Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Pure Widows

Post Parshah-Point: Emor

On most Shabbosim, the haftarah read after the weekly parshah has some type of thematic connection with that parshah. Sometimes, it doesn't directly relate to the parshah, but rather to the time of year - e.g., the haftaras for Shabbos Hagadol and Shabbos Shuva, or for the weeks before and after Tisha B'av. But it is certainly unusual for a haftarah to actually contradict its associated parshah.

However, that's just what the haftarah of Parshas Emor appears to do. The parshah specifies rules for forbidden marriages for both a regular cohen and the cohen gadol [high priest]. The former is prohibited from marrying a divorced woman [Lev 21:7] among others, but may marry a widow. The cohen gadol may not marry a widow either [21:14]. By contrast, the haftarah, from the book of Ezekiel, indicates that a cohen may not marry even a widow unless she is the widow of another priest [Ezek 44:22].

The commentators take two basic approaches to resolve this discrepancy. Rashi and Targum Yonasan, based on a gemara in Kiddushin, state that the first half of the verse in Ezekiel, which prohibits marriage to a widow, is referring to a cohen gadol, while the second half of that same verse refers to a regular cohen. Instead of reading the final phrase "...almanah asher tihyeh almanah micohen yikachu" in its plain meaning, "a widow who is widow of a cohen, he may marry", it is rendered as "a widow who is just a widow, some cohanim ["micohen"] may marry". The "some cohanim" here would mean all cohanim except for the cohen gadol!

The Radak, Vilna Gaon, and other meforshim agree that this reading does not correspond well with the language of the verse. Instead, they explain that the prophet is referring to a future time when the rules of holiness for cohanim will be expanded, such that a regular cohen will in fact only be able to marry the widow of another cohen. It is unclear why this distinction would be made, however - why the widow of a cohen should have a different marital status vis a vis another cohen.

Perhaps a third approach can be suggested based on a midrash brought down in Gemara Shabbos 56b. It is stated that the warriors of King David's army wished to avoid the risk of leaving their wives as agunos if they were missing in action and their deaths unverifiable. Therefore, before leaving for war, each soldier would give his wife a conditional get which would take effect retroactively if he were to be lost in battle and presumed dead.

Based on this, the war widows of Biblical times would actually, or at least possibly, be considered divorcees instead. Now presumably, cohanim were not included in the army, since they were not permitted to come in contact with the dead. Therefore, Ezekiel tells us, a cohen can marry only a widow whose previous husband was also a cohen, for only she can be assumed to be just a widow without any risk of also being, technically, a divorcee! In fact, perhaps the phrase "widow of a cohen" employed by Ezekiel was an idiomatic expression used in his day for "purely a widow", as opposed to "widow who may also be a divorcee". And thus, Ezekiel's statement is fully in consonance with the ruling in our parshah.

Additional Note: I developed this d'var Torah and shared it with Aaron in the hospital on our last Shabbos together, parshas Emor 5765. May his neshama find joy in its presentation here.


At 5/8/07, 11:50 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

The haftorah is exhibit A in why the chachamim considered burying Sefer Yechezkel.

I was also bothered by the final possuk. Aren't all Jews prohibited from eating "neveilah u'treifa."

One answer is that a Cohen performs melika in the Beis Hamikdash. In any other circumstances killing an animal in that fashion would render it a neveilah, so Cohanim require an extra exhortation.

Alternatively, Rabbi Shafran answered by years ago that at the time of Mashiach the Tzaddikim will partake of a meal that Hashem will make of the Shor Ha'Bor. But Hashem won't schecht this animal he will kill it. And Cohanim who are Tzaddikim will not be allowed to partake of the feast. (I'm sure that Rabbi Shafran knows the Midrash, but I have no idea where it is.)

At 5/9/07, 1:25 PM, Blogger socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Beautiful, so moving that you shared this with Aaron.

At 5/14/07, 11:16 AM, Anonymous Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz said...

A kohen cannot as a practical matter marry the widow of a nonkohen. Here is why.

1. He can only marry a widow of a nonkohen if she has children. If she did not have children, she went through Chalitzah and is treated like a divorcee (miderabbonon).

2. These children cannot eat trumah and kodshim with the rest of the family.

3. The kohen cannot rear them properly and teach them as he does his other children.

This means that such children can never become part of the family nor can the kohen be a proper father to them.

In the future, when we are makpid on kedusha, we will try to raise all children properly so that they can learn to live in kedusha.

At 5/14/07, 11:17 AM, Blogger Elie said...

Wow, I really like that explanation, even better than my original one! Thanks.


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