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LifeCycle Events

Marriage

Why Can’t a Kohen Marry a Divorcee?

Question: I am a Kohen, and I know that I can’t marry a divorcee. But why not?

Answer: The Torah states (Leviticus 21:7) that “...they [i.e. priests] shall not marry a woman who has been divorced from her husband, because he [i.e. the Kohen] is holy to his G-d”.

The medieval commentator, Rabbenu Bachaye, explains that the High Priest is required to maintain a level of holiness and purity that exceeds the rest of the people. The framework imposed upon the Kohen by G-d serves to limit his choice of a wife to one who has never before been married. This facilitates her being able to emulate his holy conduct. Specifically, much of the concern for the holiness of the kohen is related to issues such as spiritual impurity, preventing contact with the dead, eating tithed offerings and the like. Therefore, the woman he marries, precisely because she is not familiar with the practices of men who are not priests, will be likely to succeed as a complementary partner in maintaining the level of holiness in their home.

Of course, some of these laws may be on “pause” until the Temple is rebuilt. Nevertheless, the limitations as to who a Kohen can marry remain in effect. Beyond the eternally binding nature Torah laws, we can easily understand the applicability of these laws in light of the Jewish belief in the imminent rebuilding of the Temple. At that point, a Kohen will discover what it is like to be in a position of connecting the Jewish people to G-d through his divine service in the Temple. In the meantime, a Kohen has a large body of laws that apply specifically to him and his fellow priests, as well as a higher standard of holiness to which to hold himself even in our present day.

The information in this response is to provide insight into this law. For practical applications, such as determining whether or not a couple can marry, one must consult an authority on Jewish law.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

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