Parshat Emor opens with Hashem saying to Moshe, ?speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron and say to them, let him not defile himself with the dead among his people. Except for the dead among his kin to whom he is closely related... he may be defiled.? (Vayikra, perek 21, p?sukim 1, 2; ?closely related? here means a mother, father, son, daughter, brother or virgin sister and, according to Rashi on posuk 2, including the Kohen's wife as indicated by the masculine gender used in the Hebrew word "hakawrov" for "closely related".) Parshat Emor also details who is permitted to marry and who is prohibited from marrying a Kohen.

In explaining the function of the Kohen, Shem Mishmuel relates to the kedusha of the Kohen in this way: "The job of the Kohen is to join the physical world to its 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 that joins the physical earth to Hashem. The essence of the Kohen is to join two opposite entities. Therefore, it follows that anything counter to his capacity as a "joiner" must be scrupulously avoided.

Shem Mishmuel continues by saying that the co-existence of physical and spiritual is broken at the time of death 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. Shem Mishmuel adds, in the name of the Arizal, that prior to death, a person is attacked by kochos hatumah (impure forces): "The holy soul which rests within a person can't bear to be connected with these forces and departs from the body to alleviate its discomfort. This is the moment of death." The tumah induces a split between the body and soul, which is totally opposed to the Kohen's role as unifier or "joiner." (Sefer Shem Mishmuel, Parsha Emor, pages 273-275)

Shem Mishmuel then relates the Kohen's attribute of being a unifier or a "joiner" to the subject of prohibited 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) Marriage, when functioning properly, is an arrangement where the two partners work in harmony to create the Jewish home and family -- a spiritual experience within a physical environment. Man and woman are essentially different, but a marriage binds, joins them together.

When a couple divorces, the power of divine unity is removed from them. Instead of possessing the power of unity, the divorced couple is left 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."

Shem Mishmuel refers to another gemara to explain this: "When a divorced man marries a divorced woman, there are four views from the marital bed." (Pesachim 112a) He explains that, "[f]our, the number of directions of a compass, always represents the opposite of unity -- a spreading to the four directions rather than retaining oneness. Chazal intend to tell us that, despite their remarriage, each partner has lost, through his or her divorce, the innate ability to be solely unified with one person. As such, a divorcee may not marry a Kohen."

The same, it seems, can be said for the other restrictions upon who can marry a Kohen. Just as a divorcee is not permitted to a Kohen, so too, a woman who has ever in her past been intimate with a gentile (even if only once) or a woman with the status of a Chalutza are not Kohen-eligible (Chalutza status is that of a woman whose husband has died without having had offspring with the woman in question, while the deceased husband has living


And so, the "playing field" for Kohanim has been perennially narrow. The eligibility of a woman for a Kohen narrows down to either a widow or a woman who has never married (provided that neither has anything in her past to disallow her to a Kohen). For a young Yeshiva Bucher and young Seminary girl, the problem of not being Kohen-eligible is a rare occurrence. But as a Kohen reaches his 30s, 40s or 50s and remains unmarried, or has himself been divorced and is seeking to remarry, the narrowness of the "playing field" becomes a serious malaise. In current times, with the atmosphere of the world, the distance of many Jews from Torah, the inter-marriage rate and other resultant relationships and lifestyles in which Jews have been involved, as well as the advent and growth of the Ba'al Teshuva movement, the numbers of women forbidden to Kohanim has increased. This is due to "freedom" and a multitude of relationships, heretofore unknown in Jewish circles. Added to the prohibited relationships already mentioned, we add women who are offsprings of a Jewish mother and gentile father. All of this provides serious challenges to Kohanim, through which they have difficultly navigating without patient, sensitive rabbinic resources.

Being a Kohen myself, I recall spending one whole Shavuot night, my second Shavuot in Eretz Yisrael, learning with a chaverusa the rationale behind the rabbonim ruling that the offspring of a Jewish mother and gentile father is "not from the seed of Israel" for the purposes of marriage to a Kohen. And, prior to my aliyah, back in Philadelphia, I learned permitted and forbidden relationships of Kohanim with various bucherim in the Philadelphia Yeshiva for a number of years. There are t'shuvos on these subjects by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt?l, and other gedolim - such issues as the questions of "kosher" Ketubot from non-Orthodox marriages, situations where rabbonim gave a psak allowing a divorced Ba'alat Teshuvah to marry a Kohen (because there were no offspring in the marriage), a secular marriage not actually being defined as a marriage, etc. Yet, delving into such t'shuvos, and deriving how they relate to a specific situation, are outside the realm of the abilities of most people. It seems that a psak must be ascertained only with patient rabbinic counsel.

Yet, the sad fact seems to be that many Kohanim are not receiving sufficient support, patience and guidance, either from the shadchanim or from the rabbonim. Therefore, the rate of single Kohanim appears to be reaching crisis proportions both in Israel and in Chutz L'Aretz. There are groups both in Israel and in Chutz L'Aretz that provide venues for Kohanim to meet their bashert, but they develop events only sporadically.

What we Kohanim need are serious, ongoing Kohen-oriented shidduch events and opportunities to meet Kohen-eligible women. We need for shadchanim to focus on the older single community, specifically Kohanim, and not devote their full efforts to the easily-matched young bucher and seminary girl to the exclusion of the middle-aged and Kohanim. We need the support of our most learned rabbonim to delve into the t'shuvos of the gedolim regarding Kohanim and to ascertain how, or whether, these t'shuvos play out in specific situations, whether women seemingly not Kohen-eligible, might in fact actually be eligible.

In this way, a great service and bracha can be done for Kohanim, who daily are our kli for b?rachot from Hashem.


Moshe Burt is an oleh chadash, a commentator on news and events in Israel, Founder and Administrator of the Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.