Kohanic Lineage

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

While it is certainly important for one to establish whether one is a Kohen, Levi, or Yisrael, it is especially crucial that Kohanim are positive of their status. In our day, it is only Kohanim whose role is still required in order to discharge certain Biblical rituals and obligations. One such example is the Pidyon Haben ceremony. One who is under the impression that he is a Kohen, and officiates at a Pidyon Haben in that capacity, would render the ceremony completely invalid should there be any blemish on his lineage, even unknowingly. Likewise, one who is truly a Kohen, though for whatever reason is under the impression that he is a Levi or Yisrael, would be unintentionally violating many Biblical prohibitions every time he attends a funeral or enters a cemetery.

With the importance and centrality of lineage in ritual matters, one is compelled to question how we can be so certain that after so many centuries in Exile the chain of lineage has been properly maintained. Can anyone who claims to be a Kohen simply be relied upon?

Indeed, a number of authorities rule that the tribal designations in use today are merely “assumptions” with no halachic or scientific certainty as to their accuracy. It is actually presumed that most Kohanim today are likely not of pure lineage.[1] In fact, already in the late Biblical era, and certainly in the Talmudic era, there was considerable doubt as to who was truly a Kohen.[2] Because we are not sure who is truly a Kohen, there are several mitzvot which are no longer performed today in their entirety such a ma’aser, teruma, and challa.[3] Similarly, a number of authorities rule that Kohanim today are not entitled to all the rights and honors that Kohanim had commanded in Biblical times.[4]

The only way for a person to be halachically certified as a Kohen is if two witnesses were to testify that he and his father are unquestionably Kohanim and that they descend from those who are known to have served in the Beit Hamikdash.[5] So too, in ancient times every family would posses and transmit to their children extensive documentation attesting to their status.[6] Obviously, these things are simply not possible in our day.

In fact, the practice of honoring the Kohen with the first Aliya at every Torah reading, and similar honors afforded to Kohanim, is merely a custom in order to keep the ancient tradition alive.[7] Indeed, a father is encouraged to redeem his firstborn son from as many Kohanim as possible, lest the Kohen who officiated at the Pidyon Haben was not of pure lineage.[8] Nevertheless, there are a number of authorities who maintain that those who claim to be Kohanim based on family tradition are to be accepted as authentic Kohanim, without exception.[9]

No matter what the actual status of Kohanim is today universal practice is to award the first Aliya of every Torah reading to anyone who claims to be a Kohen. So too, one who claims to be a Kohen is permitted to perform the Birkat Kohanim in the synagogue.[10] One who has conducted himself all his life as a Kohen is not permitted to later claim that he was mistaken and is actually not a Kohen. One who does so would be suspected of ulterior motives such as a desire to marry a convert, divorcee, or the like.[11] One who was raised in a completely assimilated or unobservant family should not necessarily conduct himself as a Kohen even if his father should tell him that he is one.[12] One should seek rabbinic guidance in such a situation.


[1] Rivash 94; Maharashdam, EH 235.

[2] Nechemia 7:63-64; Ketubot 24b.

[3] Darkei Moshe, OC 457:4.

[4] Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Biah 20:1-4.

[5] Tur, EH 6:3; Perisha, EH 6:6; Middot 4:8; Sifri, Devarim 17:18.

[6] Rashi, Bamidbar 18:1.

[7] Maharashdam, EH 235.

[8] Sheilat Yaavetz 1:155; Pitchei Tehsuva, YD 305:12.

[9] Be’er Heitev, EH 6; Chatam Sofer, YD 336; Knesset Yechezkel 56.

[10] Rema, EH 3:1.

[11] Maharit 1:147.

[12] Igrot Moshe, EH 4:11; Beit Avi 5:134.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (6 Vol.) among other works of halacha. rabbiari@hotmail.com www.rabbienkin.com


  1. Joseph Kaplan

    “Indeed, a father is encouraged to redeem his firstborn son from as many Kohanim as possible, lest the Kohen who officiated at the Pidyon Haben was not of pure lineage.”

    Is this normative practice? I have acted as the kohen at many pidyon habens. I do not know of a single one where (a) the father had already done one or (b) where the father later did one. Nor have i ever heard of a rabbi encouraging a father to do more than one. BTW, I’m not against it since it would significantly improve business! :-)

  2. Yup. I’ve seen it in writing and in practice.

    Ari Enkin

  3. Aaron-

    Who is behind this website? It’s a bit radical in nature.

    Ari Enkin

  4. moshe shoshan

    according 5to those who say we accept contemporay cohens as the real deal, shouldn’t we give our trumah and maaser to them?

  5. Indeed — tzarich iyun why accoriding to that opinion we dont.

    Ari Enkin

  6. Joseph Kaplan

    I’m curious; has anyone on this list who has a male first born ever been encouraged to redeem thier firstborn son from as many Kohanim as possible? I once heard that the Gr’a did this for himself but I’ve never heard of it anywhere else before this post. If it is, in fact, normative, I want to know why my business is not better.

  7. Since when do we discount Hazakot? The doubters of Kohanei Hazaka are a minority.

  8. I’m wondering how the whole concept of DNA (Y-Chromosomal Aaron) plays into this halacha. The wikipedia article seems complicated (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Y-chromosomal_Aaron) but it’s interesting what the halacha says about it, if anything.

  9. Manchem-

    It is totally not halachically admissible. You can have the same DNA as your parents yet not be halachically Jewish, etc.

    Nevertheless, DNA *is* admissible for solving Aguna cases (i.e. 9-11)

    Ari Enkin

  10. When I became a ba’al teshuva over thirty years ago, I was directed to Rav Dovid Cohen shlit”a (who is not a Kohein) to determine my status. Reb Dovid interviewed some of my paternal (assimilated) family members (my father was no longer living at the time) and subsequently explained to me that my grandfather’s experience was quite common.

    “Cohen” was a generic Jewish name to the immigration officers on Ellis Island (like “Smith” or “Jones”). European immigrants came, of course, by the boatloads with hand-written foreign language documents and surnames not readily transliteratable into English characters. If your name started with a hard “C” or “K” sound and was otherwise overly bothersome to transliterate, “Cohen” you often became on your American documents. With this newly heightened status most immigrants kept mum (especially when, in those days of extreme financial hardship, one could collect a few precious coins from a Pidyon Haben). The bottom line though, is that almost ALL American Jews with the surname “Cohen” are no such thing.

    Given that my grandfather’s named was actually Kurtzheisen, my Kohanic status crumbled. Rav Dovid advised me to spell my name in Ivrit “kuf-alef-hey-nun” (to distinguish it from the Biblical “kaf-hey-nun”). I and my four sons do so today.

  11. >You can have the same DNA as your parents yet not be halachically Jewish, etc.

    No one has the same DNA as their parents. You mean share DNA.

  12. Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

    Ari Enkin

  13. “You can have the same DNA as your parents yet not be halachically Jewish, etc.”

    What case are you referring to? The only cases I can think of where that would be the case are

    a) When your mother isn’t halachically Jewish either
    b) When your mother is halachically Jewish, but converted after you were born.

    I assume that you have another situation because neither of those is much of a chiddush.

    The other possible situations which you might be thinking of, but which don’t work, at least if my understanding of halacha is correct are

    (i) Mother converted before you were conceived – you are definitely Jewish by heredity.
    (ii) Mother converted after you were conceived but before you were born – you are not Jewish by heredity, but her gerut also works for you.
    (iii) Surrogacy, with a non-Jewish birth-mother – This might be the one where I am wrong, but I understood that the ramifications of situations (i) and (ii) were that one’s Jewishness is determined by the religion of one’s genetic mother at the moment of conception. Therefore a surrogate baby with a Jewish genetic mother is also Jewish.

  14. MiMedinat HaYam

    the vilna gaon only did a second (not more) pidyon haben, using a cohen from the rapaport family, which (supposedly) has a (better) yichus.

    2. the 9-11 agunot using dna is not (necessarily) “normative”. wait a few years for problems to crop up (not problems of people showing up, but problems of people refusing to marry in.) and the rca didnt look into the particular family situations, a halachic requirement of “mayim sh’ein sof

    chassidim had no problem with agunot, etc in their 9-11 cases. (hatzalah recordings saying “building down” were deciding factors. when backed up by the dispatcher testifying he said it.) (and they looked into family situations.)

