Do Clothes Make the Kohen? — Identifying the Materials from which the Bigdei Kehunah Are Made

In the year 5017 (1257), several hundred Baalei Tosafos, led by Rav Yechiel of Paris, left Northern France on a journey to Eretz Yisrael. Rav Eshtori HaParchi, who lived two generations later, records a fascinating story he heard when he went to Yerushalayim to have his sefer, the Kaftor VaFarech, reviewed by a talmid chacham, named Rav Baruch. Rav Baruch told him that Rav Yechiel had planned to offer korbanos upon arriving in Yerushalayim! Rav Eshtori writes that he was too preoccupied with his sefer at the time to realize that there were several halachic problems with Rav Yechiel’s plan.[1] In Kaftor VaFarech, he mentions some of his own concerns; in addition, later poskim discuss many other potential difficulties. Among the concerns raised is identifying several of the materials necessary for the kohanim’s vestments.

Vestments of the kohen

The Torah describes the garments worn by the kohanim in the Beis HaMikdash as follows: “Aharon and his sons shall don their belt and their hat, and they (the garments) shall be for them as kehunah, as a statute forever.”[2] The Gemara[3] deduces, “When they wear their special vestments, they have the status of kehunah. When they are not wearing these vestments, they do not have this status.” This means that korbanos are valid only if the kohen offering them attires himself correctly.

The regular kohen (kohen hedyot) wears four garments when performing service in the Beis HaMikdash; three of them, his undergarment, his robe, and his turban are woven exclusively from white linen. The Torah never describes how one makes the fourth garment of the regular kohen, the avneit, or belt, but it does mention the material of the belts worn by the kohen gadol – on Yom Kippur he wears a pure linen belt, whereas his regular belt also contains techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani, different colored materials that I will describe shortly. The Gemara cites a dispute whether the kohen hedyot’s belt also includes these special threads, or whether he wears one of pure linen.[4] The Rambam concludes that the regular kohen’s avneit includes threads of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani.[5]

Assuming that Rav Yechiel concluded that the regular kohen’s avneit also includes techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani, his proposal to offer korbanos required proper identification of these materials, a necessary prerequisite to offering korbanos. This article will be devoted to the fascinating questions that we must resolve to accomplish this task.

What is argaman?

The Midrash Rabbah reports that argaman is the most valuable of these four threads and is the color of royal garments.[6] The Rishonim dispute its color, the Rambam ruling that it is red, whereas the Raavad understands that it is multicolored cloth, woven either from different species or of different colored threads.[7] The Raavad explains that the word argaman is a composite of arug min, meaning woven of different types. This approach appears to be supported by a pasuk in Divrei HaYamim[8] that lists argavan, rather than argaman, as the material used in building the Beis HaMikdash.[9] The word argavan seems to be a composite of two words, arug gavna, meaning woven from several colors, an approach that fits the Raavad’s description much better than it fits the Rambam’s.[10]

The Raavad’s approach that argaman is multicolored is further supported by a comment in the Zohar[11] that describes argaman as multicolored. However, the Radak[12] understands the word argavan according to Rambam’s approach, and Kesef Mishneh, similarly, states that the primary commentaries followed Rambam’s interpretation. The Rekanti[13] quotes both approaches, but implies that he considers the Raavad’s approach to be primary.

By the way, the Ibn Ezra[14] implies that argaman might have been dyed silk rather than wool, whereas most opinions assume that it is wool.[15] Rabbeinu Bachyei[16] contends that silk could not have been used for the mishkan or the Beis HaMikdash, since it is manufactured from non-kosher species. This is based on the Gemara’s[17] statement that non-kosher items may not be used for mitzvos. I will discuss this point further below.

Is argaman a color or a source?

It is unclear if the requirement to use argaman thread means that the thread used for the Kohen’s belt must be a certain shade of color, or whether it must be dyed with a specific dye. Rambam implies that the source for the argaman color is irrelevant. These are his words:

Argaman is wool dyed red, and tola’as shani is wool dyed with a worm.”[18] (The Rambam explains elsewhere what he means when he says “dyed with a worm.” It should also be noted that the Hebrew word tola’as, which is usually translated worm, may include insects and other small invertebrates.) The Rambam’s wording implies that the source of the argaman dye is immaterial, as long as the thread is red. Thus, there may be no halachically required source for the dye, provided one knows the correct appearance of its shade.

Tola’as shani

One of the dye colors mentioned above is tola’as shani. In addition to its use for dyeing the kohen’s belt and some of the kohen gadol’s vestments, tola’as shani was also used for some of the curtains in the mishkan and in the Beis HaMikdash, in the manufacture of the purifying ashes of the parah adumah[19] and for the purifying procedure both of a metzora and of a house that became tamei because of tzaraas.[20]

Tola’as shani is a red color.[21] This presents us with a question: According to the Rambam that argaman is red, the source of which is irrelevant, what is the difference between the shade of argaman and that of tola’as shani? The Radak explains that they are different shades of red, although he provides us with no details of this difference.[22]

Must tola’as shani be derived from a specific source, or is it sufficient for it to be a distinctive shade of red, just as I suggested above that argaman is a color and not necessarily of a specific dye source?

The words of the Rambam that I quoted above answer this question: “Argaman is wool dyed red, and tola’as shani is wool dyed with a worm.” These words imply that although argaman can be used from any source that produces this particular color, tola’as shani must be from a very specific source.

A worm-based dye

Can the pesukim help us identify what is tola’as shani? The description of tola’as, which means worm, implies that the source of this dye is an invertebrate of some type. For this reason, some authorities seem to identify tola’as shani as “kermes,” a shade of scarlet derived from scale insects or some similar animal-derived red color.[23] Support for this approach could be rallied from a pasuk in Divrei HaYamim,[24] which describes the paroches (curtain) that served as the entrance to the kodoshei hakodoshim, the Holy of Holies of the Beis HaMikdash, as woven from the following four types of thread: techeiles, argaman, karmil, and butz, which is linen. The Torah, in describing the same paroches, refers to it as made of techeiles, argaman, tolaas shani, and linen. Obviously, karmil is another way of describing tola’as shani.[25] Similarly, in Divrei HaYamim II,[26] when describing the artisans sent by the Tyrian King, Hiram, to help his friend King Shelomoh, the pasuk mentions karmil as one of the materials in place of tola’as shani. Thus, karmil, a word cognate to kermes, seems to be a synonym for tola’as shani.[27]

However, as I mentioned above, Rabbeinu Bachyei takes issue with this approach, insisting that only kosher species may be used for building the mishkan and the garments of the kohanim. He bases his opinion on the Gemara[28] that states that “only items that one may eat may be used for the work of heaven,” which teaches that only kosher items may be used in the manufacture of tefillin. How does this fit with the description of tola’as shani as a worm derivative?

The Rambam states that the dye called tola’as shani does not originate from the worm itself, but from a berry that the worm consumes.[29] Thus, according to the opinion of Rambam, Rabbeinu Bachyei and others, although tola’as shani and karmil are the same, they are not from non-kosher sources, but from kosher vegetable sources.

Although this is probably the primary approach we would follow in a halachic decision, we cannot summarily dismiss those who identify tola’as shani as kermes or a different invertebrate-based dye. Although Rabbeinu Bachyei objects to a non-kosher source for tola’as shani, those who accept that its source is kermes have several ways to resolve this issue. One possibility is that this halacha applies only to a substance used as the primary item to fulfill the mitzvah, but not if it serves only as a dye.[30]

Others resolve the objection raised by Rabbeinu Bachyei by contending that the color derived from these non-kosher creatures may indeed be kosher. Several different reasons have been advanced to explain this approach. Some contend that this coloring is kosher, since the creatures are first dried until they are inedible, or, because a dead insect dried for twelve months is considered an innocuous powder and no longer non-kosher.[31] (The halachic debate on this issue actually concerns a colorant called carmine red that is derived from a South American insect called cochineal. This color, which is derived from the powdered bodies of this insect, is used extensively as a “natural red coloring” in food production. To the best of my knowledge, all major contemporary kashrus organizations and hechsherim treat carmine as non-kosher, although I have read teshuvos contending that it is kosher and know that some rabbonim of the previous generation considered it to be kosher.)

A similar approach asserts that kermes dye is kosher, since it is no longer recognizable as coming from its original source.[32] This approach is based on a dispute among early poskim as to whether a prohibited substance remains non-kosher after its appearance has been completely transformed. The Rosh[33] cites Rabbeinu Yonah, who permitted using musk, a fragrance derived from the glands of several different animals, as a flavor, because it has been transformed into a new substance that is permitted. The Rosh disputes Rabbeinu Yonah’s conclusion, although in a responsum[34] he quotes Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach approvingly.[35]

It is noteworthy that this dispute between the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah appears to be identical to a disagreement between the Rambam and the Raavad[36] in determining the source of the mor, one of the ingredients burnt as part of the fragrant ketores offering in the Beis HaMikdash.[37] The Rambam rules that mor is musk, which he describes as “the blood of a well-known undomesticated (in Hebrew, chayah)[38] Indian species of animal.” (Although the Rambam calls it blood, he probably means a body fluid.) The Raavad disagrees, objecting that the blood of a chayah would not be used in the construction of the Beis HaMikdash, even if it were to be derived from a kosher species, certainly from a non-kosher one. In explaining the Rambam’s position, Kesef Mishneh contends that once musk is reduced to a powder that bears no resemblance to its origin, it is kosher. Thus, the disagreement between the Rambam and the Raavad as to whether a major change of physical appearance changes the halachos of a substance may be identical to the dispute between Rabbeinu Yonah and the Rosh. It turns out that the Radak, who implies that tola’as shani derives from non-kosher invertebrates, may also accept the approach of Rabbeinu Yonah.

Some authorities have a different approach that would explain how tola’as shani may be acceptable for Beis HaMikdash use, even if it derives from a non-kosher source. They contend that the rule prohibiting the use of non-kosher items applies only to tefillin and other mitzvos that utilize kisvei hakodesh, holy writings, but does not apply to most mitzvos or to items used in the Beis HaMikdash.[39] This approach requires some explanation.

The Gemara states that tefillin may be manufactured only from kosher substances, deriving this halacha from the following verse: Lemaan tihyeh toras Hashem b’ficha, in order that the law of Hashem should always be in your mouth;[40] i.e., whatever is used for the Torah of Hashem must be from kosher items that one may place into one’s mouth. In order to resolve a certain question that results from the Gemara’s discussion, some authorities explain that this halacha refers only to items that have words of the Torah or Hashem’s name in them, such as tefillin, mezuzos or a sefer torah, but does not include the garments worn by the kohen hedyot in the Beis HaMikdash, which do not contain Hashem’s name.[41] (The halacha requiring kosher substances would still apply to the tzitz and the choshen, garments of the kohen gadol, both of which carry Hashem’s name.)

Techeiles

The next material or shade we need to identify, the techeiles, is also a factor in the wearing of our daily tzitzis. Indeed, the Torah requires us to wear techeiles threads as part of this mitzvah. Nevertheless, Jews stopped wearing techeiles about 1300 to 1500 years ago, and with time, its source has been forgotten. Although the Gemara[42] mentions a creature called chilazon, whose blood is the source of techeiles, and even discusses how to manufacture the dye, the use of techeiles ended some time after the period of the Gemara. The Midrash states that “now we have only white tzitzis, since the techeiles was concealed,[43] which implies that Hashem hid the source for the techeiles. Indeed some poskim interpret the writings of the Arizal as saying that techeiles should not be worn until moshiach comes.[44]

Attempts to identify the techeiles

In 5647 (1887), the Radziner Rebbe, Rav Gershon Henoch Leiner, zt”l, published a small sefer, Sefunei Temunei Chol, which concluded that the mitzvah of wearing techeiles applies even today. In his opinion, the Midrash quoted above means that techeiles will become unavailable, but we are both permitted and required to wear it. Based on his analysis of every place the Gemara mentions the word chilazon, the Radziner drew up a list of eleven requirements whereby one could identify the chilazon, and concluded that if one locates a marine animal that meets all these requirements, one may assume that it is the chilazon. He then traveled to Naples, Italy, to study marine animals that might fit all the descriptions of techeiles, and concluded that a squid-like creature called the cuttlefish, which in many languages is called the inkfish, is indeed the chilazon from which one produces techeiles. The Radziner then published his second volume on the subject, Pesil Techeiles, in which he announced his discovery of the chilazon and his proofs as to how the cuttlefish can be identified as the chilazon. Subsequently, the Radziner published a third volume, Ayn HaTecheiles, to refute those who disagreed with him.

The Radziner attempted to convince the great poskim of his generation to accept his thesis, particularly Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector (the Rav of Kovno and the posek hador at the time), the Beis HaLevi (then the Rav of Brisk), Rav Yehoshua Kutno (author of Yeshuos Malko, the Rav of Kutno), the Maharil Diskin (who had been Rav of Brisk and was living in Yerushalayim), and Rav Shmuel Salant (the Rav of Yerushalayim). None of these rabbonim accepted the Radziner’s proposal, although the Maharsham, the posek hador of the time in Galicia, felt that the Radziner’s approach had merit and wore a talis with the Radziner’s techeiles, although apparently only in private. Nowadays, only Radziner Hasidim and some Breslever Hasidim wear the techeiles that the Radziner introduced.

Some later authorities have attempted to identify the techeiles as being one of several varieties of sea snail, although the objections raised by the generation of poskim of the Radziner’s own time apply to these species as well. Many today feel that Murex trunculus is the source of the techeiles. Several years ago, I discussed their position and the position of their opponents.[45] We should also note that Rashi’s understanding of the chilazon that is the source of the techeiles cannot possibly describe any variety of sea snail since Rashi describes the process of extracting the techeiles as involving squeezing out its blood by hand.[46] One cannot squeeze the shell of a sea snail to extract its dye component – one must smash or drill through the shell to reach it.

Among the many objections to both of these identifications of the chilazon is the contention that neither the cuttlefish nor a snail could possibly be the source of the techeiles, since they are not kosher. In addition to the reasons I mentioned above, the Radziner presents a novel approach to explain why techeiles may derive from a non-kosher source. He contends that although the flesh of a non-kosher fish is forbidden min haTorah, the blood of non-kosher fish is forbidden only miderabbanan. Since min haTorah one may eat this blood, it is permitted as a source for a kosher dye.

It is noteworthy that a prominent nineteenth century posek, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, contended that the garments of the kohen do not require chilazon as the dye source, only the color of techeiles. In his opinion, chilazon dye is only necessary for tzitzis.[47] In Rav Kalisher’s opinion, it is sufficient to dye the threads of the avneit the correct techeiles color in order to perform the service in the Beis HaMikdash. However, not all poskim accept this interpretation, but require the specific dye source of chilazon to dye the vestments.[48]

In review, what we know for certain is that the regular kohen (kohen hedyot) wears four garments when performing service in the Beis HaMikdash, including the avneit, or belt, which the Rambam rules includes threads of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani. In identifying these materials, however, we have several disputes: the first, as to whether the techeiles must be derived from chilazon for offering korbanos, or if merely dyeing clothes the appropriate color is sufficient; a second dispute, whether the chilazon has been hidden until moshiach comes, and a third dispute whether the chilazon must be kosher or not. In identifying the argaman, we are faced with a dispute between rishonim whether its color is red or a mix of different colors. And in identifying the tola’as shani, we face a dispute as to whether its source is a berry that “worms” eat or a worm of some type. All these questions will need to be resolved before we can again manufacture kosher bigdei kehunah, either by having Eliyahu Hanavi teach us how the bigdei kehunah were made, or by having the poskim of klal Yisrael determine what the halacha is.

Several earlier poskim devoted much time and energy to clarifying the correct procedures for offering korbanos, because of their intense desire to bring sacrificial offerings. Do we, too, have such a burning desire to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? May we soon merit seeing the kohanim offering the korbanos in the Beis HaMikdash in purity and sanctity. Amen.


[1] Vol. 1, page 101 in the 5757 edition

[2] Shemos 29:9

[3] Zevachim 17b

[4] Yoma 6a, 12a, 69a

[5] Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:2; cf. Rashi, Pesachim 26a s.v. Kesheirim

[6] Naso 12:4

[7] Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13

[8] II, 2:6

[9] See also Daniel 5:7; Rashi on Divrei HaYamim II, 2:6

[10] See Ibn Ezra on Shemos 25:4

[11] Parshas Naso

[12] Divrei HaYamim II, 2:6

[13] Shemos 25:3

[14] Shemos 25:4

[15] Rambam, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13; Rashi, Shemos 25:4; 26:1; Rashbam, Shemos 25:4

[16] Shemos 25:3

[17] Shabbos 28a

[18] Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13

[19] Bamidbar 19:6

[20] Vayikra 14:4, 49

[21] See Yeshaya 1:18

[22] Divrei HaYamim II 2:6

[23] See Radak on Divrei HaYamim II 2:6

[24] II 3:14

[25] Rashi ad loc.

[26] 2:13

[27] See Radak on Divrei HaYamim II 2:6

[28] Shabbos 28a

[29] Hilchos Parah Adumah 3:2; see Rashi on Yeshaya 1:18 who explains it in a similar way.

[30] Shu’t Noda Bi’Yehudah II, Orach Chayim #3

[31] See Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 3:96:2

[32] Pesil Techeiles, pg. 48 in the 1990 edition

[33] Berachos 6:35

[34] Shu’t HaRosh 24:6

[35] We should note that the Rosh’s descendents contend that their father wrote the Halachos after he wrote his Teshuvos, and that therefore the Halachos should be considered most authoritative. See Tur, Choshen Mishpat, at the end of Chapter 72, and the Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah Chapter 341, quoting Rabbeinu Yehudah, the son of the Tur. However, the Perisha, Choshen Mishpat 72:35, notes that this rule is not absolute, and that some of the Rosh’s responsa were written after he wrote the Halachos.

[36] Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 1:3

[37] See Shemos 30:23

[38] As I explained in a different article, on identifying what is a beheimah and what is a chayah, translating the word chayah as an “undomesticated species” is not really accurate. The halachic difference between chayah and beheimah is highly complicated and also obscure, and is certainly not dependent on whether the species can be domesticated. For example, the reindeer qualifies as a chayah notwithstanding its ability to be domesticated. In the above quoted article, I discussed whether the American bison is halachically a chayah or a beheimah. For simplicity’s sake, I used the more common and inaccurate translation here.

[39] Shu’t Noda Bi’Yehudah 2, Orach Chayim #3; cf. Magen Avraham 586:13

[40] Shemos 13:9

[41] Shu’t Noda Bi’Yehudah II, Orach Chayim #3

[42] See Menachos 42b

[43] Midrash Tanchuma, Shelach 15; Midrash Rabbah, Shelach 17:5

[44] Shu’t Yeshuos Malko #1-3

[45] This article can be read at RabbiKaganoff.com

[46] Rashi, Shabbos 75a s.v. HaPotzo

[47] He based this approach on the wording of the Rambam in Hilchos Tzitzis 2:1-2.

[48] Likutei Halachos, Zevachim Chapter 13, pg. 67a in the original edition

Finding a Compatible Place for an Extended Family Outing

By Jerry Kaufman

As reported to Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

My sister and her family are coming for Yom Tov for the very first time, which has us all very excited! But, we need to figure out all the logistics of having everyone together for Yom Tov — where will everyone sleep, how to arrange sufficient seating space and chairs. After all, they have a very large family, and our two boys are accustomed to each having their own room.

And we want to make sure that the visiting family is comfortable. In truth, there have been some sticky situations in the past. Well, let me put it this way. We are frum, but we do not keep all the chumros that they do. This has created some uncomfortable situations in the past. What we realized is that to have an optimal relationship with them, we need to be very accommodating to their needs, which is sometimes complicated since we are not always certain what their needs are. And to complicate matters, we have discovered that they don’t trust the opinions of our rabbi. But they are really wonderful people, and in addition, mishpacha is mishpacha!

We already know that when they come we should make sure to have plenty of cholov yisroel products available and to double check what hechsherim they accept. And we know that they will not use the eruv, which our rabbi uses himself. So, I guess, to each his own. But I want to make sure that they are comfortable; we really want to have a nice Yom Tov together, and so do they.

Since they have never been here for such an extended stay, we would really like to show them the sites of town. Our city is blessed with many really nice museums, many of them extremely child friendly. Hopefully, these will help make the Yom Tov memorable for all.

But one second. My brother-in-law Muttie is a kohen, and has told me that he is very careful about checking museums before he goes. It would be really nice if I can figure out in advance which museums he can visit so that we can plan the Chol HaMoed itinerary.

But maybe we can take his under-bar-mitzvah boys to the Children’s Museum without any concern? I am going to call the rabbi. After all, he is also a kohen.

I reached Rabbi Katz on the first try. He told me that the prohibition of making a kohen tamei also applies to a kohen who is too young to be obligated in mitzvos. An adult Yisroel may not bring a child or baby who is a kohen into a place where he would become tamei meis, such as a cemetery or funeral home. He told me that some kohanim are extremely careful not to visit people in hospitals even in places where most of the patients are not Jewish – not that we are planning any hospital visits during this Yom Tov.

While on the phone, I asked Rabbi Katz if there was any problem with a kohen going to a museum. He answered me that he himself goes, but he knows of kohanim who refrain from going. I asked him what the issue was, to which he responded that he would check it out and call me back.

Rabbi Katz telephoned a day later, having spoken to the city’s av beis din, Rav Gross. The senior rabbi had explained that there is a dispute whether a kohen may enter a museum in which there are human remains inside a glass enclosed display area. He explained that whereas Jewish remains certainly convey tumah whether they are touched, carried or in the same room as a person; and sometimes even if they are in the same building, it is disputed whether gentile remains convey tumah when they are in the same room if they are not touched or carried.

Rabbi Katz explained that the tumah that spreads throughout a room or building is called tumas ohel. This does not affect non-Kohanim today, since everyone is tamei anyway, and to remove this tumah requires ashes of the parah adumah. However, a kohen must be careful not to enter the same ohel as Jewish remains.

However, whereas the remains of a non-Jew convey tumas meis if they are touched or carried, there is a dispute whether they convey tumas ohel, that is, the tumah that spreads through a room or building. The halacha is that one should try to be careful and, therefore, a kohen should not enter a building containing the remains of a non-Jew.

When a museum contains parts of human bodies, we do not usually know whether these are from Jewish bodies or not, and we may assume that since most of the world is not Jewish, that they are from non-Jews. In addition, the remains in a museum are usually inside glass displays that can be opened when necessary. Some authorities contend that this glass enclosure is halachically equivalent to having the remains in a different room; in their opinion a kohen may enter a museum (see Shu”t Maharsham #215).

Thus, Rav Gross had concluded that a kohen wanting to visit a museum where all the remains are inside display cases has a basis to be lenient because of these two reasons.

Although I was glad to discover that my kohen friends who attend museums have a basis, I realized that Muttie would probably not accept the lenient approach. I remembered a time that we were visiting them and they had taken us to a neighborhood children’s museum with many “hands-on” science exhibits perfect for children. Upon turning a corner of the museum, we discovered an area described as an “Indian Burial Ground,” complete with bones for realistic affect. Assuming that the bones were artificial, Muttie had casually asked the receptionist, “Are these bones authentic?”

The receptionist answered, “Actually, they are not. They are probably not Indian bones, but acquired elsewhere.” Upon hearing this information, Muttie bee-lined an abrupt exit from the museum. Indeed, they were not authentic Indian bones, but they were authentic human bones! Unquestionably, Muttie is concerned about human bones even when they are probably of a gentile. I was also fairly certain that Muttie would not rely on the fact that the remains are inside a glass display.

At this point, I remembered a cute little theater that runs actual Shakespeare plays. What could be wrong with Shakespeare? Until I inquired, and discovered that one of the props for Hamlet is a real skull! I had just about given up on this idea, when I mentioned it to Rabbi Katz. He commented: “Check it out. I remember once discovering that these skulls are not complete, and that there is a halacha that a damaged skull does not convey tumah throughout a building.”

Off I went, to check Hamlet’s skull. Much to my surprise, they were willing to show me the actual skull that they used, although they told me that they have no crossbones. Sure enough, I discovered that the top of the skull had been replaced with a metal plate. I am no Torah scholar, and had no idea whether this would be acceptable.

I called Rav Gross, the city’s av beis din, myself and described to him the Shakespearian skull, explaining the family situation so that he would realize that I was not hunting for a lenient opinion. He told me that there was no kohen issue. “If one removes enough of an area of a skull that a live person would not be able to survive, the partial skull remaining no longer spreads tumah unless it is touched or carried. The subsequent repair with a metal plate does not cause the skull to spread tumas ohel, although it would spread tumas ohel if the removed skullcap was in the same room.”

Since I did not envision Muttie or his sons joining the cast of Hamlet, it seemed that we would be able to take them to the Shakespeare Theater as a special activity for Chol HaMoed. I thanked Rav Gross for sharing his scholarship with me, at which point he made the following observation:

“Are you sure that this is the type of entertainment that your brother-in-law and his children would appreciate?”

Admittedly, this question had not even occurred to me. What could be risqué about Shakespeare? But then again, Muttie’s priorities in education are very different from mine. I am not sure if this is the type of Chol HaMoed outing that he would consider memorable.

So I resigned myself to try to verify if any of our museums are kosher for kohanim. I asked the local Vaad Ha’Ir if they have ever researched the museums. They told me that although it is a good idea, they have never done so, but would be very eager to follow up on whatever I discover.

I called the information desk at the children’s science museum, and explained that I have company from out of town who are unable to visit the museum if it contains any human remains. I realized that they must have thought I was absolutely bonkers! I can just imagine the conversation that transpired among the receptionists on their lunch break!

Although the information desk notified me that there were no human remains to be had anywhere in the museum, I did not get any sense that they took me seriously and decided that I would have to take a trip there to check it out myself.

I decided the best way to handle the situation was to call Muttie directly, and try to get direction from him what the parameters are.

I received quite an education from Muttie. If I can paraphrase what he told me: “A close friend of mine, who is not a kohen, often visits museums to verify whether a kohen may enter. Among the most common remains he finds are mummies, human bones, skeletons, and preserved fetuses, but occasionally he has discovered preserved human organs or entire cadavers. One museum had an empty stone casket that had been found in Eretz Yisroel with an obvious Jewish name on it. Since the supports of a grave are also sometimes tamei, we had a shaylah whether this contaminates the entire museum.

“Often displays of these items are not inside glass-enclosed areas, which increases the halachic concerns. For example, he has discovered on the shelves of museums such artifacts as Aztec musical instruments carved from the femurs of captured prisoners as well as bowls hollowed out from skulls. By the way, Muttie noted, these bowls pose a problem only if the kohen touches them or picks them up – boy, was he impressed when I told him why!

“During one visit, he noticed a display of a giant, which he assumed was a mannequin, but on closer inspection turned out to be a giant whose remains had been preserved in formaldehyde!”

Muttie’s friend feels that a kohen who would like to visit a particular museum should first have a knowledgeable non-kohen carefully research the entire museum. From first-hand experience, he can attest that one should not rely on the information desk personnel – they are often uninformed of what the museum owns. In one instance, the information desk insisted that a museum displaying ossuaries containing human bones had absolutely no human remains!

“The curators also often make mistakes. In one museum, there was a skull on display, which we asked the curator whether it was real. She told us that she knows that the museum purchased it from a supplier who sells only replicas and not real skulls or skeletons. I asked her if there was any way that one could look at a skull and tell if it was real. She responded that you can usually tell by making a very careful inspection of its teeth. To demonstrate the difference between the replica and a real skull, she opened the display to show him – and discovered, much to her surprise, that the skull was real! It turned out that the museum had purchased it at a time that the supplier sold real specimens!

“Lesson to learn: Be careful, and ask lots of probing questions.”

Muttie then told me an interesting bit of information. “When approaching a museum, one should ask if it contains any remains that fall under the NAGPRA act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. This was a law passed by Congress requiring many institutions to return Native American cultural items and human remains to their respective peoples. Under one provision of this law, these institutions are required to catalog all Native American burial items and religious artifacts in their collections in order to identify the living heirs, culturally affiliated Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations of remains and artifacts.

“Someone trying to find out whether a museum contains tamei remains can easily begin his conversation with the curator or collection manager by mentioning NAGPRA. Since they are familiar with the requirements of this law, the subject of human remains and their cataloging in the museum’s collections are no longer so strange to them. One can use this as an entrée to discuss what a kohen is and what our halachic concerns are. I have found that the curators are usually very helpful; however, one must ask very specifically about each type of item, such as skeletons, skulls, bones, preserved organs, and mummies, since they are not thinking about tumah but about science.

“Furthermore, sometimes the curators themselves do not know what the museum has in storage. Here one often gets into very interesting halachic questions that one needs to discuss with a first-line posek. For example, while looking at one museum, someone discovered that a different floor of the building contained drawers filled with all sorts of human artifacts.

“By the way,” Muttie noted, “there are other things to be concerned of in museums even if one is not a kohen. Many museums contain actual idols that constitute real avodah zarah. The question arises whether one may even look at them.”

At this point, my brother-in-law educated me by pointing out that when the Torah states al tifnu el elilim, do not turn to idols (VaYikra 19:4), the prohibition includes looking at idols (Yerushalmi, Avodah Zarah 3:1; Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 2:2; Sefer HaMitzvos, Lo Saaseh #10; Chinuch #213). The Magen Avraham (307:23) explains that the Torah prohibits only gazing at an idol, but does not prohibit glancing at it. Therefore, seeing it is not prohibited, but intentionally looking at it is. Thus, one must be wary of this prohibition when visiting a museum that may include icons, statues, and images.

While I was contemplating the last fact, Muttie called me back to our original topic with the following comment: “Jerry, do you know what kind of massive undertaking this is? The reason I rarely take the family to museums is that I am always uncertain what they contain, and I know how difficult it is to really determine what they have – the curators themselves often don’t know.

“I must tell you. I am so appreciative of your putting this effort into making sure we have a nice time. But you have to work and make Yom Tov. Besides, my kids are not oriented towards museum visits — they spend most of their time in Yeshiva, and they much prefer spending time playing ball and running around in the park. I am sure your wonderful boys have nice friends and the cousins and the friends can play some ball. For my kids that will be seventh heaven – and something much more memorable.”

I must admit that it had not even occurred to me that the cousins would enjoy just playing ball together. Indeed we had an absolutely wonderful Yom Tov that the cousins will all remember for years to come! And I left to someone else to research whether the local museums are kohen-appropriate. Are you interested in working on this project on behalf of klal Yisroel?

Some Basics about Redeeming Donkeys

clip_image002Question #1: Donkey Rides

Have you ever ridden a donkey? Did you stop to wonder whether the donkey might be firstborn and that it might be prohibited to ride it?

Question #2: Pony Rides

May I ride a horse without checking first whether it is firstborn?

Question #3: Ask its mother!

How do I know whether my donkey is firstborn? I can’t go ask its mother!

Answer:

As a kohen, I often participate in the mitzvah of Pidyon Haben, redeeming a firstborn male child, a bechor, but I have never been asked to participate in redeeming a firstborn donkey, in Hebrew called peter chamor.

After Korach’s maligning Aaron, the Torah lists the awards Aaron and his descendants, the kohanim, receive for their service to the Jewish Nation (listed in Bamidbar 18: 8 -19). There are a total of twenty-four gifts that the Torah grants the kohanim (see Bava Kamma 110b; Rambam, Hil. Bikkurim ch. 1). One of these twenty-four grants is the mitzvah of peter chamor, redeeming the firstborn donkey, the firstborn of a non-kosher animal you shall redeem (Bamidbar 18:15). This is a grant because the kohen benefits by receiving a lamb or goat or the value of the donkey, as I will explain.

This is not the only place in the Torah that this mitzvah is mentioned. The Torah mentions the mitzvah of peter chamor in two other places also:

(1) In Parshas Bo, the pasuk says: Every firstborn donkey you shall redeem with a “seh,” and if you do not redeem it, you should break its neck. Furthermore, the firstborn of your children you shall also redeem (Shemos 13:13). I intentionally did not translate the world “seh” since it includes both sheep and goats, and I am unaware of an English word that includes both species.

(2) The Torah mentions this mitzvah again in Parshas Ki Sissa: The first issue of a donkey you shall redeem with a “seh” (Shemos 34:20). Here the Torah refers to the first issue, from which we derive that the mitzvah applies only if the donkey was born in the normal fashion. This means that a firstborn donkey delivered through caesarean section does not have the sanctity of being firstborn and that there is therefore no mitzvah to redeem it. Sorry, kohen, better luck next time, or more accurately, on the next mother donkey. — If a donkey was delivered through caesarean section, the next naturally-born fetus also does not become sanctified.

No Sanctity to a Puppy

Although the verse in Parshas Korach the firstborn of a non-kosher animal you shall redeem, implies that it includes any species of non-kosher animals, including puppies, kittens and baby elephants, since the two verses in the book of Shemos both specifically mention donkeys, the halacha is that the mitzvah applies only to one species of non-kosher animals: donkeys. Thus, although a dog might be man’s best friend, a firstborn puppy does not have the sanctity of a firstborn donkey foal. There is no mitzvah to redeem a firstborn colt, camel, or wolf (Tosefta, Bechoros 1:2). Thus we can now answer one of our above questions:

May I ride a horse without checking first whether it is firstborn? The answer is that firstborn horse foals have no sanctity. We will soon learn why the donkey is an exception.

Is a Peter Chamor Holy?

Does a firstborn donkey have kedusha?

Prior to its being redeemed, a firstborn donkey has kedusha similar to that of a korban. It is prohibited min haTorah to ride it, use it as a beast of burden, or even use its hair. The hair that falls off it must be burnt and may not be used. Someone who uses this donkey violates a prohibition approximately equivalent to eating non-kosher (Rashi, Pesachim 47a s.v. ve’hein; Rivan, Makkos 21b s.v. ve’hein; cf., however, Tosafos, Makkos 21b s.v. HaChoresh).

Until the donkey is redeemed, one may not sell it, although some poskim permit selling it for the difference between the value of the donkey and a sheep (Rosh, Bechoros 1:11; Tur and Rama, Yoreh Deah 321:8). Many poskim contend that if the donkey is sold, the money may not be used (Rambam, Hilchos Bikkurim 12:4; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 321:8)).

What if the Peter Chamor is Never Redeemed?

If the firstborn donkey is unredeemed, it maintains its kedusha its entire life! If it dies in its unredeemed state, the carcass must be buried to make sure that no one ever uses it. We may not even burn the carcass because of concern that someone might use its ashes, which remain prohibited (Mishnah Temurah 33b-34a). The owner who failed to redeem the donkey missed the opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah. Thus we see the value of redemption.

May I Ride a Donkey — Maybe it is a Firstborn?

Have you ever ridden a donkey? Although it is not common to ride donkeys them in North America, in Eretz Yisroel this is a fairly common form of entertainment. Did you stop to wonder whether the donkey might be firstborn and one is prohibited to ride it?

One need not be concerned. Since most of the donkeys of the world are not firstborn, one need not assume that this donkey is. Truthfully, the likelihood of a donkey being holy is very slim for another reason- most donkeys are owned by non-Jews, and a non-Jew’s firstborn donkey has no sanctity.

How do we Effect Redemption?

As mentioned above, the Torah commands the owner of a firstborn male donkey to redeem him by giving a kohen a seh, a word we usually translate as lamb. However, we should be aware that the word seh in the Torah does not mean only a lamb, but also includes a kid goat, as we see from the mitzvah of korban Pesach, where the Torah mentions this explicitly (Shemos 12:5; see Mishnah Bechoros 9a). Other species of animal, such as cows and deer, are not referred to as “seh” by the Torah (Mishnah, Bechoros 12a; Rambam, Hil. Bikkurim 12:8; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 321:1).

By the way, one does not need a lamb or kid to redeem a firstborn donkey –a mature adult is perfectly fine. Furthermore, the lamb, kid, sheep or goat that may be either male or female (Mishnah Bechoros 9a).  Lamb chops enthusiasts take note — since they also may be either young or adult, and either male or female.

Saving the Owner Money

In actuality, using a sheep or goat to redeem the donkey is merely a less expensive way of fulfilling the mitzvah Hilchos Bikkurim 12:11). There is an alternative way to fulfill the mitzvah — by redeeming the donkey with anything that is worth at least as much as the donkey (Gemara Bechoros 11a). Thus, someone who gives a cow or deer to the kohen would fulfill the mitzvah of peter chamor if they are worth at least as much as the donkey (Rashi, Bechoros 12a Tur, Yoreh Deah 321; Shach ad loc. #1. and Taz ad loc. #3).

However, if the owner redeems the donkey with a sheep or goat, he fulfills the mitzvah even if the sheep or goat is worth far less than the donkey (Bechoros 11a, Rambam, Hil. Bikkurim 12:11). Thus by giving a lamb or kid to the kohen, the owner saves money.

Some authorities contend that it is preferable to use a seh for the redemption, and that one should redeem the peter chamor with other items only if he has no sheep or goat with which to redeem it (Rambam as understood by Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 321 and Perishah ad loc. #6). Others, however, maintain that redeeming a peter chamor with other items is as acceptable as redeeming it with a sheep or goat (see Tur, Yoreh Deah 321; see also Divrei Chamudos, Bechoros 1:26).

By the way, the sheep or goat cannot be a tereifah, meaning an animal bearing a terminal defect, it must be alive at the time of redemption (Mishnah, Bechoros 12a) and it may not be a  non-viable premature fetus even if it is still alive (Minchas Chinuch 22:5).

A Blemished Record

On the other hand, the redeeming seh may be of either gender, it may be blemished; and it may be of any age (Mishnah, Bechoros 9a).

Giving the Kohen the Foal

What if the owner decides to give the firstborn donkey to the kohen instead?

What is the halacha if the owner decided to give the firstborn donkey to the kohen, instead of redeeming it with a sheep, goat, or other item? Some authorities rule that if the owner gives the firstborn donkey to a Kohen he has fulfilled the mitzvah (Teshuvos HaRadvaz, I:496; Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 321:4; Maharit Algazi, Hil. Bechoros 8; Minchas Chinuch 22:16). According to this view, the Torah merely gives the owner the option (emphasize by italicizing the word option) of keeping the donkey by redeeming it and giving the instrument of redemption to a Kohen.

Others disagree, arguing that redemption is not merely an option but the only means of fulfilling  the mitzvah, and that one who gives the peter chamor to a kohen does not fulfill the mitzvah (Levush, Yoreh Deah 321:8; Chazon Ish, Bechoros 17:6; see also Terumas HaDeshen vol.II #235).

Conclusion:

Why was the donkey an exception? It is the only non-kosher species of animal whose firstborn carries kedusha!

The Gemara teaches that this is a reward for the donkey. When the Bnei Yisroel exited Egypt, the Egyptians gave us many gifts (see Shemos 11:2-3; 12:35-36). The Bnei Yisroel needed to somehow transport all these gifts out of Egypt and through the Desert unto Eretz Yisroel. The Jews could not simply call Allied Van Lines to ship their belongings through the Desert. Instead Donkey Lines performed this service for forty years without complaint or fanfare! In reward for the donkey providing the Bnei Yisroel with a very necessary shipping service, the Torah endowed the firstborn of this species with sanctity (Gemara Bechoros 5b). In essence, Hashem rewarded the donkey with its very own special mitzvah. Thus, this mitzvah teaches us the importance of acknowledging when someone else helps us, hakaras hatov, for we appreciate the species of donkeys because their ancestors performed kindness for us. If we are required to appreciate the help given to our ancestors thousands of years ago, how much more do we need to exhibit hakaras hatov to our parents, teachers, and spouses for all that they have helped us!

More on Shatnez Laws

clip_image002In parshas Emor, we study about the unique role that the kohanim represented in Klal Yisrael. One of the unusual aspects of this role is that they wore the bigdei kehunah, which contained shatnez. Thus, that which otherwise would be prohibited, in this instance became a mitzvah. This provides an opportunity to continue our discussion of last week about the laws of shatnez, and yet still discuss a halachic theme related to the parsha.

Question #1:

Does wool felt sewn to linen present a shatnez concern?

Question #2:

What are reprocessed fibers, and do they present a shatnez problem?

Question #3:

Does a “sheepskin” blanket present a potential shatnez concern?

In the previous article, we discovered that the prohibition of shatnez exists only if the garment is made from a blend of sheep’s wool and linen, but that wool of other species, such as camel, llama, rabbit, or goat is not shatnez .Thus, a garment made of a blend of linen and either mohair or cashmere is not shatnez, since neither mohair nor cashmere are made from sheep’s wool, but from the hair of goats!

At this point, I want to mention an e-mail I received in response:

“You mentioned in the shatnez article that linen and non sheep wool such as cashmere or mohair are not an issue.
“I would strongly qualify that such a statement is true halachically but is not accurate in today’s textile world!! Sheep wool is much cheaper than cashmere and mohair and companies almost always blend them together. For advertising purposes, they often write ALL CASHMERE or ALL MOHAIR in big letters, but write “with wool” (in small letters) to fool consumers — but it is usually mostly sheep wool and is shatnez!
“Even if it would be a 100% cashmere coat, (which, by the way, costs over $2000) it still needs checking because labels never include the ingredients of internal components which could be both wool and/or linen that are not botul!!
“The consensus among the rabbonim in the vaad shatnez both here and in chutz L’aaretz is to tell  people that cashmere, mohair, alpaca (camel) and angora (rabbit or goat) wool does require checking as this advice prevents mistakes.

“Kol Tuv!”

Rav Yaakov Gurwitz
“Mishmeret Nosson” Shatnez Laboratories
Yerushalayim
rygur38@hotmail.com

Tel: 0526-334417

I now return to our article:

Another fact that we learned is that when a thread is spun from a mix of fibers, the halachic status is determined by what composes most of the fiber content, and ignores the existence of other fibers inside the thread. The minority is halachically bateil, or nullified, to the majority fiber content in the thread. Thus, threads spun from a mix of mostly cotton fiber with some linen fiber are considered cotton, and can be used lichatchilah in a woolen garment. Similarly, a garment consisting of threads made of a blend of mohair that is spun with some sheep’s wool fiber, which is woven or sewn with linen threads, is not shatnez. However, a thread of linen that is woven or otherwise attached into a woolen garment renders the garment shatnez, and there is no bitul and vice versa, a single sheep’s wool thread in a linen garment renders the entire garment shatnez.

And now for some new “material”:

A thread is made of fiber that is combed and then spun. However, not all material is made this way. For example, wool felt, a material often used in shoulderpads, underarm material, the neck backing of suits, and other places that require sturdiness or strengthening, is made of combed wool that is pressed, but not spun into thread. Is there any difference in regard to the laws of shatnez between spun wool thread and pressed wool felt?

Many authorities contend that the Torah-level prohibition of shatnez applies only to spun threads, but not to fiber or material that was never spun (Tosafos, Niddah 61b s.v. Shu’a). Following this approach, wool felt sewn with linen thread is shatnez only miderabbanan (on a Rabbinic level).

The Shach (300:1) concludes that this approach is accepted by most authorities, and that, furthermore, this is prohibited only in the instance of soft material. Thus, he concludes that stiff material made of wool felt combined with linen is not shatnez, even miderabbanan.

According to the Shach, then, a non-wool suit with shoulderpads made of wool felt sewn with linen thread is shatnez, but only miderabbanan. One would still need to replace the linen thread, the shoulderpad, or both to remove the shatnez from the garment.

Another application of this halachah: An ornament on a garment that should be shatnez-free was attached to a linen fabric that was in turn attached to a wool felt backing. The ornament itself is shatnez, albeit according to the Shach only miderabbanan. The ornament can be removed or replaced and thereby make the garment shatnez-free.

Another interesting case in which a garment may contain tufts of wool and linen threads and not be shatnez is if one takes a sheepskin (occasionally used as a very warm blanket) containing sheep’s hair, which is raw wool, and sews it with linen thread. It does not present a Torah-level prohibition of shatnez, because the wool has not been processed to the necessary stage to pose a problem.

Reprocessed Fibers

Many garments, particularly quilts and other bedding, contain “reprocessed fibers,” which is a nice way of saying that used clothes (also known as shmattes) were chopped up and used as stuffing. One can never know for certain what material is included in the reprocessed fibers. Are they automatically prohibited because of shatnez?

This actually depends on two factors:

Are the “reprocessed fibers” actual threads?

Are they sewn or glued into the garment or simply pressed together and inserted.

If the reprocessed fibers are threads and are sewn or glued into the material, the entire garment may be shatnez, at least according to the Rambam, because the “reprocessed” material includes threads of wool and threads of linen that have both been sewn into the same garment. If there are linen and woolen threads sewn together at any point, it is shatnez according to all opinions. If the wool and linen does not touch, but are in different parts of the garment, then the garment is shatnez according to the Rambam, but not according to the Rash. Rav Chayim Kaniyevski quotes in the name of the Chazon Ish that one could permit this clothing on the basis of a sefek sefeika: It is possibile that this garment does not contain both wool and linen, and even if it does contain both, the stitching may not have attached the wool to linen, in which case it is permitted according to most authorities (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Kilayim, 10:2 Biurei Halacha s.v. Levadim). Although he concludes that a G-d-fearing person should avoid use of this heter, he concludes that one may use a mattress stuffed with reprocessed fiber, since lying on shatnez is permitted min haTorah, and is prohibited miderabbanan only on soft items. The same rationale permits using baseball gloves, which are also usually stuffed with reprocessed fibers, since the rawhide surface of a baseball glove does not provide any warmth to the hand. Therefore, even yarei shamayim baseball players may continue to use their gloves.

We will continue our discussion on Shatnez in a future article.

The Mitzvah of ViKidashto – To Treat a Kohen with Respect

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Question: I know the Torah teaches that we are to treat a kohen with honor, yet I always see people asking kohanim to do favors. Am I permitted to ask a kohen to do me a favor?

Answer:

You are asking a very excellent and interesting question. It is correct that a look at the early poskim implies that one should not ask a kohen to do him a favor, yet the prevalent custom is to be lenient. Let us explore the subject to see whether this practice is correct.

In Parshas Emor, after listing many specific mitzvohs that apply uniquely to the Kohen, the Torah states: “And you shall make him (the kohen) holy, because he offers the bread of your G-d. He shall be holy to you because I Hashem, who makes you holy, am Holy” (VaYikra 21:8). We are commanded by the Torah to treat a kohen differently since he is charged with bringing the offerings in the Beis HaMikdash (Gittin 59b; Rambam, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 4:2).

There are both positive and negative aspects to this mitzvah. A kohen who violates his kedushah by marrying a divorcee or other woman prohibited to him should be separated from his prohibited wife. The Gemara states that “you shall make him holy,” even against the kohen’s will. Thus, when the Jewish community and its besdin have control over Jewish affairs, they bear the responsibility to force a kohen to divorce his wife under these circumstances (Yevamos 82b).

There is also the positive aspect of this mitzvah, which is to treat the kohen with honor. According to the Rambam, this responsibility is considered a mitzvah min hatorah (Sefer HaMitzvos Aseh 32; Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 4:2), whereas other rishonim contend that this aspect of the mitzvah is only midarabanan (Tosafos, Chullin 87a end of s.v. vichiyivu; Tur, Yoreh Deah 28; Bach ad loc.). Later poskim rule that the mitzvah to treat a kohen with respect is indeed min hatorah (see Magen Avraham 201:4 and Mishnah Berurah op. cit.).

How Should the Kohen be Honored?

The Gemara explains that this respect manifests itself in several ways: “The kohen should open first (liftoach rishon), he should bless first, and he should take a nice portion first” (Gittin 59b, Moed Katan 28b). Similarly, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 5:4) teaches that when a yisrael walks alongside a kohen, the kohen should be given the more honorary place, which is on the right.

What is intended by the Gemara when it states that “the kohen should open first”? Some commentaries explain that this means that the kohen should be the first speaker, whether in divrei torah or at a meeting (Rashi, Gittin 59b). Others explain it to mean that the kohen should receive the first aliyah when the Torah is read (Rambam, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 4:2 and Rashi in Moed Katan 28b).

The kohen should make the brocha on the meal first (Rashi, Gittin 59b), make kiddush for everyone (Mishnah Berurah 201:12), and lead the benching (Rashi, Moed Katan 28b; Ran and other Rishonim, Nedarim 62b). If he is poor, he is entitled to choose the best portion of tzedokoh available or of the maaser given to the poor (Tosafos, Gittin 59b). According to some opinions, when dissolving a partnership, after dividing the item into two similar portions, the kohen should be offered the choice between the two portions (Rashi, Gittin 59b). However, the accepted approach is that this is not included in the mitzvah, and it is also not in the kohen’s best interest (Tosafos ad loc.). However, when a group of friends are together, they should offer the kohen to take the best portion.

Similarly, poskim rule that a kohen should be chosen ahead of a levi or a yisrael to be chazan (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 53:14). Presumably, he should also be given preference for a position to be a Rav, Rosh Yeshiva, or Magid Shiur in a yeshiva if he is qualified for the position.

It should be noted that the kohen deserves special respect only when he is at least a peer of the yisrael in learning. However, if the yisrael is a Torah scholar and the kohen is not, the Torah scholar receives the greater honor.

There is one exception to this ruling. In order to establish peace and harmony in the Jewish community, the first aliyah to the Torah is always given to a kohen, even when there is a Torah scholar in attendance (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 135:4). As far as other honors go, the Torah scholar should always be given honor ahead of the kohen. (It is interesting to note that, at the time of the Gemara, the gadol hador was given the first aliyah even if he was not a kohen.)

If the yisrael is a greater talmid chochom than the kohen, but the kohen is also a talmid chochom, some rule that one is required to give the kohen the greater honor (Shach, Yoreh Deah 246:14). Others rule that it is preferred to give the kohen the greater honor but it is not required (Rema, Orach Chayim 167:14 and Mishnah Berurah 201:12).

According to the Gemara, the kohen should be seated in a place of honor at the head of the table. The Gemara that teaches us this halacha is very instructive. “Rav Chama bar Chanina said: ‘How do we know that a choson sits at the head of the table, because the verse states: ‘kichoson yechahen pe’er, like a choson receives the glory of a kohen (Yeshaya 61:10)’. Just like the kohen sits at the head of the table, so to the choson sits at the head of the table” (Moed Katan 28b). Contemporary poskim contemplate why we do not follow this halacha in contemporary practice (Rav Sholom Shvadron in his footnotes to Daas Torah of Maharsham 201:2). Although our custom is to seat the choson in the most important place at the wedding and sheva berachos, we do not place the kohanim in seats that demonstrate their importance!

From the above discussion we see that one is required to treat a kohen with honor and respect, yet we have not discussed whether I can ask a kohen to do me a favor. Perhaps I can treat the kohen with honor and respect, and yet ask him to do things for me. However, the Talmud Yerushalmi states that it is forbidden to receive personal benefit from a kohen, just as it is forbidden to have personal benefit from the vessels of the Beis HaMikdash (Berachos 8:5). This Yerushalmi is quoted as halacha (Rema, Orach Chayim 128:44). Thus, it would seem that one may not use a kohen for any personal benefit just as one may not use the vessels of the Beis HaMikdash.

Nevertheless, this conclusion is not obvious. Many commentaries point out that there appears to be conflicting evidence to this Yerushalmi. Specifically, the Gemara Bavli refers to a Hebrew slave (eved ivri) who is a kohen. How could a kohen become a Hebrew slave if one is not permitted to have personal benefit from a kohen (Hagahos Maimonis, Hilchos Avadim 3:8)?

Several approaches are presented to resolve this difficulty. Some early poskim contend that there is no prohibition in having personal benefit from a kohen if he does not mind. In their opinion, a kohen may be mocheil on his honor (Mordechai, Gittin #461). However, many authorities rule explicitly that it is forbidden to use a kohen even if he is mocheil (Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos Aseh #32; Smag, Mitzvas Aseh #83).

Other poskim explain that although it is forbidden to use a kohen without paying him, one is permitted to hire a kohen to work for you (Smag, Mitzvas Aseh # 83). According to this approach, it is prohibited to use a kohen only when the kohen receives no benefit from his work. In a situation where the kohen gains from his work, one may benefit from a kohen. Thus, the kohen is even permitted to sell himself as a slave since he gains material benefit from the arrangement.

This dispute, whether a kohen has the ability to be mocheil on his kovod, is further discussed by later poskim. Rema (128:44), Magen Avraham (ad loc.), and Pri Chodosh (in his commentary Mayim Chayim on Gemara Gittin 59b) rule that a kohen can be mocheil on his honor, whereas Taz (Orach Chayim 128:39) disagrees. However, Taz also accepts that the kohen can be mocheil when he has benefit from the arrangement, as in the case of the Hebrew servant.

Thus, as a practical halacha, according to the majority opinion, I am permitted to have a kohen do me a favor provided he is mocheil on his honor. According to the minority opinion it is permitted only if I pay him for his work.

There is another line of reasoning that can be used to permit using a kohen for a favor today. The reason why the Torah required giving a kohen honor is because he does the service in the Beis HaMikdash. Thus, he is considered like the vessels of the Beis HaMikdash, which also have sanctity. However, only a kohen who can prove the pedigree of his lineage may perform the service in the Beis HaMikdash. Such kohanim are called kohanim meyuchasim. Kohanim who cannot prove their lineage are called kohanei chazakah, kohanim because of traditional practice. These kohanim fulfill the roles of kohanim because they have a tradition and family practice to act and perform mitzvohs like a kohen does. However, they cannot prove that they are kohanim.

Since today’s kohanim are not meyuchasim, they would not be permitted to perform the service in the Beis HaMikdash. Thus, they do not have sanctity similar to the vessels of the Beis HaMikdash. Therefore, some poskim contend that one may have personal benefit from today’s kohanim (Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Avadim 3:8, quoting Yafeh Mareh).

Based on our discussion, we should raise the question why don’t we honor the kohen all the time? This question is raised by the Magen Avraham (201:4) who explains that the custom to be lenient is because our kohanim are not meyuchasim. However, he is clearly not comfortable with relying on this heter. Similarly, Mishneh Berurah (201:13) rules that one should not rely on this heter. On the contrary, one should go out of one’s way to show honor to a kohen.

In this context, the Mordechai records an interesting story (Gittin #461). Once a kohen washed Rabbeinu Tam’s hands.  A student of Rabbeinu Tam asked him how could he benefit from the kohen, when the Yerushalmi states that it is prohibited? Rabbeinu Tam responded that a kohen has kedushah only when he is wearing the vestments that the kohen wears in the Beis HaMikdash. The students present then asked Rabbeinu Tam, if his answer is accurate, why do we give the kohen the first aliyah even when he is not wearing the kohen’s vestments? Unfortunately, the Mordechai does not report what Rabbeinu Tam himself answered. The Mordechai does cite R’ Peter as explaining that a kohen can be moichel on his kovod.

A kohen who is blemished (A Baal Mum)

Does the mitzvah of treating a kohen with kedushah apply to a kohen who is blemished (a baal mum) and thus cannot perform the avodah in the Beis HaMikdash? One would think that only a kohen who can offer the “bread of Hashem” has this status. Nonetheless, we derive that the laws do apply to a kohen who is blemished (Toras Kohanim to VaYikra 21:8). Apparently, the other unique halachos of being a kohen are sufficient reason that he should be accorded honor.

Is There any Mitzvah to Give Honor to a kohen who is a Minor?

This matter is disputed by early poskim. Some poskim feel that since a child is not obligated to observe mitzvos and furthermore cannot perform the service in the Beis HaMikdash, that there is no requirement to give him honor. On the other hand, there are poskim who contend that the Torah wanted all of Aaron’s descendents to be treated with special honor, even a minor.

This dispute has very interesting and common ramifications. What happens if there is no adult kohen in shul, but there is a kohen who is a minor? If the mitzvah of vikidashto applies to a minor, then the kohen who is under bar mitzvah should be called to the Torah for the first aliyah! This is indeed the opinion of an early posek (Shu”t Maharit #145). However, the prevalent practice is that there is no mitzvah of vikidashto on a kohen who is under bar mitzvah since he cannot bring the korbanos in the Beis HaMikdash (Magen Avraham 282:6)

A Very Interesting Minhag and a Machlokes

A fascinating discussion about the mitzvah of calling the kohen for the first aliyah is found in the responsa of the Maharik  (#9). Apparently, there was a custom in his day (the fifteenth century) in many shullen in France and Germany that on Shabbos Breishis they would auction off the first aliyah in order to pay for certain community needs. This was considered a major demonstration of  kovod hatorah to demonstrate that people value the first aliyah of the year by paying a large sum of money for it. Maharik compares this practice to a custom we are more familiar with: The selling of Choson Torah on Simchas Torah for a large sum of money.

If a non-kohen bought the first aliyah of the year, the custom was that the kohanim would either daven in a different shul or they would walk outside the shul so that the donor could be called to the Torah for the aliyah.

In one congregation with this custom, one kohen refused to leave the shul and also refused to bid on the donation. Instead, he insisted that he be given the aliyah gratis. The members of the shul called upon the city government authorities to remove the

recalcitrant kohen from the premises so that they could call up the donor for the aliyah.

The issue was referred to the Maharik, as one of the greatest poskim of his generation. The Maharik ruled that the congregation is permitted to continue their practice of auctioning off this aliyah and calling the donor to the Torah, and they may ignore the presence of the recalcitrant kohen. Since this is their well-established minhag, and it was established to demonstrate kovod hatorah, in a case like this we rule that a minhag can override the halacha, specifically the requirement to call the kohen to the Torah as the first aliyah.

In the same tshuvah, Maharik mentions another related minhag that was well-accepted in his day. Apparently, during this period and place, most people fasted on bahav, the three days of fasting and saying selichos that take place during the months of MarCheshvan and Iyar. In addition, the custom on these fast days was to call up for an aliyah only people who were fasting, similar to the practice we have on our fast days. Maharik reports that if all the kohanim who were in shul were not fasting, the kohanim would exit the shul to allow them to call a non-kohen to the Torah who was fasting. He rules that this custom is halachically acceptable since it is a kovod hatorah that on a community-accepted fast to call to the Torah only people who are fasting.

Thus, we see from the Maharik’s responsum that although it is a mitzvah to honor the kohen, there is a greater mitzvah to safeguard the community’s minhag. In regard to the honor of the kohen, the conclusion of the Mishneh Berurah and other late poskim is that one should try to honor the kohen, following the literal interpretation of the statement of chazal.

Can We Offer the Korban Pesach without the Beis HaMikdash?

In the year 5017 (1257), several hundred Baalei Tosafos, led by Rav Yechiel of Paris, headed for Eretz Yisroel. A younger contemporary, Rav Ashtori HaParchi, the author of Kaftor VaFerech, records a fascinating story (Vol. 1, page 101 in the 5757 edition). The Kaftor VaFerech had gone to Yerushalayim to have his sefer reviewed by a talmid chacham named Rav Baruch. Rav Baruch told the Kaftor VaFerech that Rav Yechiel had planned to offer korbanos upon arriving in Yerushalayim. Kaftor VaFerech records that at the time he was preoccupied readying his sefer for publication and did not think about the halachic issues involved, but after the pressures of his publishing deadline passed, he realized that there were practical halachic problems with Rav Yechiel’s plan, as we will discuss shortly.

It seems that Rav Yechiel’s plan to offer korbanos failed, presumably because Yerushalayim was under Crusader rule at the time. His community of Baalei Tosafos settled in Acco, as we know from a report of the Ramban about ten years later. (The Ramban reports that he spent Rosh HaShanah that year with the community of the Baalei Tosafos in Acco and delivered to them a drasha that was recorded for posterity. This is quoted in Kisvei HaRamban, Vol. 1 pg. 211.)

Let us fast forward to the early nineteenth century. Rav Tzvi Hersh Kalisher, the rav of Thorn, Germany, who had studied as a youth in the yeshivos headed by Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Nesivos HaMishpat (Rav Yaakov of Lisa), published a sefer advocating bringing korbanos in the location where the Beis HaMikdash once stood in Yerushalayim. Rav Kalisher considered it not only permissible to offer korbanos before the Beis HaMikdash is rebuilt, but even obligatory.

As one can well imagine, his sefer created a huge furor. Rav Kalisher corresponded extensively with his own rabbonim, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Nesivos, and other well-known luminaries of his era including the Chasam Sofer and the Aruch LaNer. All of them opposed Rav Kalisher’s opinion, although not necessarily for the same reasons.

We can categorize the opposition to Rav Kalisher’s proposal under three headings:

  1. There was almost universal disagreement with his opinion that there is a requirement to offer korbanos before the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash.
  2. Some rabbonim, notably Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the Aruch LaNer, prohibited offering korbanos before the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash even if we could resolve all the other halachic issues involved (Shu”t Binyan Tzion #1). However, it should be noted that this question did not bother either Rav Yechiel of Paris or Rav Ashtori HaParchi. Furthermore, Rabbi Akiva Eiger asked his son-in-law, the Chasam Sofer, to request permission from the ruler of Yerushalayim to allow the offering of korbanos. Presumably, Rabbi Akiva Eiger felt that his son-in-law, who had a close connection to the Austro-Hungarian royal family, might be able to use their influence to gain access to the Ottoman Empire who ruled over Yerushalayim at the time. The Chasam Sofer responded with great respect to his father-in-law, but pointed out that the Beis HaMikdash area is unfortunately covered by a mosque that is sacred to its Moslem rulers who will not permit any non-Moslem to enter (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #236). Thus, we see that both Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Chasam Sofer agreed with Rav Kalisher that we are permitted to bring korbanos before the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash.
  3. Numerous halachic hurdles need to be overcome in order to offer korbanos. The discussion of these issues constitutes the lion’s share of the debate.

Rav Kalisher responded to the correspondence, eventually producing a sefer “Derishas Tzion” (published many years after the demise of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the Chasam Sofer, and the Nesivos) and subsequent essays where he presented and clarified his position. At least three full-length books and numerous essays and responsa were published opposing Rav Kalisher’s thesis.

Before quoting this discussion, we need to clarify several points. First, can we indeed offer korbanos without the existence of the Beis HaMikdash?

MAY ONE BRING KORBANOS WITHOUT THE BEIS HAMIKDASH?

The Mishnah (Eduyos 8:6) quotes Rabbi Yehoshua as saying, “I heard that we can offer korbanos even though there is no Beis HaMikdash.” The Gemara (Zevachim 62a) tells us a story that provides us with some background about this statement. “Three prophets returned with the Jews from Bavel (prior to the building of the second Beis HaMikdash), Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi, each bringing with him a halachic tradition that would be necessary for the implementation of korbanos. One of them testified about the maximum size of the mizbeiach, one testified about the location of the mizbeiach, and the third testified that we may offer korbanos even when there is no Beis HaMikdash.” Based on these testimonies, the Jews returning to Eretz Yisroel began offering korbanos before the Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt.

Obviously, Rav Kalisher and Rav Ettlinger interpret this Gemara differently. According to Rav Kalisher and those who agreed with him, the prophet testified that we may offer korbanos at any time, even if there is no Beis HaMikdash. Rav Ettlinger, however, understands the Gemara to mean that one may offer korbanos once the construction of the Beis HaMikdash has begun, even though it is still incomplete. But in the view of Rav Ettlinger, after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash we may not offer korbanos until Eliyahu announces the building of the third Beis HaMikdash.

An earlier posek, Rav Yaakov Emden, clearly agreed with Rav Kalisher in this dispute. Rav Emden, often referred to as “The Yaavetz,” contends that Jews offered korbanos, at least occasionally, even after the second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, which would be forbidden according to Rav Ettlinger’s position (She’aylas Yaavetz #89). This is based on an anecdote cited by a mishnah (Pesachim 74a) that Rabban Gamliel instructed his slave, Tevi, to roast the Korban Pesach for him. There were two Tanna’im named Rabban Gamliel, a grandfather and a grandson. The earlier Rabban Gamliel, referred to as “Rabban Gamliel the Elder,” lived at the time of the second Beis HaMikdash, whereas his grandson, “Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh,” was the head of the Yeshivah in Yavneh and was renowned after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Thus, if we can determine which Rabban Gamliel is the protagonist of the mishnah’s story, we may be able to determine whether Jews offered korbanos after the Churban. This would verify Rav Kalisher’s opinion.

Rav Emden assumes that the Rabban Gamliel who owned a slave named Tevi was the later one. He thus concludes that Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh offered korbanos after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Although the Yaavetz brings no proof that the Rabban Gamliel in the above-quoted mishnah is Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, he may have based his assumption on a different Gemara (Bava Kamma 74b), which records a conversation between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel concerning Tevi. Since Rabbi Yehoshua was a contemporary of Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh, this would imply that the later Rabban Gamliel indeed offered the Korban Pesach after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

However, this does not solve the numerous halachic issues that need to be resolved in order to allow the offering of korbanos. Although Rav Kalisher responded to these issues, the other gedolim considered his replies insufficient.

KORBANOS ON THE MOUNTAIN

The Brisker Rav, Rav Velvel Soloveichek, raised a different objection to Rav Kalisher’s proposal. Basing himself on several pesukim and halachic sources, he contended that the Beis HaMikdash site only has kedusha when it is a high mountain. Since the Romans razed the present site and it is no longer the prominent height it once was, it is not kosher for offering korbanos until the mountain is raised again to its former glory (quoted in Moadim U’Zemanim Volume 5, pg. 222). Thus, according to this approach, one of Moshiach’s jobs will be to raise the mountain to its former height. Presumably, Rav Kalisher felt that although the mountain should and will be raised, korbanos may be offered before that time.

I will now present some of the other questions involved in ascertaining whether we may bring korbanos before the coming of Eliyahu and Moshiach.

MAY A TAMEI PERSON ENTER THE BEIS HAMIKDASH?

Virtually all opinions agree that it is a Torah prohibition to offer korbanos anywhere in the world except for the designated place in the Beis HaMikdash called the mizbeiach. This creates a halachic problem, because it is a severe Torah prohibition to enter the Beis HaMikdash grounds while tamei, and virtually everyone today has become tamei meis through contact with a corpse. (Someone who was ever in the same room or under the same roof as a corpse also becomes tamei meis.) Although other forms of tumah can be removed by immersion in a mikveh at the appropriate time, tumas meis can be removed only by sprinkling ashes of the parah adumah (the red heifer). Since the ashes of the previously prepared paros adumos are lost, we cannot purify ourselves from tumas meis. Thus, we would be prohibited from bringing most korbanos because every kohen is presumed to be tamei meis.

Gedolim have discussed whether a new parah adumah can be prepared before the arrival of the Moshiach, but I am refraining from citing this discussion because of space considerations.

However, although we have no available tahor cohanim, this would not preclude our offering Korban Pesach or certain other public korbanos (korbanos tzibur).

WHY IS KORBAN PESACH DIFFERENT FROM MOST OTHER KORBANOS?

Most korbanos cannot be brought when either the owner of the korban or the kohen offering the korban is tamei. However, the Torah decrees that korbanos that are offered on a specific day must be brought even when every kohen is tamei. Thus, the Korban Pesach, the daily korban tamid, and the special mussaf korbanos that are brought on Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh may be offered by a kohen who is tamei meis if necessary.

Other korbanos, however, may not be offered by a tamei kohen even if this results in them not being brought at all. Thus, since there is no tahor kohen available today, we would assume that Rav Yechiel only planned to offer one of the above korbanos (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #236).

LOCATION OF THE MIZBEIACH

As mentioned above, the debate over Rav Kalisher’s proposal concerned other halachic issues that must be resolved before we may offer korbanos. The Kaftor VaFerech raised two of these issues over five hundred years before Rav Kalisher. How could Rav Yechiel offer korbanos when we do not know the exact location of the mizbeiach? As the Rambam writes, “The location of the mizbeiach is extremely exact and it may never be moved from its location…. We have an established tradition that the place where David and Shlomoh built the mizbeiach is the same place where Avraham built the mizbeiach and bound Yitzchak. This is the same place where Noach built a mizbeiach when he left the Ark and where Kayin and Hevel built their mizbeiach. It is the same place where Adam offered the first korban, and it is the place where he (Adam) was created.

“The dimensions and shape of the mizbeiach are very exact. The mizbeiach constructed when the Jews returned from the first exile was built according to the dimensions of the mizbeiach that will be built in the future. One may not add or detract from its size,” (Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 2:1-3).

As noted above, prior to building the second Beis HaMikdash, the prophets Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi testified regarding three halachos about the mizbeiach that were necessary to reinstitute the korbanos, one of which was the exact location the mizbeiach and. If so, how can we offer korbanos without knowing the location of the mizbeiach?

Rav Kalisher offered an answer to this question, contending that the prophets’ testimonies were necessary only after the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash, because the Babylonians razed it to its very foundations. However, Rav Kalisher contended that sufficient remnants exist of the second Beis HaMikdash to determine the mizbeiach’s precise location, thus eliminating the need for prophecy or testimony to establish its location.

Rav Kalisher’s correspondents were dissatisfied with this response, maintaining that the calculations based on the Beis HaMikdash remnants could not be sufficiently precise to determine the mizbeiach’s exact location. Thus, they felt that we must await the arrival of Eliyahu HaNavi to ascertain the mizbeiach’s correct place.

YICHUS OF COHANIM

Do we have “real” cohanim today? Only a kohen who can prove the purity of his lineage may serve in the Beis HaMikdash (see Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biah 20:2). The Gemara calls such cohanimcohanim meyuchasim.” Cohanim who cannot prove their lineage, but who have such a family tradition, are called “cohanei chazakah,” cohanim because of traditional practice. Although they may observe other mitzvos of cohanim, they may not serve in the Beis HaMikdash.

An early source for the distinction between cohanim who can prove their lineage and those who cannot is the story found in Tanach about the sons of Barzilai the Kohen. When these cohanim came to bring korbanos in the second Beis HaMikdash, Nechemiah rebuffed them because of concerns about their ancestry (Ezra 2:61-63; Nechemiah 7:63-65). The Gemara states that although Nechemiah permitted them to eat terumah and to duchen, he prohibited them from eating korbanos or serving in the Beis HaMikdash (Kesubos 24b). Similarly, today’s cohanim who cannot prove their kehunah status should be unable to serve in the Beis HaMikdash. This would eliminate the possibility of offering korbanos today.

However, Rav Kalisher permits cohanei chazakah to offer korbanos. He contends that only in the generation of Ezra and Nechemiah, when there was a serious problem of intermarriage (see Ezra, Chapter 9), did they restrict service in the Beis HaMikdash to cohanim meyuchasim. However, in subsequent generations, any kohen with a mesorah may serve in the Beis HaMikdash.

Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Yoreh Deah #236) also permits cohanei chazakah to offer korbanos, but for a different reason, contending that although using a kohen meyuchas is preferred, a non-meyuchas kohen may serve in the Beis HaMikdash when no kohen meyuchas is available.

Other poskim dispute this, maintaining that a kohen who is not meyuchas may not serve in the Beis HaMikdash (Kaftor VaFerech).

The question then becomes – If only a kohen who can prove his kehunah may offer korbanos, and there are no surviving cohanim who can prove their kehunah, how will we ever again be able to bring korbanos?

The answer is that Moshiach will use his Ruach HaKodesh to determine who is indeed a kosher kohen that may serve in the Beis HaMikdash (Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 12:3). This approach preempts Rav Kalisher’s proposal completely.

VESTMENTS OF THE KOHEN

Before korbanos are reintroduced, gedolei poskim will have to decide several other matters, including the definitive determination of several materials necessary for the kohen’s vestments.

The Torah describes the garments worn to serve in the Beis HaMikdash as follows: “Aharon and his sons shall put on their belt and their hat, and they (the garments) shall be for them as kehunah as a statute forever,” (Shmos 29:9). The Gemara deduces, “When their clothes are on them, their kehunah is on them. When their clothes are not on them, their kehunah is not on them,” (Zevachim 17b). This means that korbanos are valid only if the kohen offering them wears the appropriate garments.

One of the vestments worn by the cohanim is the avneit, the belt. Although the Torah never describes the avneit worn by the regular kohen, the halachic conclusion is that his avneit includes threads made of techeiles, argaman, and tola’as shani (Gemara Yoma 6a). There is uncertainty about the identification of each of these items. For example, the Rambam and the Ravad dispute the color of argaman (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13). The identity of techeiles is also unknown. Most poskim conclude that Hashem hid the source of techeiles, a fish known as chilazon, and that it will only be revealed at the time of Moshiach. Thus, even if we rule that our cohanim are kosher for performing the service, they cannot serve without valid garments! (It should be noted that several great poskim, including the Radziner Rebbe, the Maharsham, Rav Herzog and Rav Yechiel Michel Tukochinski, contended that we could research the correct identity of the techeiles. I have written a different article on the subject of identifying the techeiles.)

Rav Kalisher himself contended that the garments of the kohen do not require chilazon as the dye source, only the color of techeiles. In his opinion, chilazon dye is only necessary for tzitzis. (He based this approach on the wording of the Rambam in Hilchos Tzitzis 2:1-2.) Therefore, in Rabbi Kalisher’s opinion, one may dye the threads of the avneit the correct color and perform the service. However, other poskim did not accept this interpretation but require the specific dye source of chilazon blood to dye the vestments (Likutei Halachos, Zevachim Chapter 13 pg. 67a).

Rav Kalisher did not discuss the dispute between the Rambam and the Ravad about the color of the argaman. Apparently, he felt that we could determine the answer and dye the avneit threads appropriately.

ADDITIONAL ISSUES

The poskim raised several other issues concerning Rav Kalisher’s proposal. One problem raised is that Klal Yisroel must purchase all public korbanos from the funds of the machatzis hashekel, which would require arranging the collection of these funds before the publically owned korbanos could be offered. However, this question would not preclude offering Korban Pesach, which is a privately owned korban.

Rav Kalisher’s disputants raised several other questions, more than can be presented here. As we know, the gedolei haposkim rejected Rav Kalisher’s plan to reintroduce korbanos before the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.

However, we have much to learn from Rav Kalisher’s intense desire to offer korbanos. Do we live with a burning desire to see the Beis HaMikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? Even if, chas veshalom, we are still not able to offer Korban Pesach this year, we should still devote Erev Pesach to studying the halachos of that korban. And may we soon merit seeing the cohanim offering all the korbanos in the Beis HaMikdash in purity and sanctity, Amen.

The Mitzvah of “Duchening” – Birchas Kohanim

The Mitzvah of “Duchening” – Birchas Kohanim

In Parshas Naso, the Torah teaches us about the beautiful mitzvah of Birchas Kohanim, wherein the kohanim are commanded to bless the people of Israel. This mitzvah is usually referred to by Ashkenazic Jews as “duchening” and by Sefardic Jews as Birchat Kohanim, or occasionally as Nesiyat Kapayim, which refers to the raising of the hands that the kohanim do in order to recite the blessings.

Why Is This Mitzvah Called Duchening?

Duchen is the Aramaic word for the platform that is in front of the Aron Kodesh. The duchen exists to remind us of the ulam, the antechamber that stood in front of the Kodesh and the Kodshei HaKodoshim, the holy chambers in the Beis HaMikdash. The Kodshei HaKodoshim was entered on only one day of the year, on Yom Kippur, and then only by the Kohen Gadol. The Kodesh was entered a few times daily but only to perform the mitzvos of the Menorah, the Golden Mizbayach (altar), and the Shulchan (the Holy Table that held the Lechem HaPanim). Before entering the Kodesh, one ascended into the Ulam as a sign of respect that one should not immediately enter the Kodesh.

Similarly, in our shuls the Aron Kodesh represents the Kodesh, since we are permitted to open it and to remove the sifrei torah when we need to. But before entering the Kodesh, one ascends the duchen as a sign of respect that one should not immediately each the Aron Kodesh.

 

The duchen also serves other functions, one of which is that the kohanim stand upon it when they recite the blessings of Birchas Kohanim. For this reason, this mitzvah is called duchening (duchenen in Yiddish). In the absence of a duchen, or if there are more kohanim in the shul than there is room for them on the duchen, the kohanimduchen” while standing on the floor in the front of the shul.

Basics of Duchening

There is a basic order to the duchening that occurs during the repetition of the shmoneh esray. When the chazan completes the brochah of modim and the congregation answers “amen” to his brocha, someone (either the chazan of a member of congregation, depending on minhag) then calls out “kohanim” to inform the kohanim that it is time for them to begin the brochah. The chazan then reads each word of the Birchas Kohanim that is recorded in the Torah (Bamidbar 6:24-26) for the kohanim to recite, and the kohanim respond. After each of the three brochahs are recited, the congregation responds “amen” to the brochah. Finally, after the last brochah of the birchas kohanim is completed by the kohanim, the chazan returns to the repetition of the shmoneh esray by reciting the brochah of sim shalom.

The Gemara and poskim teach us that at each of these stages, one must be careful not to recite one’s part before the previous step has been completed. Thus,

the person who calls out “kohanim,” must be careful not to do so before the congregation has finished answering “amen” to the chazan’s brochah; the kohanim should be careful not to recite the words of the brochah before the chazan has completed saying the word “kohanim”; the chazan may not call out “yivarechecha” before the congregation has completed saying “amen” to the brochah of the kohanim, etc. It is important to be mindful of these halachos and allow each stage to be completed before beginning the next. Unfortunately, even well-learned people are sometimes not sufficiently careful to wait until it is time for their part to be recited.

Wearing Shoes During Duchening

A kohen may not duchen while wearing shoes. The Gemara tells us that this was one of the nine takkanos that were instituted by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai (Sotah 40a). Although there would seem to be an obvious association with the halacha that the kohanim performed the service in the Beis HaMikdash barefoot, the actual reason for this takkanah is more practical. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was concerned that a kohen’s shoelace would tear while he was on the way to the duchen. While stopping to retie his shoelace, the kohen would miss the duchening. However, people who saw that he missed the duchening would rumor that he is not a valid kohen and that is why he did not duchen! For this reason, chazal instituted that every kohen simply removes his shoes before duchening.

Wbat if the Chazan is a Kohen?

The mishnah states that when there is only one kohen in shul, and he is the chazan, then he may (and should) duchen (Berachos 34a). In this instance, the kohen will remove his shoes and wash his hands prior to beginning repetition of the shmoneh esray. There is a dispute among poskim whether a kohen may duchen when he is the chazan and there are other kohanim who will be duchening. Shulchan Aruch rules that he should not duchen under these circumstances, because of a concern that he will become confused where he is up to in the davening and have difficulty resuming his role as chazan (128:20). Chazal instituted this even when we are certain that the chazan will not become confused, such as today when he has a siddur in front of him (Mishneh Berurah 128:72).

However, the Pri Chodosh rules that he may duchen, and that the concern referred to by Shulchan Aruch was only when the chazan might become confused (such as he does not have a siddur to daven from). In most communities in Eretz Yisrael the custom is to follow the Pri Chodosh’s ruling allowing a kohen who is the chazan to duchen. However, in chutz la’aretz the practice is to follow the Shulchan Aruch and the chazan does not duchen (unless he is the only kohen).

In a situation where the chazan is the only kohen and there is a platform (the “duchen”) in front of the aron kodesh, there is a very interesting halacha that results. Since the duchening should take place on the platform, the kohen actually walks up in the middle of the shmoneh esray he is reciting as chazan in order to walk up to the duchen. After completing the duchening, he returns to his place as chazan and completes the repetition of the shmoneh esray.

The Minyan Disappeared

What do you do if you started davening with a minyan, but in the middle of davening some men left leaving you with less than a minyan? Can you still duchen?

If the minyan started the duchening with ten men or more, and then some men left in the middle of the duchening, they should complete the duchening (Biyur Halachah 128:1 s.v. bipachus).

What Happens if a Kohen Who Does Not Want to Duchen?

A kohen who does not want to duchen for some reason should stand outside the shul from before the time that the word “kohanim” is called out, until the duchening is completed.

The Days that We Duchen

The prevalent custom among sefardim and other edot hamizrach is to duchen every day. There are many Ashkenazic poskim who contend that Ashkenazim should also duchen every day. However, the standard practice in chutz la’aretz is that Ashkenazim duchen only on Yomim Tovim. In most of Eretz Yisroel, the prevalent practice is that Ashkenazim duchen every day. However, in Tzfas and much of the Galil the custom is that the kohanim duchen only on shabbos and Yom Tov.

Why do Ashkenazim duchen in Eretz Yisrael every day, and in Chutz La’Aretz only on Yom Tov?

Several reasons are cited to explain this practice. Rema explains that a person can only confer blessing when he is fully happy. Unfortunately, except for the Yomim Tovim, the kohanim are distracted from true happiness by the difficulties involved in obtaining basic daily needs. However, on Yomim Tovim the kohanim are in a mood of celebration. Thus, they forget their difficulties and can bless people with a complete heart (Rema 128:44; cf. Be’er Heiteiv ad loc.). Thus, only on Yom Tov do the kohanim duchen.

In Eretz Yisroel, the practice is to duchen daily because the Ashkenazim there followed the ruling of the Vilna Gaon. He contended that Ashkenazim everywhere should duchen every day.

Why do the kohanim in Tzfas duchen only on Shabbos and Yom Tov?

The reason for this custom is unclear. I was once told in the name of Rav Kaplan, the Rav of Tzfas for many decades, that since Tzfas had many tzoros over the years, including many serious earthquakes and frequent attacks by bandits, that the people living there did not have true simcha. However, they were able to achieve enough simcha on Shabbos to be able to duchen. This reason does not explain why the other communities in the Galil duchen only on Shabbos.

It should be noted that the Sefardim in Tzfas duchen every day, not only on Shabbos.

Taking off Shoes

Chazal instituted that a kohen should remove his shoes before duchening. Unfortunately, some kohanim leave their shoes lying around in the front of the shul when they go up to duchen. This practice is incorrect. The kohanim are required to place their shoes under the benches or in some other inconspicuous place when they go up to duchen. It shows a lack of kovod to leave the shoes lying about (Mishneh Berurah 128:15)

Washing Hands

In some shuls the Kohanim wash their hands in the front of the shul before they go up to duchen. What is the reason for this practice?

This custom has a source in Rishonim and Poskim and should definitely be encouraged  Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. kol) rules that one should wash one’s hands relatively near to the duchen. In Tosafos’ opinion, washing further from the duchen constitutes an interruption, a hefsek, similar to talking between washing netilas yodayim and making hamotzi on eating bread. (His actual ruling is that one should wash one’s hands within twenty-two amos of the duchen, which is a distance of less than forty feet.) Thus, according to Tosafos, we are required to place a sink within that distance of the duchen where the kohanim stand to duchen. Magen Avrohom rules like this Tosafos. Magen Avrohom adds that, according to Tosafos, since the kohanim wash their hands before retzay, the chazan should recite the brochah of retzay speedily. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohen washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos (128:9). Thus, retzay must be recited in less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos. Biyur Halachah adds that the kohanim should not converse between the washing of their hands and the duchening because this also constitutes a hefsek.

Duchening and Dreams

A person who had a dream that requires interpretation, but does know whether the dream bodes well, should recite a prayer at the time of the duchening (Berachos 55b; Shulchan Aruch 130:1). It should be noted that the text of the prayer quoted by the Gemara is different from that quoted in the majority of siddurim. The Gemara cites the following text for this prayer:

“Master of the World, I am yours and my dreams are yours. I dreamed a dream that I do not know what it is- whether it is something I have dreamt about myself or it is something that my friends dreamt about me or whether it is something that I dreamt about them. If these dreams are indeed good, strengthen them like the dreams of Yosef. However, if the dreams need to be healed, heal them like Moshe healed the bitters waters of Marah and as Miriam was healed from her tzaraas and as Chizkiyahu was healed from his illness and as the waters on Yericho were healed by Elisha. Just as you changed the curse of Bilaam to a blessing, so to change all my dreams for goodness.” According to the opinion of the Vilna Gaon, this prayer should be recited at the end of all three blessings rather than reciting the “Yehi Ratzon” that is printed in most siddurim (Mishneh Berurah 130:5).

One should complete the prayer at the moment that the congregation answers Amen to the blessings of Birkas Kohanim. This prayer can be recited not only when one is uncertain of the interpretation of the dream but even when one knows that the dream bodes evil (Mishneh Berurah 130:4).

Among Ashkenazim in chutz la-aretz, where the practice is to duchen only on Yom

Tov, the custom is to recite this prayer every time one hears the duchening since there is a likelihood that since the last Yom Tov one had a dream that requires interpretation (Mishneh Berurah 130:1). This prayer is not recited on Shabbos unless one had a bad dream that night (Mishneh Berurah 130:4). In Eretz Yisrael, where the custom is to duchen daily, the practice among Ashkenazim is to recite the prayer for dreams at the last of the three berachos of the duchening at musaf on Yom Tov. The custom is that the kohanim chant the last word of the brochah on these days of on these days of Yom Tov to allow people sufficient time to recite these prayers.

In all places, the custom among Sefardim is not to recite the prayer unless the person had such a dream.

As a kohen myself, I find duchening to be the most beautiful of mitzvohs. We are indeed so fortunate to have a commandment to bless the our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. The nusach of the bracha is also worth noting. “levarach es amo yisrael b’ahava”- to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohen must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

Should a Kohen Be Afraid of Confederate Ghosts?

clip_image002When Yaakov Avinu asks his sons not to bury him in Egypt, Rashi notes three reasons for this request:

(1) The earth of Egypt would turn to lice during the Ten Plagues.

(2) To avoid the suffering of rolling to Eretz Yisroel at the time of techiyas hameisim.

(3) To prevent the Egyptians from making him into an idol.

On the other hand, although Yosef and his brothers undoubtedly had the same motives to be buried in Eretz Yisroel, they could not arrange their immediate burials there and were interred in Egypt until the Jews left. This is a classic example of the exhumation and reburial of meisim (human remains).

Our article will discuss a case where meisim were supposed to have been reburied, but apparently were not, creating a number of halachic concerns.

THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In a major metropolis, one section of the city included a large cemetery. About 140 years ago, this cemetery was closed to new burials and later, many of its graves were exhumed. Subsequently, the city constructed residential and commercial areas, city streets, a major park, a zoo, and museums atop the seventy-two acres of the cemetery.

Here is the historical background: In 5603/1843, the city designated a sixty acre area as a cemetery and three years later, a Jewish organization paid $45 to purchase part of this land as its own cemetery. Four years later, in 5610/1850, the city purchased an adjacent area of twelve more acres to expand the cemetery, so that it now encompassed 72 acres.

However, in the late 1850’s, a prominent physician requested that the cemetery be closed because of concern that it was too close to the city’s water supply and that it might spread disease. Until that point, this cemetery was the only authorized one in the city, and included a large “potters’ field,” or area for burying the destitute and the unidentified.

Two years later, an area immediately north of the cemetery was set aside as a park. During this time, the city gradually ceased using the cemetery. However, since the area was near a large prisoner-of-war camp housing captured Confederate soldiers, an estimated 4,000 Confederates who died in custody were interred in the cemetery’s potters’ field. At one time, the cemetery held an estimated 35,000 graves, including the resting place for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the Confederacy.

In 5626/1866 the cemetery was officially closed, partly due to the physician’s health concerns. By now, the Civil War was over and the surviving Confederate captives had been repatriated. The city officially decided to move the remains buried in this cemetery to other locations. Over the next thirty years there are numerous scattered reports of moving the graves to new locations. Despite attempts to remove graves, a conservative speculation is that the majority of the remains were never removed.

Fast forward to the modern era: In 5722/1962, workers digging a foundation for the zoo’s new barn discovered a skeleton and a casket. They reburied the casket in situ and poured the foundation right on top. During 5758/1998, workers constructing a parking lot in the area discovered 81 skeletons and an iron casket containing a cadaver. There are at least nineteen more reports of human bones found in the disused cemetery’s location.

Thus, the shaylah is whether a Kohen may walk through the streets and businesses of this old-time burial ground.

Steve Katz lives and works in this city and is well aware of the history of this park and its environs. His boss assigns him to attend a business meeting at a hotel that is located in the area that was originally the cemetery. Since Steve is a Kohen, may he attend the meeting? If he cannot, how will he explain this to his gentile employer?

Steve made an appointment to discuss the problem with his Rav, whom he knows will explain to him all the aspects of the shaylah.

WILL THE TUMAH RISE FROM THE GROUND?

Rav Goldberg begins by explaining some of the halachic background. When human remains are buried, under most circumstances the tumah rises directly above and contaminates the area above it. If a building is constructed directly above a grave, tumah may spread throughout that building, although sometimes it may spread only through the bottom floor and possibly only into the room constructed directly above the grave. We will have to leave for another time the discussion as to what factors affect how far tumah will spread through the structure.

