The Sha'alvim Beit Din
The Sha'alvim Beit DinSpokesperson

A young man from Bnei Brak recently paid a visit to the Religious Council in Tel Aviv in order to verify the name of his grandfather – and to his shock, discovered that his father and grandfather had apparently both been kohanim (of Priestly lineage).

Ordinarily, this would have been relevant but untroubling information – in this particular case, however, the young man was already married to a divorcee, and according to Jewish law, kohanim are forbidden to marry divorcees.

The discrepancy had apparently occurred because the father of the young man had originally recorded on his marriage certificate that he was a “Yisrael” (and not a kohen), but at some later stage, the entry had been crossed out and replaced with “Kohen.”

The young man and his wife then turned to the renowned expert in Jewish law, Rabbi Yitzhak Zilberstein, who told them to separate for the meantime, until their status could be ascertained.

The story then found its way to the ears of Rabbi Noam Amram, head of the Sha’alvim Beit Din (rabbinical court), which deals primarily with marriage-related issues. Rabbi Amram immediately realized how important it was to find a way to permit the couple (who have six children) to remain married, and he researched the issue and formulated a solution.

What Rabbi Amram discovered was that the young man’s father, who had been completely secular, had not bothered to clarify his own lineage either for his own edification or for the purpose of informing his children that they might be kohanim.

He also investigated the question according to the halachic conclusions of four main poskim (decisors): Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam, Rambam, and Ramban.

Based on the above, Rabbi Amram ruled in accordance with three of the four above mentioned poskim that the government document did not constitute halachic evidence and that it could not be used to prove that the man, or his father or grandfather, were definitely kohanim.

Rabbi Amram also noted that even in the opinion of the fourth posek, the document did not constitute evidence as it had been written and then crossed out and rewritten. In addition, there was only one signature attesting to the “Kohen” status, not the two required by Jewish law. He also noted that there exists some doubt as to whether people generally considered to be kohanim today really are kohanim, as definitive records have often not been kept.

Therefore, Rabbi Amram ruled that the young man could return to his family.