    3. i didnt look up the mar’eh mekomot, but the statement before footnote five should say “second beit hamikdash”, per mishnayot at end of succot, which lists (some) of the families (none of them rapaport; i guess they werent yekkes.)

    4. as for people showing up, there were several cases of people showing up after the families collected. interesting, they were (all) arab sounding names.

  15. CAn the doubtful status of kehuna be used (perhaps along with other factors) in solving cases where a cohen wants to marry a divorcee or the like?

  16. R’ Shua –

    See this article on the Ellis Island Myth: http://www.azure.org.il/article.php?id=544

  17. For 9/11 DNA was used as a snif, not as a slam dunk.

    MiMedinat HaYam – does nyone know if “freed” agunot after WWII also had an issue of marrying in?

  18. An interesting follow up post might address what the mekoros state concerning how the true identification of Kohanim will be made le’asid lavo (such as Hilchos Melachim 12:6[3]).

  19. Cyberdov-

    Yes. And boy does the website link above sure wants you to think it is mutar lechatchila!

    But bottom line — it is a ‘snif’ not a ‘slam-dunk heter’

    Ari Enkin

  20. Memidinat-

    I beg to differ. DNA testing for Aguna cases is indeed slam-dunk according to: Rabbis M. Willig, G.D. Schwartz, Z.N. Goldberg and others. Prepare for a book to be released on the issue in the near future by a prominent dayan. (I was the research assistant). 😉

    Ari Enkin

  21. Joe (@12:47):

    Thanks ever so much for the link. I don’t have the time to verify the accuracy of its main contention — that “official” name changes on Ellis Island are a “myth” — but I do note the following line:

    “Of course, many Jewish immigrants’ names WERE changed upon coming to America. Without exception, however, they changed their names themselves.”

    Nu…so the SOURCE of the name-changes is challenged, but the FACT of the name-changes is not. “Reb Rogarshevsky” DID become Mr. Rogers, in the same manner as my grandfather, Hersh Leib Kurtzeisen (a”h) became Harry Cohen.

    The conclusion remains the same: most Jews in America named “Cohen” have no valid yichus claim whatsoever that they are Kohanim.

  22. As an aside, you say Be’er Heitev. I’ve heard that it’s correctly Ba’er Heitev (as per Devarim 27:8).

  23. I beg to differ. DNA testing for Aguna cases is indeed slam-dunk according to: Rabbis M. Willig, G.D. Schwartz, Z.N. Goldberg and others
    That was me and R’ Y Reiss in a shiur went to great length to say it is not a slam dunk or else we’d have to use it for mamzeirut cases as well.

  24. MiMedinat HaYam

    to reb ari: first you say “snif” then you say “slam dunk” your research.

    2. post WWII there was only one case of a man showing up, after the wife had several children post war in south america. in the end, she admitted to RMF that she used a name of a posek who was giving legitimate heterim that she used to remarry (paper documentation was not required then. ?today?). she divorced both by get, with the first cancelling the “shlichut” procedure.

    although, there is a new exhibit that claims there were there rapes in the camps, bringing up a whole other issue that was supposedly denied that it happened. i think its at the battery park museum. something very new.

    3. i know of a case of a cohen (a prominent us rabbi) who claims rav ovadia yosef says if your mother was a good looking woman (liberally defined), and was not religious in her youth (liberally defined), you can assume you are a “chalal” and can marry a divorcee. the problem is the rav’s children (from first marriage) dont know what to do after a lifetime of birkat cohanim (i’ll assume pidyon haben and t”um income is out).

  25. MiMedinat HaYam

    to reb ari:
    1:19 and 1:22 comments contradict

    and the comment from west orange is on point.

    (next week’s rashi — “eleh toldot yitzchak, avraham holid”; is that a dna type claim?)

  26. joel rich, I don’t understand that comment that seeks to compare judging agunot cases with mamzeirut as to DNA testing. It is an established principle that we rule leniently in both types of cases. Hence DNA tests can be used as evidence that the human remains are, indeed, of the missing husband. With other evidence that people in the area were disintegrated with the collapse of the WT buildings, that is ruled sufficient to release the widow.

    On the other hand, in order to declare someone a mamzer we require positive evidence that would have been acceptable to the sages. Keep in mind that even evidence of promiscuity on the part of the married mother doesn’t qualify as such evidence. DNA tests don’t meet that criterion either. The same would be true of blood type – much less, eye color.

  27. R’YA
    “With other evidence” = (to my terminology) not a slam dunk. If it were a slam dunk it would be evidence that the “father” was not “the father” in mazeirut and inheritance.

  28. A few comments:

    1) As a fellow “presumptive” Kohein, (the extent of my objective familial evidence – beyond mesorah – is that the tombstone of my g-g-g-grandfather who died in 1886 has the “Kohein hands” inscribed on it)I have never personally encountered or heard of anyone (other than the gr”a) performing or receiving a second pidyon haben. So I don’t think it can be considered in any way normative, even if their are minority opinions advocating for the practice.

    2) Shua, interesting story about your grandfather. I don’t doubt it, and it helps explain why, even amongst families that have been continuoulsy frum since at least the 19th century, there are some families with “Kohein-type” names who acknowledge not being Kohanim. I would still however, question your assertion that “most” American Jews named Cohen are not Kohanim, since I doubt that most of them became Cohens by way of name change and I don’t think you have any real evidence on this point.

    3) As a corollary question I have often wondered what percentage of contemprary presumptive Kohanim go by an explicitly Kohein-oriented surname (e.g. Cohen, Kahn, Kahan, Katz, etc.) as opposed to any other name. My informal surveys (looking at the Gabbai books in several shuls) have suggested that it’s about 1/3 to 2/3, with 1/3 having the Koehin-type names. As for the acknowledged non-Kohein “Cohens” out there, again my informal observation is that they comprise at most 10%-20% of the total Cohens and tend to be found more among those with names like Katz or Kahn, then among those actually spelling their name C-O-H-E-N.

  29. I was saddened to read this article, claiming that Baalei Tshuvah who are Cohanim should not act like Cohanim.

    First of all, what does that mean? Probably we would say that they have to be careful of the restrictions (dead bodies, not marrying certain women), but can get none of the benefits (first aliyah, bircas cohanim, performing pidyon haben, etc)

    In effect, you’re saying that all BT’s from Cohanic lineage are Challal.

    I am a Cohen. I’m also a Baal Tshuvah. My father told me that he is a Cohen. His father told him that he is a Cohen. My great-great-grandfather has the word “hacohen” engraved at the end of his Hebrew name on his tombstone.

    All of my paternal ancestors married Jewish women. They all got married young, and in those days, secular people in general were not as “loose” with arayos as they are today.

    The only question is, am I a Kohen until proven Challal, or the opposite???

  30. On a related note, I know of Levy family that is in no way levi’im. Their story was that the ancestor at Ellis Island was being sponsored by someone named Levy, so he changed his name accordingly.

  31. Are there Ethiopian cohanim?

  32. I checked out the website kohen.co.uk (oraltorah.org seemed to have forward their website to it) and they seem to have a personal letter sent to them from Ovadia Yoseph confirming what they say.

  33. MiMedinat HaYam

    dont worry, you are considered a cohen. its just an excuse the prominent rav (and others) use to marry divorcees.

    2. continuing in joel rich’s argument (and agreeing with him), would you use dna to prevent a chalitzah?

    3. the whole issue of ethiopians is being kept secret.

    todate, years later, there is still no (published) account of the ethipian customs, ritual observance, etc. besides a general claim of being “pre-rabbinic”.

    did they have some form of seder / sipur yetiziat mitzrayim? did they have pidyon haben? did they have gitten (which are claimed to be problematic, or not. but what are the details?)

  34. MiMedinat HaYam

    name changes — leib davidovich bronshteyn took his manhattan landlord’s name when he heard about the kerensky revolution and retuned to russia, assumming his ny landlord’s name of lenin.

    many people change their name when emigrating / immigrating, including when making aliyah. it doesnt really mean anything. unless they choose a demeaning name, which some people do.

