THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
On Priestly Restrictions (And Minding One's Own Business)
This week I address a complex question posed by a Talmid with a bit too much time on his hands. Due to the delicate nature of the question, I have taken the liberty to modify some of the original text in order to respect personal privacy.
The Talmid writes:
I am a devoted Talmid. I recently learned that the President of my shul is a Kohain married to a Gerusha. Initially, the Kohain divorced his first wife and the Gerusha divorced her first husband. Both couples lived in our community. After the divorce, the Kohain and the Gerusha began a relationship, but couldn’t get married under Jewish law.
Eventually, the Kohain wanted to be frummer and so he shopped different Bais Dins until he found one that would grant an appropriate psak that would allow them to marry. The Bais Din found a premise upon which the woman’s first marriage could be annulled. No longer a Gerusha, they wed.
What I don’t understand is how the gerusha can be married to the Kohain, and how he can then be President of the shul? Even if the psak is legit and she’s not a gerusha, they had a relationship prior to the wedding, right? So he still can’t be married to her.
Please help Reb Pinky, because all the wise men of our community are baffled by this issue.
A Loyal Talmid
Well, my dearest beloved Talmid. I guess you don’t have nearly enough to keep you busy in your community, so you have to worry about the personal matters of others. Did it ever occur to you that while you spend time on the phone discussing this with your friends, your wife, out of sheer boredom, is probably being mezaneh with the mikvah lady?
But I am certain that your question is motivated by a deep concern for the well being of your community. After all, instead of focusing on: improving the quality and impact of Jewish education, raising money to make a decent Jewish education available to more students, helping the needy, helping the unemployed, helping the elderly, supporting the Jewish community, fighting sexual abuse of children in the Jewish community, improving relations with the broader American society, fighting anti-Semitism, saving the whales, or making any other organizational, intellectual or cultural contribution to the world, you identified the one issue that all communities should be focused on. Shkoiyach.
Not that the issue you raise is unimportant. After all, the next time I bring a Karban, I will want to make sure not to use your Shul president.
Now, with regard to the essence of your question, there are a number of components that require a deep halachic perspective. The first, or course, are the marital restrictions placed by the Toirah on the Koihanim, the male priestly class. How should the biblical instructions be implemented in a world defined by shades of grey?
As this question has arisen over the years, there have been multiple rabbinic approaches. The more rigid have applied a black/white screen – when in doubt, marriages are blocked or broken up, no matter the consequences on the couple or their children, and no matter how hot the woman is.
A more progressive approach relies upon a creative solution applied for centuries that is based upon the rich, diverse, and not-always-pleasant history of Klal Yisroel. As our people were cast from country to country, in and out of our dispersion over millennia, many of our customs and traditions became confused. As such, the identification of who is and who is not a Kohain in our day is not a certainty. Consequently, some rabbis permit the man and/or the male offspring of such a marriage to step down from the Kehuna and become Yisraelim. Clearly, the trade off is: Lose a couple of aliyas a year, but gain some hot, biblically frowned upon adult action. You make the call. (I already know which one I would choose. Let me give you hint; it would NOT require Birchas HaToirah, but might involve chocolate pudding.)
This third approach that you refer to in your note is unfamiliar to me. It relies upon a technical loophole not lying in an area of my Rabbinical expertise. Quite frankly, in Yeshiva, while some colleagues majored in marriage and divorce law, I did my PHD in something far more relevant to Klal Yisroel: The laws related to Tumas Kli associated with leprosy during Yoivel for those people living in the Babylonian suburbs. Shoyn.
The second component of your shaila that needs addressing is, thankfully, more straightforward. Essentially, what are the qualifications and requirements for a Shul President? Luckily, the RAMBAM in Mishneh Toirah dedicates an entire section to this topic, which is followed immediately by Hilchois Kiddush Club.
The RAMBAM specifically tells us what to look for in a Shul President. Says the RAMBAM:
(Aleph) Anyone can become a Shul President, as long as he writes a big enough check and is a respected member of the community.
(Baiz) When is this said? When the person has not been convicted of a white collar crime. But if the person has been convicted of a white collar crime, he must write a REALLY big check.
(Gimmel) A Shul President must never abuse his authority; for example, he must not have an affair with a female congregant – That is the exclusive privilege of the Rabbi.
(Daled) The Shul president should be over 30, married, and have children, so that he may know the weight of social responsibility. If the Shul is a gay synagogue, the president needn’t be married, though he must either be in a committed relationship, or share a house on Fire Island during the summer.
So, as you can see, my beloved Talmid, Chazal clearly allowed a wide range of characteristics for Shul Presidents. So the situation you raise does not go against any Halacha.
Finally, there is another point that you touched upon in your note is of great concern to me. You noted that the Kohain only decided to marry after he “wanted to become Frummer.” Are you suggesting that he should not have become Frummer? Are you suggesting that he should have continued in his self hating, traif eating, pagan lifestyle so that you and your friends would be less disturbed during one minute of announcements every week, while you and your friends are counting the seconds until you can run out to the door to know off three liters of single malt scotch? Or are you suggesting that you do not respect his Teshuvah, you Minuval?
Ich Vais, I wish I had your level of Kiddushah!
I am reminded of a famous Medrish in a Gemarrah in Baba Basrah. The Medrish tells how Rabbi Akiva entered Shamayim upon his death. At the entrance to the Aimishteh’s First Class section, Rabbi Akiva was denied entry. “But Rebboinoisheloilum,” Rabbi Akiva said, “I was one of the greatest leaders of Klal Yisroel. I organized all of Halacha into a standard order. I kept Toirah scholarship alive after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. Why can’t I go in, while you just let that schmuck Rabbi Meir in ahead of me?”
Hakadoshboruchhu looked back at Rabbi Akiva, and, with a glint in His eye, He said, “Rabbi Akiva, you disappoint Me – all of My Toirah that you learned wasn’t reward enough? Why don’t you spend 1,000 years sitting in Economy Class, right between a garbage man from Tiveriah and a prostitute from Beer Sheva.
So, my beloved Talmid, my very simple advice to you: Next time you are in Shul, please spend a little less time looking up on the Bimah at the President, and a little more time looking over into the ladies section at the fresh talent. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be the next person in the community to get a little biblically frowned upon hot adult action.
Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess