emor, we learn how the Avodah, the Service of the Kohanim necessitated them “…to maintain an especially high standard of purity and perfection.” (L’lmod L’Lamed, Rabbi Mordechai Katz, Parsha Emor, page 119)

Shem Mishmuel (Sefer Shem Mishmuel, Parsha Emor, pages 273-275) explains the function of the Kohen and the manifestation of his Kedusha in this way:

“The Job of the Kohen is to join the physical world to it’s spiritual counterpart.” He performs the Avodah in the Beit HaMikdash, the place where heaven and earth meet. He brings Hashem’s fire upon the Mizbei’ach (altar) in a service which joins the physical earth to Hashem.

Shem Mishmuel continues by saying that the co-existence of physical and spiritual is broken by the tumah (defilement) associated with death. Therefore, it is inappropriate for a Kohen to come into contact with death as death tears apart the unity of the physical and spiritual.

He adds, in the name of the Arizal, that prior to death, a person is attacked by impure forces;

“The holy soul which rests within a person can’t bear to be connected with those forces and departs from the body to alleviate it’s discomfort. This is the moment of death. The tumah induces a split between the body and soul which is totally opposite of the Kohen’s role as a unifier or ‘joiner.’”

We gain deeper insight from this explanation as to why it is the Kohen, rather than a Talmud Chacham, who rules as to tumah or tohar in cases of tzara’as as we previously learned in Parshas Tazria/Metzora.

Shem Mishmuel extends the Kohen’s attribute of being a unifier or a “joiner” even to the subject of prohibited Kohanic marriages and quotes Rabbi Akiva;

“A man and a woman, if they so merit, the divine presence rests between them: if they do not merit, fire consumes them.” (Sotah 17a)

Further, Shem Mishmuel relates that Chazal tell us that when a couple divorces, the power of divine unity is removed from them leaving both of them with a sense of division and disunity:

“Thus a divorced woman is no longer in a spiritual position to marry a Kohen whose very being demands contact with only unifying forces. For a divorcee to have a relationship with a Kohen would frustrate the Kohen’s personal mission.”

The divorcee has lost the innate ability to be solely unified with one person and thus may not marry a Kohen.

The last part of the citing from Shem Mishmuel brings to mind an old Woody Allen movie, many of you may recall which one, but I won’t mention the title here.

And so, the function of the Kohen in relationship to his fellow Jews is meant to be the paradigm of how the Jews are meant to relate to the nations as a light unto the world. The point is that the Kohanim are meant to be a paradigm, to set an example for all of B’nai Yisrael regarding derech, midos, chessed to one’s brothers — one’s fellow Jews, and of Avodat Hashem.

This author has experienced a number of instances during shidduch travels which have involved little-known aspects of Kohen-ineligibility. In one case, a woman born of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father is ineligible for a Kohen even though she is fully Jewish by virtue of her Jewish mother, of matra-linear descent. The term for her ineligibility for a Kohen is “not from the seed of Israel.” The point being that a women’s Jewish lineage needs to be unblemished regarding union with a Kohen. She is fully Jewish and can marry any other Jew but, not a Kohen. Similarly, a woman who has ever been intimate with a non-Jew is ussur to a Kohen.

We know also about the widow who never bore a child by her deceased husband. If the deceased husband had one or more brothers, the widow who, in biblical times had the requirement to marry the deceased husband’s brother in order to carry on the husband’s name, must by Rabbinic decree take part in a Chalitzah ceremony in order that she would ever be able to remarry. But one with the status of Chalutzah is forbidden to a Kohen. This holds true regardless of the women’s age or how long she and her deceased husband were man and wife.

But here’s an unusual twist. A woman is widowed, never does Chalutzah and thus never marries. Eventually, the deceased husband’s brother(s) are niftar. At the point where there is no longer a brother alive to perform Chalutzah with the widow, she then becomes permitted to any Jew, including a Kohen. In the case where a woman is widowed from a deceased husband who was previously married and who has offspring from his previous marraige, the widow is then free to marry any Jew, including a Kohen,

Having said the above, the question arises; Just as the divorcee is forbidden halachically from marrying a Kohen due to loss of the ability to unify with one person resulting in division and disunity; what about the lost unity amongst B’nai Yisrael which the protexia political class seizes upon with its divide and conquer tactics resulting in further polarization, in Jews divorcing themselves from Jews? What about the purity which is then defiled by the tumah of this disunity — the forces of defilement; sectorial divisiveness, prejudice and disagreements?

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized

gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, captive Gilad Shalit and the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage to prevent the eviction of Jews from their homes and to prevent the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.