  35. the halacha seems to be that kohanim today probably are not real kohanim but we treat them as kohanim sometimes with things that people do not really care about such as the first alliya because no one really values these things anyway. this is certainly what it seems to say at kohen.co.il

  36. how is it fair that kohanim get to say they are not kohanim until they want to stay married to a gerusha or zonah but when it comes to getting the first alliya, getting the first shot with a shidduch or getting first tzedakah rights they are considered kohanim

  37. “3. the whole issue of ethiopians is being kept secret.”

    I ask because there was a black guy who got a kohen aliyah at an Orthodox Shul I went to recently.

  38. On Ethiopians; not taking the chalal factor into consideration, 55% percent of regular Jews who claim to be kohanim can genetically be kohanim whereas 65% of Ethiopians can.

    see video new


  39. To fellow “Cohen” @ 4:48 who wrote:

    “I would still however, question your assertion that ‘most’ American Jews named Cohen are not Kohanim, since I doubt that most of them became Cohens by way of name change and I don’t think you have any real evidence on this point.”

    I did a Google search for “Ellis Island + name change” and quote the following from the first three hits, all articles on the “myth” of Ellis Island name changes:

    “Everyone was free to use the name he or she preferred.”

    “Once settled into their new homes anything could happen. Millions of immigrants had their names changed voluntarily.”

    “Some immigrants did change their names on purpose. Hard to pronounce names were simplified, long names shortened. Sometimes a person changed their ethnic sounding name to escape or minimize discrimination.”

    I ask you, given this free-for-all environment at the turn of the century, who claiming the name “Cohen” today can have any presumption that it is representative of anything, let alone descent from Aaron HaKohein?

    In my own family’s case for example, there are probably a dozen 4th generation American male “Cohens” who have long lost the knowledge of the reality of “Kurtzeisen” and who therefore would innocently attest that they are Kohanim. The real tragedy is that in most cases it is irrelevant. There has been so much assimilation and intermarriage in my family that perhaps most of these “Cohens” are not even any longer Jewish.

  40. Dear Jacob-

    RE: “I was saddened to read this article, claiming that Baalei Tshuvah who are Cohanim should not act like Cohanim.”

    That is not what I said or even alluded to. Baal teshuvas come from a great varierty of backgrounds. Yours certainly seems to be the most “reliable” backgorund.

    But yes, there are some poskim who say that just because you think you are a cohen — you may just not be one.

    Food for thought. Thats all.

    Ari Enkin

  41. Oh, is there a lot of misinformation out there…

    1. Ethiopian “kohanim” are kessim, which is not hereditary but learned, like our rabbanim. There were Ethiopian Jewish monks (even more like kohanim) as well; also not hereditary.

    2. Mamzerut is not an issue with Ethiopians because while they allowed divorce, they did not allow remarriage (like Catholics, l’havdil).

    3. MeMedinat, lots has been published on Ethiopian customs, starting in the mid-1800’s. (Granted, lots of it is in French, German, and Hebrew, but there’s a lot in English that goes back, including a volume in the Yale Judaica Series.) There are no secrets. You want to know about their seder, you can get the recently published Koren Ethiopian Haggadah. (Not their Haggadah translated into Amharic, but their Ethiopian Haggadah.)

    4. I think you mean that he changed his name to Trotsky. In any event, he did that in Russia, years before he came to New York. Wikipedia says it was after a jailer, but in any event it was probably because it didn’t help to have a Jewish name.

    5. Yisroel, as a kohein (and one who has had issues with shidduchim as a result- and me with non-kohein name!), I will thank you to stop slandering us. Your comment of 7:04 PM is despicable. I laugh bitterly when people make cracks about how easy we kohanim have it.

    6. And your of 7:34 is nonsensical. Ethiopian Jews don’t have the kohein gene (which, of course, makes sense if you accept their version of their history- descendants of shevet Dan- or the scientific one- conversions possibly under the influence of Yemenite Jews.) The Lemba, a tribe from southern Africa, do, which is a whole other question. (The Lemba aren’t clamoring to be accepted as Jews.) Leviim are…a whole other story. Suffice to say that it’s best not to look at DNA at all if we’re trying to determine Jewish status. We go with what we have, which is something Shua Cohen would do well to consider as he goes about merrily disqualifying kohanim, something the Rambam says Mashiach himself won’t even do.

    7. Once again, no names were changed at Ellis Island. They were either changed when a European Jew first registered with the government of the country he was born in (which could have been at any time from when he was born to when he got a passport to leave the country) or well after he got to America, voluntarily in court.

  42. MiMedinat –


    “1:19 and 1:22 comments contradict”

    The use of DNA for agunas is not the same as for mamzerut. (though some poskim say it is)

    To give but one example: We want to free agunot but we DONT WANT to ‘discover’ mamzerim. Hence, the halacha follows accordingly.

    Ari Enkin

  43. Joel, (and others)

    The use of DNA for agunas is not the same as for mamzerut. (though some poskim say it is)

    To give but one example: We want to free agunot but we DONT WANT to ‘discover’ mamzerim. Hence, the halacha follows accordingly.

    Ari Enkin

  44. The posek at the BT yeshiva I went to was considered to be very machmir about who is or isn’t a Kohen. He tells guys that if their families have an unbroken line of duchening (i.e. your father duchened, his father duchened, etc) then you should consider yourself a Kohen, and if not, you shouldn’t. In my case, my father and grandfather both duchened at Conservative schuls, so I’m considered a Kohen.

    It’s actually quite hard for BT Kohanim. They have a very limited dating pool since most BT women can’t marry Kohanim.

  45. It’s actually quite hard for BT Kohanim. They have a very limited dating pool since most BT women can’t marry Kohanim.
    That is rather a scandalous statement if true.

  46. Most? One thing I’ve learned is that people’s ideas of who a kohein can’t marry is a lot stricter than actual halakha. I’ve heard lots of people who think that kohanim have to marry virgins, which, of course, is not true. Even in today’s age, I don’t think the situation is as dire as you say.

    And then there’s always the response of a rebbe of my brother’s: “It’s hard enough out there. Don’t ask questions and assume she’s OK.”

  47. To Shua and your post of 9:06 last night.

    My issue is with your orignal assertion that, and I quote,:

    “The bottom line though, is that almost ALL American Jews with the surname “Cohen” are no such thing. ” (emphasis yours)

    Now I don’t know what kind of percentage you have in mind when you say “almost all”, but it sounds like you mean something like 90%.

    In response to the points you made I would say:

    1) Yes, there was clearly alot of name confusion during the Ellis Island years but I don’t think there is any reason to suspect that non-kohanim who ended up with Kohein-type names also adopted presumptive kohein status. There is a reason that many Cohens and Katzs today readily acknowledge that they are not Kohanim. And while there are clearly a significant number of such people who are not Kohanim, I see no reason to think they outnumber those with Kohein names who ARE kohanim. For everyone like your 4th cousins I still maintain that there are probably 8 “Cohens” whose name was always Cohen. (Do you even have any specific knowledge that any of your distant cousins claim Kohein status, or are you speculating that they might?)

    2) I don’t know why you imagine that it is so unusual for a contempporary “Cohen” to be in possession of an accurate family tradition of Kohein status that pre-dates the American immigration. I am. And so are innumerable people I have encountered during my life. It doesn’t require going back that far. Just 2 or three generations for many people will do the trick.

    2) If anyone changed their name to escape Jewish ethnic stereotyping, then they didn’t change it to Cohen.

    3) I think you’re confusing two issues. As I said it’s not that hard to have an accurate family Mesorah of kohein status that pre-dates Elllis Island. Now you can question whether my great-grandfather was in fact a Kohein, but that’s a sepatrate question that has nothing to do with the immigrant experience.

    I just don’t see where you have any evidence that so overwhelming a majority (if it is a majority at all) of contemporary “Cohens” are claiming to be anything other than what their great-grandfather – just a relative few decades ago – claimed to have been.

  48. Lawrence Kaplan

    There is a lot of use of euphemisms here. I assume that the claim that most BT women cannot marry kohanim is based on the assumption that most BT women at some point in their lives slept with a non-Jew.

  49. R’ Nachum,
    You are correct. There is no obligation for a kohen (other than the Kohen Gadol) to marry a betulah. [The instruction of the Prophet Ezekiel in the Haftarah to Parashat Emor does claim that every kohen must marry a betulah (or the widow of another kohen), but that is contrary to Halakhah, and is one of the reasons the Sages initially sought to suppress the book of Ezekiel. See IM YD 3:115.] However, a kohen cannot marry a lady who has previously cohabited with a Noahide. If a lady is observant, then she has a chezkat kashrut that she is righteous, and she is worthy to be married to a kohen. I think this is reflected in R’ Mimedinat Hayam’s comment yesterday.
    With all due respect to the great luminary R. Ovadiah Yosef, I cannot accept any halakhic distinctions (attributed in this forum to R. Ovadiah Yosef) based upon the appearance of a lady. The greatest beauty in the universe is the beauty of the Shekhinah (as per the gemara in Bava Batra 58a) and it is to the latter that our hearts are attuned. The sole issue appears to be whether a lady can be trusted that she never cohabited with a Noahide. If she was always observant, then chazakah dictates that she may marry a kohen. If she is a ba’alat teshuvah, we congratulate her on her heroic decision to become a ba’alat teshuvah and we find her a prestigious groom from levi’im, yisra’elim or gerim.

  50. R’LK,
    Speaking of euphemisms – I assume simply taking a nap would be insufficient :-)

  51. Sorry… I see Mori ViRebbi R. Kaplan already published what I was going to say, so I cancel my words in favor of his. Thanks.

  52. To Cohen @9:49 a.m. 10/27

    Here is my last word on the issue:

    1. I accept now that the name-change stories attributed officials on Ellis Island are a myth. The historical record seems to be dispositive on this.

    2. Nevertheless, it appears to be historically accurate that tens of thousands of immigrants, having no impediment from doing so, changed their names.

    3. As Rav Dovid Cohen indicated to me, sorrowfully, many Jews had a financial incentive to do so. At the turn of the century, in areas of “first settlement” (as the lower east side of Manhattan) ANY extra income was often desperately needed. If no one was the wiser, why not become a Kohein for the Pidyon Haben opportunity that presented itself? Let us remember that this was the generation which, once in the goldena medina, overthrew their heritage (and Torah ethics) by the tens of thousands and so had no qualms about what I’m sure they considered harmless fibbing, with little concern for the consequences to their ba’al teshuva descendants.

    4. Finally, this turn-of-the-century American historical reality lends credence to the assertions that Rabbi Enkin brought to bear in his original piece, re: (1) “that the tribal designations in use TODAY are merely assumptions with NO halachic certainty,” (2) “it is actually presumed that most Kohanim TODAY are likely NOT of pure lineage,” and (3)”already in the late Biblical era, and certainly in the Talmudic era, there was considerable doubt as to who was truly a Kohen.” If this is indeed the case, you tell me what the odds are that the thousands of “Cohens” in America are actually “Kohanim.” To my mind, it all adds up to a safek, upon a safek, upon a safek…for hundreds of generations, going back to the golus that followed the second churban Beis HaMikdash. In light of this tsunami of doubt, who today can say with certainty: “Ani Kohein Tzedek?”

    5. We can only anxiously await Eliyahu HaNavi to straighten it all out.

  53. To Shua,

    Here are my last thoughts.

    1) I agree (and have from the outset) that there are many reasons why today’s kohein status is a safek. I just don’t think the immigration experience contributed much to it, and I don’t think there is any evidence that it did.

    2)With all due repsect to Rav Dovid Cohen, the idea of a kohein name change being motivated by pidyon haben money, is preposterous. How many “pidyon haben’s” have you encountered in your whole life? We all know very well that they are relatively rare occurences and no one person could have expected it to much of a source of income.

    3) Amein. May Eliyahu come speedily in our days.

  54. Two caveats to the above: If the lady is actually a betulah, then even if she is a ba’alat teshuvah, she can obviously marry a kohen. Also, perhaps the case can be made that in the modern State of Israel, where there is (in effect) social apartheid (in a positive sense) between Jews and Noahides, even a ba’alat teshuvah could marry a kohen, because any cohabitation would have been with a Jew. [I.e. there are different degrees of what being “frum” means. I am assuming that in the State of Israel, all the Jews are sufficiently “frum” to avoid cohabitation with Noahides.] I’m not sure about this last point, but it’s deserving of halakhic investigation. Anyway, this is all theoretical, since – as mentioned – the greatest beauty is the sparkling beauty of the Shekhinah (“adam bifnei Shekhinah kikof bifnei adam”).

  55. “If the lady is actually a betulah, then even if she is a ba’alat teshuvah, she can obviously marry a kohen. ”

    I don’t know why you limit this to betulah. It would seem that assumptions about what she has or has not done are only relevant if one doesn’t have actual information (from her). the assumptions come up because one does not always have such actual knowledge. Your previous comment suggests, I think incorrectly, that a BT cannot be trusted to report her history accurately and thus can never marry a cohen (except in the israli case you describe).

  56. this is definitely a great halachic question.
    Can a women be trusted that it was a jew and not a non-jew.

    I havent learnt the first of kesubos lately but i think not.
    since the rov ‘etslo’ are not jewish.

  57. Thank you, Emma, for the excellent question. Indeed you are correct that Tosafot to Pesachim 4b (s.v. heim’nuhu Rabbanan bidi-Rabbanan) demonstrate that a lady’s testimony is trusted on all matters of issur vi-heter. Thus, the hashgachah of a lady is always trusted (and indeed, anyone who eats his mother’s home cooking is obviously relying on the righteous testimony of a lady).
    However, there is an exception to the trustworthiness of a mashgi’ach (or mashgichah, as the case may be): where the mashgi’ach experiences a vested interest to testify falsely. For this reason, (at least in my city of Montreal, and I assume it is the same with other Jewish communities) a Jewish restaurant owner cannot be his own mashgi’ach, since the vested interest he experiences to claim that the food is kosher (in order to receive money from paying customers) disqualifies his testimony.

  58. Thank you, Aaron, for illuminating our eyes with the source. It is indeed the first chapter of Ketubot (13b).

  59. Someone whose father is muchzak that he was a kohen is himself bchezkat kohen.ReMA and Bet Shmuel on Even HaEzer 3:6 says that chazaka is enough for a kohen to be given first aliya, duchenen and even truma and challa bzman hazeh. The ReMa learns kal vechomer that since bet din will accept chazakah for skila,it is certainly accepted in defining who is a Kohen. Also a son who srikes his father and is chayav skilla, we only know that he is really his father from chazaka (Rambam, issurei bia 1:20). Now that genetic paternity tests are very reliable there are poskim who are considering using them on a number of issues/ I think it is only a matter of time before these tests will be considered a “slam dunk”
    As for pidyon ha-ben to require pidyon from more than one kohen is problematic;there would be no end to it. The obligation does not come from the kohen. If it did perhaps we would say hamotzi mechavero alav ha ra’aya.But since it is the obligation of the father lifdot he doesn’t have to ask the kohen for a raaya and chazakah is enough.

  60. I still think at the end of the day (as does kohen.co.il) that it is important to realize that “kohanim” today are probably not kohanim.
    Yaakov Emden says a kohen should give the pidyon money back even bedieved since it could be geneiva.

  61. While there are websites like kohen.co.uk there are other ones like cohen-levi.org which say the following:

    1) a kohen should be treated with the utmost respect completely independence of his personal qualities.
    2) kohanim should help other kohanim before helping other Jews because they have a special bond for each other.
    3) a kohen should get charity before a regular Jew.
    4) a regular Jew should not marry the daughter of a kohen.
    5) one must ask a kohen for permission before taking the better part at a meal or sitting in the front seat of a car etc.
    6) they offer business help for kohanim and offer separate learning programs for kohanim.
    7) A kohen should not be lenient and should stand for for his rights as a kohen if a regular Jew does not afford him such rights.

    Is there any excuse for this?

