I am a Kohen

Ketubot (2:7) | Yisrael Bankier | 4 years ago

The Mishnah (2:7) teaches that if one claims that they are a kohen, they are not believed. If however an individual testifies about another, then he is believed. The Mishnah teaches that this is true even when two individuals testify about one another. Even though one might think they are colluding, they are still believed. The Mishnah that follows introduces other Tanaim that disagree with this Mishnah. Nevertheless, we shall try and understand the position presented in this Mishnah.

The Tifferet Yisrael (Boaz 1) asks why an individual is not trusted when he claims that he is a kohen. We a have a principle that ed echad ne'eman be'issurin. Broadly speaking, this means that an individual is trusted when determining whether something is prohibited, provided it was not previously prohibited. Why is this case different? He notes the suggestion that this case is different since ed echad ne'eman be'issurin is only relevant when testifying about something else, and not about oneself.1

Nevertheless, the Tifferet Yisrael still finds the Mishnah difficult. Citing the Gemara (Kiddushin 76b) we find that if someone presents themselves stating that they are kasher, they are trusted and we are not concerned that they are a mamzer. Again, he notes that one might claim that this case is different since there is a rov, a majority of non-kohanim in existence, that counters his claim.

Considering the above answer, how then is a separate single witness believed in this case at all? The Pnei Yehoshua understands that this point is behind the debate between the Rambam and Ran. The Rambam rules that when the we rule that an individual is trusted when establishing another as a kohen, this is only to allow him to eat rabbinic terumah. To eat terumah on biblical level, he would require two witnesses. The Ran however finds this difficult based on ed echad ne'eman be'issurin. The Pnei Yehoshua explains that in this case, since most people are not kohanim it is no better than when the issur has already been established and we can longer reason ed echad ne'eman be'issurin. He continues that those that argue with the Rambam understand that this case is different since it is a matter that will ultimately be revealed; the man's true identity will eventually become known anyway.2

The Chatam Sofer (EH 1:2) cites a question on the Pnei Yehoshua. Elsewhere (Kiddushin 63b) he notes that a single witness is trusted when clarify a minority from the majority. In other words, an individual is trusted when establishing the status of an item, despite the fact that the status is in the minority.3 The Chatam Sofer however argues that this case is different. In that case we know there that the minority is mixed with the majority. In our case however, even though we know the kohanim are in the minority, since we already know some kohanim, it is possible that there are no more kohanim. Consequently, in this case one cannot be considered as identifying the minority that is mixed into the majority.

Despite defending the Pnei Yehoshau, the Chatam Sofer presents a different solution. He notes that the Rambam maintains that biblical and rabbinic laws should be treated equally. It is only in cases of doubt that we rule leniently for rabbinic laws and stringently for biblical ones. Consequently, if the Rambam is only allowing the individual to eat rabbinic terumah then it must be for a different reason.

The Chatam Sofer rejects the Pnei Yehoshua argument and his own distinction that he brought in the Pnei Yehoshua's defence. He explains that once the existence of a minority has been established, an individual is believed when identifying one of the minority. In other words ed echad ne'eman be'issurin also applies in this case. Instead he cites the Haghot Maimoni who explains that the reason for the Rambam's ruling is that the Rambam maintains that we are maleh le'yuchsin – establish one's lineage for the purpose of who can marry him – based on a kohen eating biblical terumah, but not rabbinic terumah. Consequently, since we are not ma'aleh le'yuchsin based on a single witness testimony, this explains why the Rambam only allows this person to eat rabbinic terumah.


1 Even though an isha nida is trusted, despite the fact she is testifying about her own status, this is because she has the capacity to change her status and immerse in a mikveh.

The Kovetz Shiurim (22) explains in a similar manner, that ed echad ne'eman be'issurin does not apply when one is the baal davar. ע"ש

2 Note however, that they would still maintain that this logic is not enough for the subject to be trusted about his own status.

3 The case is where one claims that he betrothed his daughter to a man, and does not remember who. In that case a single witness is believed when identifying that individual.

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