A Kohen Who Discovers His Roots

Trumot (8:1) | Noam Greenberger | 17 years ago

“If [a kohen] was standing and sacrificing on the altar, and it became known that he was the son of a divorced woman or a halutzah- R. Eliezer says, all the sacrifices which he offered on the altar are invalid. But R. Yehoshua declares them valid.” (Trumot 8:1)

The first argument here is over the status that halacha attributes to the korbanot of a kohen who was proven to be the son of a divorcee and/or “chalutzah” (i.e. a woman who did not marry her late husband’s brother following his passing, where their marriage had not brought forth any children). Such a kohen is ineligible to perform the services of a kohen in the Beit Ha’Mikdash.

On an objective plane this “kohen” was never eligible to perform the services of a kohen in the Beit Ha’Mikdash, and consequently there is room to say that none of the korbanot which he brought were valid. This is the view of R. Eliezer.

On the other hand, the korbanot brought by such a “kohen” were brought at a time when this person and the society around him wholeheartedly believed that he was a kohen. It is thus possible that this artificial former reality retains the halachic validity it enjoyed before the new evidence of the kohen’s background came to light. This would mean that all the korbanot brought by the kohen before the realization of his true background retain their halachic weight even after the kohen has been dethroned. This is the view of R. Yehoshua.

The halacha, as Kehati notes, is in accordance with R. Yehoshua. The Gemara in Tractate Pesachim 72b cites the pasuk (Devarim 33:11), which relates to the tribe of Levi from which the kohanim emerged, as being the source for R. Yehoshua’s ruling:

“Bless, L-RD, his resources, and accept the work of his hands”

The Gemara in Kiddushin (66b) explains the exposition of the text to be as follows:

The father of Shmuel explains [R’ Yehoshua’s source is from the pasuk]: “Bless, L-RD, his resources (חילו), and accept the work of his hands” – implying that even the profane (חולין) are accepted.

In essence the Gemara learns out from this pasuk that even the korbanot of a kohen who is unfit to perform in the Beit Ha’Mikdash are not invalidated post facto.

However, the Gemara in Tractate Makkot (11b) raises the possibility of two understandings of the reasoning behind R. Yehoshua’s opinion.

The first understanding presented is that even once the kohen becomes aware of his true background it is as if he is “dead” regarding the kehuna (priesthood). This implies that the kohen’s former status as a kohen was “alive” and thus the korbanot he brought were valid.

The second understanding brought by the Gemara asserts that the status of the kehuna of the kohen in question following his enlightenment is “nullified.” The implication here is that the kohen is retroactively disqualified from performing services in the Beit Ha’Mikdash. According to this view the only reason that the korbanot (as opposed to other special duties) of this kohen are still considered valid is because of the special teaching learnt from the pasuk cited earlier. Fundamentally, this view proposes that the kohen in question was never a recognised kohen.

The Rambam seemingly rules according to the second understanding presented (Hilchot Beit Ha’Mikdash ):

A kohen that works and is found to be a challal, the work he performed in the past is kosher and he cannot perform any further Avodah. If he however does do any Avodah it is not profane as the pasuk states: “Bless, LORD, his resources, and accept the work of his hands” – implying that even the profane are accepted.

The Tosfot Anshei Shem writes that the Rambam rules that while an ineligible kohen (who is aware of this) may not work in the Beit Ha’Mikdash, if he does so, his work is not invalidated. This cannot follow the first understanding of R. Yehoshua’s opinion stated earlier as a “dead” kohen cannot perform work in the Beit Ha‘Mikdash. Rather the Rambam prefers the second understanding that this kohen is retroactively nullified from being a recognised kohen, yet nonetheless his work in the Beit Ha’Mikdash still has validity and is accepted. Hence, he quotes the pasuk from which this special law is learnt out.

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