  62. Just to clarify further: Similar to the caveat articulated earlier regarding the modern state of Israel, I could envisage a hypothetical community which is not exactly “frum” (e.g. people drive to synagogue on Shabbat, make Kiddush in synagogue between Mussaf and Minchah on Yom Kippur [-even when there isn’t a cholera epidemic], etc.), but where there is so much ethnic chauvinism that it would be unthikable for a Jew of that community to socialize with a Noahide. Seemingly, in such a situation, there would be no problem with a ba’alat teshuvah marrying a kohen, since there is a chezkat hanhagah (as distinct from a chezkat kashrut) that under no circumstances does a lady in that community cohabit with a non-Jew. [For an explanation of the difference between chezkat kashrut and chezkat hanhagah, see introduction to R. Bleich’s Contemporary Halakhic Problems V. There we are informed that the dispute between R. Henkin and R. Feinstein over the status of common law unions depends upon the conceptualization of “chazakah ein adam oseh be’ilato” as being a chezkat kashrut (as R. Feinsein believed) vs. a chezkat hanhagah (as R. Henkin believed). Thus, a lady who was always observant from birth can marry a kohen because of a chezkat kashrut; whereas a ba’alat teshuvah who was at least culturally chauvinistic from birth can marry a kohen (if my hypothesis is correct; I stand to be corrected) because of a chezkat hanhagah.] However, I really don’t know the sociological facts as to whether such a hypothetical community (which is not “frum” but which is culturally chauvinistic) actually exists. A moreh hora’ah obviously should be consulted for any practical guidance.

  63. Shalom Spira, are you confirming that it is your opinion that if it is true that the majority of nonobervant women are not cohen-qualified, then no BT woman may marry a cohen, regardless of the BT’s own statements? I have never heard this lehalachah, and question whether it is so. (Aside from the issues of how it accounts for demographic varieties among BTS – those who grew up relatively affiliated vs. not, who became BT in high school vs. college vs. later, etc.)
    Further, how does it fit with your position re: betulah? Do you contend that the latter is physically verifiable? (Dubious, at least if “bogeret kalu betulehah” is for real, and not to mention mukat ets.) Even if it is verifiable, the position that one must actually physically verify, as opposed to relying on the woman’s report, seems somewhat shocking and is not, to my knowledge, practiced by anyone. Please explain. (I am pushing this because, as mentioned above, there is a lot of misinformationon this topic and I would not want anyone to walk away with extra stringencies in an area that is already challenging.)

  64. you answered part of my question while i was writing it.)
    still. why would the reality have to be that all women in the community avoid disqualifying relationships, rather than that most do? we rely on “most” for the chazakah of “kosher” women, some of whom have, undoubtedly, had relations with nonjews (lets say nonconsensual so as not to cast aspersions).

    I will add that my empirical experience is that there are definitely such chauvenistic norms in certain non-observant circles. However, determining whether a woman comes from such circles will often itself depend on her testimony, hence the question returns to its place.

  65. R’DT said -As for pidyon ha-ben to require pidyon from more than one kohen is problematic;there would be no end to it.

    I’ve always wondered about the story about the GRA continually being podeh himself, iirc he is reported to have stopped when he met a rapaport but why is their chazakah halachically any better????????-

    listen here:Rabbi Michael Taubes – Yichos Kohanim Today: http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/735539/Rabbi_Michael_Taubes/Yichos_Kohanim_Today


  66. yes they also have it on kohen.co.uk

  67. Thank you, Emma, for the clarifying points on this halakhic subject. Indeed, the ba’alat teshuvah lady’s own testimony cannot be accepted because she is a “noga’at badavar” (i.e. she has a vested interest; she would like to receive kiddushin from the kohen). Moreover, the testimony of people around the ba’alat teshuvah (e.g. family and friends) is equally meaningless, since “there is no stewardship to testify about cohabitation” (ein apotropos la’arayot), as per the gemara in Ketubot 13b. It is only a chazakah which is powerful enough to allow a lady to marry a kohen. The conventional chazakah would be a chezkat kashrut; i.e. where the lady was observant from birth. Otherwise, if she is a ba’alat teshuvah, she seemingly needs to marry a non-kohen. Still, as discussed, I could theoretically see the argument advanced that in a place like the state of Israel (and perhaps elsewhere? – I honestly don’t know the facts) there might be so much social apartheid between Jews and Noahides that a chezkat hanhagah exists that the lady never socialized with a Noahide. But I don’t know for sure; this hypothesis of mine needs verification by poskim.
    Regarding verification of the ba’alat teshuvah being a betulah, you are correct that the ba’alat teshuvah cannot herself be believed. Rashi to Ketubot 36b (s.v. “umar’ot li’iman”) says that the mother is a “poseket” to conduct a professional examination of her child to determine the halakhic status of her child.

  68. Shalom Spira, are you aware of poskim (other than yourself, if you are one) who hold this position?

    I know many cohanim and BTs and I have never heard any of them state that a cohen categorically may not marry a BT, or that a BT must undergo a physical examination.

    The citation from Ketubot is of marginal relevance, as it is talking about a different halachic status that depends on the physical situation rather than the woman’s history. Further it’s not clear to me that such an examination would be effective, even according to that gemara, for a bogeret. I don’t contest that such exams are sometimes theoretically possible and halachically effective, but again I have never heard of anyone requiring them in the cohen context.

    Your statement that “It is only a chazakah which is powerful enough to allow a lady to marry a kohen” is also perplexing. All (or essentially all) jewish-born women are born kohen elligible. The issue is that there may be a new chazakah for some sorts of women that by a certain age they have done things that remove their from-birth eligibility. but it seems backwards to say that one needs an affirmative chazakah of “kashrus” to maintain the kohen-elligible status with which one is born.

  69. As a further hypothetical insight, it seems to me that the question of whether one could rely on an “ethnically chauvinistic” community to allow marriage of a ba’alat teshuvah to a kohen might possibly (though not necessarily; I stand to be corrected) depend upon a dispute between R. Moshe Feinstein in IM YD 1:54 and R. Yom Tov Halevi Schwarz in the latter’s Ma’aneh La’iggerot no. 107. R. Feinstein reports that he was asked in Moscow in 5694 (1933-1934) whether an observant Jew can rely on non-frum relatives to feed him kosher food. The non-frum relatives are disqualified in terms of testimony, but the observant Jew knows (based on the chauvinism and love that exists within a family) that his non-frum relative would never trick him into eating non-kosher. R. Feinstein marshals evidence from Ketubot 85a that the non-frum relative can be trusted. That position is challenged by R. Schwarz. R. Feinstein’s responsum is available here:
    R. Schwarz’ countervailing responsum is available here:
    (commencing on p. 258 of the PDF)

  70. Joseph Kaplan

    “A kohen should not be lenient and should stand for for his rights as a kohen if a regular Jew does not afford him such rights.”

    I know many kohanim (starting with my own family) and I don’t really know any who “stand for their rights.” To the contrary, most are just fine with it if they are not afforded their rights (e.g., if someone else is asked to lead bentching) and, indeed, are more than happy to be mochel their rights if asked. Notwithstanding false stereotypes, we’re really a very laid back and friendly group. Why, even Nachum and I get along famously. :-)

  71. I have heard of one wife of a kohen who insisted on her husband/sons “rights” to be served first, etc. It sounded like a powerplay between her and other women (though i think she claimed the husband wanted it but was embarassed to ask), but i would also note that if women are sold on the idea that a kohen is a “better” shidduch then some of the insecure ones will seek to enforce their supposed vicarious superiority.

    In general, I see the (so far mostly rhetorical) move towards more kohen-privileges as (1) a side-effect of certain forms of messianism and (2) a backlash against liberal individualism and the enlightenment generally. “Western” society has move further and further away from defining social status based on immutable characteristics (race, sex) toward a model of egalitarian interactions in which everyone can, in theory, be or do anything. Those opposed to parts of this agenda, for example those who still see sex as a immutable characteristic that defines what one may aspire to, may gravitate towards other status-based rules as a form of rebellion.

  72. As an aside I would like to mention another point.
    If a woman is not a virgin must her groom be told.
    According to the minchas yitschak he is not allowed to be fooled.
    But according to the ‘yaziv’, the Klausenberg rebbe (who had one in his familty) she can be fooled.
    The cohen.co site which i originally mentioned has since deleted RMF tshuva on the matter.

  73. MiMedinat HaYam

    re: a cohen standing up for his rights:

    i recall the emergency “parnassim’ ( = board of directors) meeting in 1825 on sat nite (approx this time of the year; i.e., beginning of breshit) re: a cohen (may have been a levi) who refused to donate the requisite “shilling” (yes, british money in post revolutionary times) after his aliyah. he was thrown out of the synagogue that nite, and went on to form bnai yeshurun, the first breakaway minyan / shul (in america).

    obviously, this wasnt the main reason for the breakaway synagogue, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    2. a woman is believed alone that she is a “pnuya”, but not believed alone that she can marry a cohen? (I know –“peh she’assar hu peh she’hitir”, but that applies here too.)

    to shalom shira:

    thank you for giving me smicha. i’ll decline, for now. but i must also thank you for the online reference to the ma’ane.

  74. MiMedinat HaYam

    to aron:

    RMF says she must tell her betrothed, but another tshuva says she (they) dont have to tell the mesader kiddushin (Q: how does he know how to write up the ktuba?)

    re: the divrei yatziv — i assume you are saying “he” can be fooled. but isnt that a “mekach ta’ut” if he wants to divorce her against her will, and without her ktuba? even without her getting a get as of right (per rambam, SA, on “mekach ta’ut”?)

  75. My rav used to not let me pass things to him directly- I needed to put them down before he picked them up. I was more embarrassed than anything, but it’s a nice gesture.

    I’m more than happy to mochel birkat hamazon. It irks me a lot more to mochel the first aliyah, but I do it without fuss if asked. (I happen to be conveniently in the hallway when they call up the oleh.)

  76. By the way, Joseph, I do hope we can get along. You know a kohen can’t duchan if he isn’t at peace with everyone in the shul? In fact, he’s not supposed to borrow a tallit, because then he “owes” someone (or the shul) something. That’s why I started wearing my own, although unmarried. (That and pashut hichot tzitzit.) I think this means the kohen vis a vis the kehillah, but I’ll extend it to fellow kohanim. So I hope we duchan together soon.

  77. i think without at the moment remembering kesubot its only a mekach tous if he doesnt sleep with her. Once he does its counted as mechila.

  78. 4) a regular Jew should not marry the daughter of a kohen.
    who made this up and why.

  79. Thank you, Emma, for the kind words, which are much appreciated. I would describe myself as a student and not a posek. Here’s a shiur from R. Bleich where, at 43:40-45:00 into the lecture, he opines that a ba’alat teshuvah cannot marry a kohen:
    However, it’s a quick discussion, so it doesn’t necessarily refute the caveats I have suggested (1- if lady is certified by her mother to be a betulah; 2- if lady comes from a community of social apartheid).
    You are correct that every Jewish lady of typical yichus is born eligible to a marry kohen. That is because every Jew has a chezkat kashrut. However, if a Jew has abandoned Torah observance, he has lost his chezkat kashrut, and then the rule that “there is no stewardship to testify regarding cohabitation” (Ketubot 13b) becomes relevant (unless contradicted by one of the two caveats I have suggested).
    R’ Mimedinat Hayam, thank you for the excellent question. Yes, a lady has a “chezkat penuyah”. But she does not have a chazakah that she is able to marry a kohen, when contradicted by Ketubot 13b.
    Bli neder, I’ll look more into this important halakhic question.

  80. MiMedinat HaYam

    aron 7:02

    it would be mechilah if he slept with her once he finds out.

    (IGM the homosexual husband — if the wife lived with him once, after finding out, she cannot claim mekach ta’ut; a major fallacy of the rackman bet din. didnt realize it is based on the gemara you cite.)

    but the examples cited by the rambam and SA (not putting makeup, etc) dont seem to have a time limit.

    perhaps the claims used against yibum (“ma’is aulai”) would control. requires research.

  81. lawrence kaplan

    aaron: There is such a view mentioned in the poskim (I foget where– the Rema?), but the Hazon Ish in a letter dismisses it.

    Shalom: A prominent Rav in Montreal, whom both you and I know, stated that rabbis will NOT ask a baalat teshuvah who wishes to marry a kohen if she ever slept with non-Jew, since they don’t want to hear the answer. It’s “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

  82. Joseph Kaplan

    “So I hope we duchan together soon.”

    It would be my pleasure (and this time no smiley face).

  83. aaron:

    I am not implying that people today who claim to be Kohanim have geiva, I am discussing their lack of a right to demand any of these things in the first place. kidashto has improperly replaced darchei shalom. the fact is that people have what to be maskim on and not honor a kohanim at all in addition to make servile use of them.

  84. I suppose people have to follow their minhagim. while this in itself is debatable, as a group the tzibur can change a minhag. this is more of a theoretical argument, though regardless of act people should know these people who claim to be kohanim are probably not kohanim.

  85. i didn’t hear r bleich say that in the section you mentioned ( I didn’t listen to the entire shiur, just the few minutes you noted). If anything, the implication is the opposite, but he didn’t really say. He said that baalei teshuva call re shidduchim and tell him right away they are not for a kohen, i.e. that they are aware of this problem, and he would only ask if the prospective date/chassan is a kohen (I say the implication is the opposite – because why would he ask if the suggested chosson is a kohen – if alll bt are assurot to kohanim, why ask? It sounds like he would ask about their history before setting them up with a kohen. However, it’s an aside and not really clear, and I suppose he might ask if they are bt only if the date is a kohen. it’s not really clear, though again, it sounds that he is saying that you only *investigate* if the date/chosson is a kohen, not that the bt is not trusted. again it’s not clear. But where did you hear him say otherwise, that the bt is a nogaat bedavar and not trusted? I didn’t hear him say that. I really don’t see how you can deduce that from what he said(please clarify, thanks).

  86. ” I suppose he might ask if they are bt only if the date is a kohen.

    i.e. I suppose that in this aside, he may have meant that if the prospective date/chosson is a kohen, then he would ask if the girl is a bt. However, it sounds like he knows that they are bt, and he woudl only ask their history if the date is a kohen. it’s not entirely clear because he begins by saying the bt call and say “not for a kohen,” and it’s not clear if he knows they are bt until they say that….

  87. I would suggest that a person is normally believed unless you have proof to the contrary. If a BT says she is ‘kosher’ for a kohen, as long as she knows the ‘rules’ she is. It is no different to saying food is kosher, or being believed on niddus.
    Therefore its enough for the rabbi to tell a BT the rules. It is not up to him to ask her for her history.
    About the kesuba, there are tshuvos about it.
    As an aside, all kesubos today are anyway posul since no one knows what is written there or the amounts of money involved. Not the mesader not the eidim not the choson.
    When it comes to a get there is no uniform amount, all botei din have differing amounts. This makes the kesuba posul in the first place.
    No one knows the origin of 200 ‘zekukim’. Mentioned in tosfos beginning of hazohov and in chumash ‘esrim kosef’ . which are German deutchmark. About 250/280 gram silver each.
    Since no one knows this they are posul.

  88. Aaron-

    “As an aside, all kesubos today are anyway posul”

    This is rediculous. (and untrue)

    Ari Enkin

  89. Yisrael @2:56-

    There is basis for most of this stuff, though point #4 is missing addittional considerations.

    Again — this is fundamental halacha that is on the whole, for whatever reason, dormant.

    Ari Enkin

  90. Ketubot certainly aren’t pasul in Israel, where they are binding legal documents.

    The story about people pretending to be kohanim so as to be able to perform pidyonei haben is one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard, by the way.

    So, yisroel, still on your campaign to pasel every kohen. Tell me- do you walk out during birkat kohanim? Do you say amen?

  91. Lawrence Kaplan

    Rabbi Enkin: Hmmm. “Fundamental halakhah that is, for whatever reason, dormant.” Now, what other areas can we apply this notion to? How about starting with women and serrarah?

  92. R’ Lawrence-

    Yup. It’s a loose canon.


  93. “The story about people pretending to be kohanim so as to be able to perform pidyonei haben is one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard, by the way.”

    Nachum, what is silly is your 2010 perspective applied to a 1910 world. You haven’t a clue.

  94. I’m with Nachum…

    Ari Enkin

  95. It’s silly because Pidyon Haben simply doesn’t happen that often. And because the kohein doesn’t keep the money. And because it’s five bucks. And because a prominent kohein is often chosen. And because these people were usually living with people from their town who knew the truth. (Indeed, we were told by someone who remembers my grandfather duchaning back in Europe.) And because there’s no evidence of it whatsoever. I could go on, but it’s simply ridiculous. You’d make a lot more money claiming to be a rav and getting to officiate at funerals.

  96. I’m with Nachum too. I did a pidyon haben this year and it was my first one in about a decade. When my (non-kohen) nephew and his wife had first born boy earlier this year, I was beaten out by my uncle, and he told me it was his foirst one in quite a while too. It just doesn’t happen that often. So to think that someone would pretend to be a kohen so that once every decade they could make $5, even when $5 was real money (think Everett Dirkson) really does sound silly. Of course, if there is some real evidence that this happened, it would be a different story, but I haven’t seen any evidence, just supposition.

  97. I don’t have any authoritive answers to whether a BT woman should be believed about her history or not, but here’s what BT seminaries, at least the Charadi American ones in Jerusalem that I know, do practically. Before their girls start dating, someone quietly asks them if they can date a Kohen or not. Then if they say they can’t, they simply aren’t set up on any dates with Kohenim.

    From the information I had as of a couple of years ago (B’H I’m now married). That restriction severly limits the pool, to the point that most BT Kohenim spend most of their time dating FFB’s. It makes things extremely difficult for guys over 30.

  98. “It’s silly because Pidyon Haben simply DOESN’T happen that often.”

    I am so glad you use the present tense — “doesn’t” — proving my point that you’re discussing this from a 2010 perspective, with little appreciation for 1910 history.

    About 2 millions Jews emigrated from Europe to the U.S. between 1880 and 1920. These Yiddish speaking Jews were very cognizant of tradition. Intermarriage was still a shonda, civil marriage was a rarity and Jewish law and tradition (while fading) still informed every aspect of the common immigrant’s life…including Bris Milah and Pidyon Haben.

    Maintaining traditional European birthrates of 4-6 children per family (not the 2 that became common in post-war America) there was a mini-baby boom, which generation would, of course, give birth to the even larger population of post-WWII baby boomers. As such, in the early 1900s first-born males were in the THOUSANDS in the Jewish communities of first settlement (mostly New York City). Ergo, no less so than bris milah, pidyon haben was quite common.

    Insofar as the purchasing power of money, in 1910 $.04 (4 cents) had the purchasing power of today’s $1.00. Conversely, $1.00 in 1910 was equivalent to about $25.00 today…no small change to a lower east side tenement Jew.

    So I insist that comparing pidyon haben in 2010 to 1910 is what’s silly.

  99. Shua and Others.

    I actually made this point first above about Pidyon Haben. I’m afraid I’m still with the rest of the folks here who think the pidyon haben money angle is ridiculous. For starters, you seem to have conceded that if we were to try to justify this based on the frequencies we observe today, that you would have no argument. So your staking your, frankly stubborn, insistance on this point on your arguments for why it might (you have no idea really) have been different in 1910. Let’s look at those arguments (in no particular order):

    1) “Insofar as the purchasing power of money, in 1910 $.04 (4 cents) had the purchasing power of today’s $1.00. Conversely, $1.00 in 1910 was equivalent to about $25.00 today…no small change to a lower east side tenement Jew.”

    Frankly I think the inflation angle is irrelevant becasue if I and my fellow skeptics here are correct, pidyon haben is – and always was – too infrequent to have been a motivating factor for anyone to change his name and fabricate a kohein status But even in your your formulation, you extrapolate that $1.00 in 1910 is like $25.00 today which you then conclude was “…no small change to a lower east side Jew”. But you projected BACKWARDS. It’s $25.00 TODAY, not in 1910, and today and ocassional $25.00 once every few years at best wouldn’t make anyone cghange their name.

    2) “About 2 millions Jews emigrated from Europe to the U.S. between 1880 and 1920. These Yiddish speaking Jews were very cognizant of tradition. Intermarriage was still a shonda, civil marriage was a rarity and Jewish law and tradition (while fading) still informed every aspect of the common immigrant’s life…including Bris Milah and Pidyon Haben.” Maintaining traditional European birthrates of 4-6 children per family (not the 2 that became common in post-war America) there was a mini-baby boom, which generation would, of course, give birth to the even larger population of post-WWII baby boomers. As such, in the early 1900s first-born males were in the THOUSANDS in the Jewish communities of first settlement (mostly New York City). Ergo, no less so than bris milah, pidyon haben was quite common.

    The absolute size of any given population cohort is completely independent of the pidyon haben rate. Each couple can only produce a maximum of one pidyon haben. All that is relevant is the percentage of total first births that produce a pidyon haben. And I don’t believe that has changed much over two or three generations. Yes there are more c-sections now, but there were far more miscarriages and stillbirths back then. So that’s probably a wash. Moreover, if the pouplation was larger than there was a proportuinately larger supply of kohanim ro go around as well as well.

    There is therfore very good justification for beliveing that the number of pidyion haben’s to go around for any one kohein was just as miniscule then as it is now.

  100. Cohen beat me to it: You could ten kids per family and there still would be only one bechor (if that). But more importantly:

    “These Yiddish speaking Jews were very cognizant of tradition”

    Actually, they weren’t. You should read Ruth Gay’s “Unfinished People.” Many if not most were young with minimal Jewish education. (There’s a reason the vast majority of them didn’t stay religious and why their grandchildren or children were no longer even nominally Orthodox.) If you pause to think about it, you’d realize that Pidyon HaBen, as infrequent as it is, was probably one of the first things to disappear.

    The simple fact is that the percentage of Kohanim and Leviim in the general population (about ten percent each) is just about exactly what you’d expect it to be. Saying things like the two of you have about how 90% of Kohanim aren’t is simply nonsensical and motzei la’az on kesherim.

  101. By the way, let me point out that Shua is stating that Jewish immigrants to America were, by and large, fine frum people.

    Apart from the ancestors of kohanim of today.


  102. “I don’t have any authoritive answers to whether a BT woman should be believed about her history or not, but here’s what BT seminaries, at least the Charadi American ones in Jerusalem that I know, do practically. ”

    Yes, in practice BT women definitely are believed. The question of halachic justifications for that is an interesting one, I suppose.

    In other news, did anyone else listen to the R. Bleich clip (which I agree is ambiguous but certainly susceptible to the understanding that he meant “all BTs know they can’t marry a kohen” literally) and notice that a talmid asks, apparently in all seriousness, whether women who go to college are across the board cohen-invalidated? I am aware that this psak is out there, but the idea that it circulates among men who themselves go to college is really gross.

  103. MiMedinat HaYam

    for some unexplained reason, most non religious jews in america (?rest of world?) pretty much kept up the custom / ritual of brit milah, but not pidyon haben . prob because its not a “popular” ritual / custom, as opposed to brit, and most irreligious jews prob never heard of it because its so “rare”.

    historically speaking.

    2. most BT girls are told to consult with a rav re: their status for cohanim. and even there, its basically a dont ask, dont tell. unless the young man (or his family) want to know.

    3. the 200 (or 100) zuz is wortless. basically, its value is a year’s living expenses. call it one year alimony. the difference between various batei din in its value is at what comfort level this 200/100 zuz should be.

    in israel, its different. (i was once an eid at a weddding, where the groom offered one million shekel tzamud. the mesader kiddushin (a VERY prominent rav) said that’s making a joke of the whole thing, making it wortless. (i later found out the groom (and the bride) may very well have been capable of such numbers.))

    my argument above, was just to point out that “mekach taut” makes the wife inelgible for the ktuba, emphasizing her ineligibilty to demand a get.

  104. I thank Mori ViRebbi R. Kaplan for the ma’aseh rav. Thanks also to my interlocutors for their insightful analysis of the audio clip. Maybe it is ambiguous, and maybe I’m misinterpreting it. My interpretation of the audio clip stems from the point Emma raised. I.e. R. Bleich says that observant Jewish ladies who have gone to college have a chezkat kashrut and so they can marry a kohen. The implication of R. Bleich is that a ba’alat teshuvah who attended college cannot marry a kohen. [I don’t think attending college per se is the decisive factor. Attending college was only raised by the questioner because there was a “hava amina” that maybe righteous ladies cease being righteous in college. Says R. Bleich: no, they’re always presumed righteous, including in college. But whether college or no college, a ba’alat teshuvah will face the issue posed by Ketubot 13b, unless contradicted by one of the two caveats I suggested.] I don’t know for sure; I’m just offering an intepretation, lihagdil torah uliha’adirah.

  105. I did not interpret it that way AT ALL -what he says about college is irrelevant to the issue here. He said that the bt women volunteer the information “not for a kohen” when he would only ask if he was setting them up with a kohen (I agree it’s not entirely clear what he would only ask – whether they are bt, or whether their history invalidates them for a kohen, it sounds like the latter, but it’s unclear).
    The question about college is if there is a chazaka that a woman who went to college is not kosher for a kohen, and R Bleich dismisses that. But this doesn’t address the issue of whether one needs only to ask the bt re her history and trust her, or whether she can’t be trusted. A non-bt needn’t be asked, EVEN if she went to college. Going to college is not a reason to raise the question. A Bt – there is reason to question. This doesnt’ speak to the issue of whether the woman bt is trusted, once you need to ask. R Bleich simply asserts that it’s ridiculous to question the chazaka of a frum woman simply b/c she went to college. But your point is not simply that there is no chazaka for a bt that she can marry a kohen (i think r bliech agrees), but also that she is a nogaat bedavar and cant be trusted – this latter is what’s at issue. I don’t see how you can determine that r bleich says this – as I said it’s unclear, but to me he sounds like he is saying to ask and she can be trusted.
    But why doesnt someone simply ask him, rather than us speculate about what he meant in this aside?

    emma – i noticed – it’s absurd. I suspect the question about college was a “put-up” question, to see if they could get a controversial answer.

  106. Again, there are two issues – whether the woman has a chezkat kashrut, (no need to ask) and whether once asked, the woman is believed.
    But it does at minimum sound as though r bliech doesn’t agree with “Don’t ask, don’t tell” – he is saying to ask something.

    I just didn’t understand from what he said that the woman, once asked, is not believed.

  107. “emma – i noticed – it’s absurd. I suspect the question about college was a “put-up” question, to see if they could get a controversial answer.”

    I’ll grant it was likely not an entirely straightfaced question, but the talmid also says that he heard this floating around when he was “there” in college. In other words, men who themselves go to college (but who, i presume, are not all sleeping with “shiksas”) have the gall to entertain the possibility amongst themselves that the women in their exact position are automatically posul. it’s worse than absurd; it shows a fundamental disrespect for women in general and educated women in particular. (I am not speaking of this talmid in particular but of the environment in which such discussions are taken even remotely seriously.)

  108. Lawrence Kaplan

    Bloggers have forgotten the dilemma of the BT kohen. Unfortunately, in many circles he will be fixed up only with women BT. But, particularly according to R. Spira, they will be posul. So whom, then, should he marry?

  109. Well, thank God we don’t pasken like R. Spira.

    Let’s just point out that the main, if not only problem here, is sex with a non-Jew. It’s helpful to remember that polls continually inform us the general population isn’t quite as promiscuous as we think it is. So let’s be dan l’kaf zechut and assume that the woman in question is part of what is at least a significant minority, especially if she’s of the type who became frum?

    MeMedinat, million shekel (or even dollar) ketubot are actually common among Israeli Sepharadim. (A neighbor of mine from Queens who lives in Israel, father American Ashkenazi, mother Israeli Bukharan, wife Israeli Yemenite- ahhh, Israel- had one at his wedding. He could afford it, not that he should have to.) According to R’ Rakeffet, it’s a nice gesture and one that makes divorce a good deal more intimidating/difficult/impossible if you can’t afford it.

  110. Being one of the women whose fate is debated here, I always wondered why there is no forgiveness, no possibility of a new start. It seems to me that the concept of teshuva i.e. recognizing errors, regretting and becoming better is such an important concept in Judaism. So why this eternal punishment? So you made a mistake once in your life, many years ago and now you are halachically a whore forever (as this is the literal translation of zonah). It makes me very sad…

  111. Chaya:

    This isn’t the only place this happens; mamzerut is the most famous example (and even more sad, as the mamzer did nothing him- or herself). But that’s halakha.

    Fortunately, that’s theoretical. In practice, as we’ve been discussing here, it need not come up.

    But don’t think in terms of “whore.” The word “zonah” as used here does not mean that at all. The Shulchan Aruch is quite explicit that it does not. The fact that a divorcee or chalutza or giyoret can’t marry a kohein in no way reflects badly on her; nor should it for a “zonah.” It’s a reflection of the status of the kohein.

  112. MiMedinat HaYam

    clarification — i think the “dont ask dont tell” policy refers to the promiscuity issue, not the non jew issue.

    one is “subjective”, one is cut and dry.

    and the criteria for promiscuous is being with anybody, with no restrictions. i think the societal (secular) rule is many partners at one time.

  113. emma – you have a point. it’s a particularly absurd question for a YU guy to ask….I mean, a YU guy thinks a girl who went to college loses her chezkat kashrut?! what does modern orthodoxy stand for again…

  114. MeMedinat, there’s no halakhic distinction as you make it. A woman can be as promiscuous as possible- she can be a literal prostitute- and still be mutar to a kohein. Again, this is explicit in the Shulchan Arukh. The only disqualifier is sex with someone she’s not allowed to marry- not just a non-Jew, but incest, adultery, etc.

    There’s also no distinction in “don’t ask don’t tell” as you say. It’s meaningless for the “promiscuity,” which is not a halakhic category as I just wrote, and so only applies to the non-Jewish issue.

  115. ‘3. the 200 (or 100) zuz is wortless. basically, its value is a year’s living expenses. call it one year alimony. the difference between various batei din in its value is at what comfort level this 200/100 zuz should be3. ‘

    No this is not the case. How much the 200 zuz is, 10 times pidyon haben not in question at all.
    The problem why I claim all ketubos are posul and so far no one has offered a reason why they are kosher is the ‘zekukim’.
    This has a well defined value as I have previously quoted, but no rabbonim or botei din are aware of it.

  116. Wow, that’s amazing. An anonymous blogger has thought of something that no halakhic authority has ever considered.

    By the way, I have no idea how you get to “ten times pidyon haben.”

  117. 200 zuz equals 50 shekel equal 10 times 5 shekel of pidyon haben

  118. Now regarding the zekukim.
    I have not thought of something that no halachik authority has thought of.
    all modern seforim about getting married like nitei gavriel say it.
    It is the old fashioned rabbonim and dayanim who dont use them who dont know it.
    I have spoken to the ashlag rebbe, to R Stern of benei brak who has written a sefer on ketuba and does mention it. they and others tell me they just dont know what to say.

  119. They do give figures of 250/280 gram per zokuk. This is because in germany each town had its own mint and they werent all the same.
    They dont say where they get their figures from, but if you learn chazon ish and midos umashkelos you will find it there as well.
    I have said nothing new at all. tosfos says a zokuk is a mark not me.
    I contend that in tosfos time if one heard the ketuba being read he would know that 200 zokuk meant mark and would know what that is.
    today when no one knows, certainly not the elder rabbobim who are mesader kiddushin and dayanim at a get i consider all ketubas posul. Just saying its untrue isnt good enough. On a blog like this one expects reasons as well. i have given my reasons why its posul because its like chaspa bealma if no one knows whats there.
    see also cheshev hoefoid 90 whose whole beth din signs that they have no idea.
    If someone writes a shtar and has no idea what is written there and does not sign himself in choshen mishpat it is posul this is no different.

  120. Thank you for posting this article. The genetic testing of kohanim is also only at best 22% according to the newest study (that’s even if you do not take the “challal” possibility into consideration). So it is a genetic impossibility that the majority of people who claim to be kohanim today actually descend from the same person.

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