If there is no building, tree or overhang over the gravesite, one becomes tamei only if one walks or stands directly above the gravesite.

SAFEK TUMAH BIRSHUS HARABIM

“However, the specific situation that you are asking about may be more lenient,” explains the Rav, “because of a concept called safek tumah birshus harabim, sefeiko tahor, which means, literally, that if there is doubt about whether something in a public area became tamei, the halacha is that it remains tahor (see Nazir 57a). Notwithstanding our usual assumption that safek de’oraysa lechumra, we rule strictly on doubts concerning Torah prohibitions, we rule leniently concerning a doubt of matters of tumah when the question occurred in a “public” area, a term we will define shortly.

There is also an inverse principle that safek tumah birshus hayachid, sefeiko tamei, which means that if there is doubt whether someone or something contracted tumah when they were in a private area, they are considered tamei.

WHAT IS PUBLIC?

For the purposes of these two principles, “public” is defined as an area to which at least three people have ready access, and “private” means a place that is accessible to less than three people. Thus, someone who discovers that he may have become tamei while walking down the street remains tahor. However, if he discovers that he may have become tamei while he was in a private area he is tamei. (All of these laws are derived from pesukim.)

“I know that there is more to explain,” interjects Steve, “but it would appear that one could have a situation in which one may enter a building, but one may not use the bathrooms, have a private office, or have a private interview.”

“It is certainly true,” responded the sage, “that someone entering a public building and discovering that he may have become tamei while there, would remain tahor, whereas if he entered a similar private area, he would be considered tamei. However, there are other factors to consider before we reach a definitive ruling.”

MAY THE KOHEN ENTER?

At this point, Steve raised a sophisticated point:

“I understand that someone who entered this area would afterwards be considered tahor. But may I enter the area knowing that I may be contaminating my kehunah?”

The Rav explained: “You are asking whether a Kohen may lichatchilah rely on the principle of safek tumah birshus harabim, or whether this principle is applied only after the fact. In general, one must be stringent when there is concern that one may be violating a Torah prohibition, and it is prohibited min hatorah for a Kohen to contact tumah from a meis. Thus, one could assume that a Kohen should not enter an area where there is a possibility of tumah. However, many authorities rule leniently when dealing with a safek tumah birshus harabim. They contend that the Torah only prohibited a Kohen from becoming tamei, but not from entering a situation where he will be ruled as tahor (Tosafos, Kesubos 28b s.v. Beis; Shu”t Rashba #83; Binas Odom, Klal 157; Pischei Teshuvah 369:4, quoting Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah; Minchas Chinuch 263:13 s.v. Vehinei). Thus, a Kohen could enter any publicly available area, including an office or residential building constructed over the city’s defunct cemetery. However, he could not enter an area restricted to less than three people.

“Others contend that since the Torah prohibits a Kohen from being in contact with a meis, he is similarly prohibited, because of safek de’oraysah lechumra, to be in a place where he might be exposed to a meis” (Tzelach, Berachos 19b; Achiezer 3:1:1, 3:65:7; Kovetz Shiurim; Teshuvos VeHanhagos).

STATUS QUO

Steve raised another point:

“In fact, we know that this area was once a cemetery, and we are fairly certain that not all the graves were exhumed. Does this make matters worse?”

“You are raising a very insightful question. Even assuming that a Kohen can rely on the principle of safek tumah bireshus harabim, this principle might not apply here since we know that this area was once a cemetery, and we are fairly certain that some graves remain. Thus we have a chazakah, status quo, that the area was once tamei meis, and we are uncertain whether the tumah was removed. In such a situation, perhaps the principle of safek tumah birshus harabim does not apply, since this rule may apply only where there is no status quo. (In Mikvaos 2:2, this seems to be the subject of a dispute between Tannayim. See also Tosafos, Niddah 2a s.v. Vehillel.)

“Nevertheless, in our particular case, we have some basis to be lenient. Although this entire area was once set aside as a cemetery, it is very unlikely that it became filled wall-to-wall with graves, and also, only the places directly above the graves were tamei. Thus, any place within the cemetery was tamei because of doubt, not because of certainty.

JEWISH VERSUS NON-JEWISH GRAVES

“There is another reason to permit entering the hotel for your meeting. People who researched the area have ascertained the exact location of the original Jewish cemetery, which is now the location of the ball fields of a local park. Thus, although I would advise you and your sons not to play ball on those particular diamonds, we can be more lenient regarding entering the hotel constructed in the area, as I will explain.”

Steve replied: “But how can we be certain that no Jews were ever buried in the non-Jewish cemetery. There definitely were some Jewish soldiers in the Confederate army, and it is likely that some Jews were buried in the non-Jewish cemetery or in the potters’ field.”

His Rav replied: “You are correct that some Jews were probably buried in the non-Jewish parts of the cemetery. Nevertheless, since we do not know this for certain, we may work with the assumption that there are no Jews there.”

“But even a non-Jewish body conveys tumah, so I still have a problem.”

“This depends on whether remains of a gentile convey tumas ohel, that is by being under the same being under the roof, cover, or overhang that is at least three inches (a tefach) wide.

DO THE REMAINS OF A NON-JEW CONVEY TUMAH?

“Although virtually all authorities agree that remains of a non-Jew convey tumah through touching and carrying, the Gemara cites the opinion of Rabbi Shimon that remains of a non-Jew do not convey tumas ohel (Yevamos 61a). The Rishonim dispute whether this position is held universally, and, in addition, whether this is the way we rule. It appears that most Rishonim conclude that a Kohen may enter a room containing the remains of a gentile because they follow Rabbi Shimon’s position. Others contend that we do not follow Rabbi Shimon’s position and that tumah of a gentile does spread through ohel. The Shulchan Aruch considers the question as unresolved and advises a Kohen not to walk over the graves of non-Jews (Yoreh Deah 372:2).”

At this point, Steve commented. “It seems from what you are saying that it is not a good idea for a Kohen to enter buildings in this area, but one may enter if there is a pressing reason” (see Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #470).

The Rav responded: “This is the conclusion of many authorities. Some are even more lenient. One famous responsum permits a Kohen to enter a field that he purchased without realizing that it contained an unmarked gentile cemetery. The author permits this by combining two different leniencies, each of which is somewhat questionable. One leniency is that perhaps a gentile does not spread tumah through ohel, and the other leniency is that some early authorities contend that once a Kohen becomes tamei, he is not forbidden from making himself tamei again (Raavad, Hil. Nezirus 5:15, as explained by Mishneh LaMelech, Hil. Aveil 3:1). Although we do not rule like this last opinion, the Avnei Nezer contends that one can combine both of these ideas to permit the Kohen who purchased this field without realizing the problem to utilize his purchase (Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #466).”

“This case of the Avnei Nezer sounds like a much more difficult situation in which to rule leniently than mine,” noted Steve. “After all, in his case there was no attempt to clear out the cemetery.”

“You are correct. For this reason, I would certainly not find fault with someone who chose to be lenient and indiscriminately enter the area that was only a gentile cemetery, relying on the ruling that gentile remains do not contaminate through ohel, and on the principle of safek tumah birshus harabim.”

“It still seems that one should avoid the ball fields that are located right over the old Jewish cemetery.”

“I would certainly advise this,” closed the Rabbi.

So Steve does not need to explain to his boss that he cannot attend business meetings at the hotel because of lost Confederate ghosts.

Although there may be little reason to panic over such issues, as we have discussed, one should be aware that it is not infrequent to discover old cemeteries beneath modern cities. Cemeteries, particularly Jewish ones, were always consecrated on sites outside the city limits in order to avoid the obvious problems of tumah affecting kohanim. Unfortunately, when Jews were exiled, the whereabouts of many cemeteries became forgotten, and in addition, as cities expand, they include areas that were originally outside the city’s limits that often include earlier cemeteries. Thus, these problems will continue to prevail. In each case, a posek must be consulted to find out whether, and to what extent, a Kohen need be concerned.

WHY IS IT PROHIBITED FOR A KOHEN TO COME IN CONTACT WITH A MEIS?

It is beyond our understanding to explain why Hashem commanded us to keep each specific mitzvah. However, we can and should attempt to glean a taste of Hashem’s mitzvos in order to appreciate and grow from the experience, including understanding why the Torah bans a Kohen from having contact with a meis under normal circumstances.

Rav Hirsch, in his commentary on Vayikra 21:5, provides a beautiful educational insight into this mitzvah. In most religions, fear of death is a major “selling point” of the religion. Thus, the role of the priest is most important when dealing with the dying and the dead.

However, Torah emphasizes how to live like a Jew — to study Torah, perform the mitzvos, and develop ourselves in Hashem’s image. To emphasize that Hashem provided us with the blueprint for perfect living, the Torah excludes the Kohen, who is the nation’s teacher, from involvement with death. Thus, the Kohen’s role is to imbue us with the knowledge and enthusiasm to truly live!

May a Cohen Go to the Dentist?

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This article was originally published in Yated Neeman.

Yankel Katz (*Names are fictitious) called me recently with a very surprising shaylah:

“I am scheduled to have a dental implant placed in my mouth.
My dentist told me that the procedure may require the insertion of cadaver bone
around the implant. Since I am a cohen, I
immediately realized that I may have a serious halacha problem on my hands, or
more accurately, in his hands and my mouth. May I have these products inserted?
May I even go into the dentist’s office knowing he has these remains (parts of
a corpse) on hand? Maybe I cannot even enter the building?”

I admit that I was more than a bit incredulous that human
remains are commonly used today in basic dentistry and medicine. I did some
research and discovered that indeed, Yankel’s information is accurate. Many
forms of dental, oral, podiatric and other kinds of surgery utilize cadaver
derived products. Surgeons and dentists use these human products (typically
bone, skin, and heart muscle) in various grafting procedures. Similarly, many
podiatrists use human remains in the construction of foot implants. Because of
this, most periodontists (gum specialists) and
dentists specializing in implants store human muscle and bone in their offices.
Thus, Yankel’s shaylah is realistic:
May a cohen enter an office building
knowing that there is probably a dental or foot clinic somewhere in the
building that contains human remains? Does this prohibit a cohen from freely entering large office buildings? Furthermore, a
non-cohen who causes a cohen to become tamei will also be violating
the Torah. Obviously, the ramifications of these shaylos are ominous, and the potential repercussions could be
catastrophic for people employed in most cities. Because of these
considerations, I researched this shaylah
with utmost seriousness.

There are three potential halacha issues involved in this shaylah:

I. Benefiting From Human Remains (Issur Hana’ah)

II. The Mitzvah of Burial

III. Tumah.

To answer these questions, I first needed to gather some
factual information. I began by asking Yankel’s dentist the following
questions:

1) How extensively are these bones
and muscle used?

2) How much material does a
dentist keep in his office?

I received the following answers:

1) Every periodontist and oral
surgeon has this material in his office. In addition, many general dentists
have it too if they perform gum surgery or implant surgery.

2) There is no practical way to answer
this question accurately. Specialists such as oral surgeons probably have a
lot. I keep between 2-10cc. They are usually stored in 0.5, 1, and 2cc bottles.

And now some background to the
halachic shaylos involved:

I. BENEFITING FROM A CORPSE

May one benefit from a corpse or
from human remains?

The Gemara rules that one may not benefit from a corpse (Avodah Zarah 29b). However, the Gemara
does not discuss whether this prohibition applies only to the remains of a Jew
or also to those of a non-Jew.

Why should it make a difference?

The Torah pasuk
teaching that one may not benefit from a corpse refers to a Jew. Thus, many poskim conclude that the prohibition is
restricted to the remains of a Jew (Tosafos
and Rashba, Bava Kamma
10a; Nekudos
HaKesef
and Gra, Yoreh Deah 349; Shu’t Radbaz #741; Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 14:21). Others rule that remains of
either Jews or non-Jews are equally forbidden (Shu’t Rashba 365; Shulchan
Aruch
, Yoreh Deah 349:1). Still
others compromise between these two positions, contending that the prohibition
to use a gentile cadaver is Rabbinic, whereas not using a Jewish corpse is
prohibited min haTorah (Pischei Teshuvah ad loc.).

In a circumstance of pikuach
nefesh
one may of course benefit, as is true with virtually all mitzvos of
the Torah. The question is that tooth replacement is not a case of life
threatening urgency. However, it may be very important to allow the patient to
use the best quality dental implant.

To quote Yankel’s dentist, himself an observant Jew:

“In my opinion, the severity of this
halachic issue should hinge on the detriment caused by tooth loss. Clearly
losing one tooth or even all the teeth will not result in death. However, tooth
loss often results in dietary/nutritional issues. People who have a difficult
time chewing will not have a proper diet. Although people who lose their teeth
can still eat, they tend to eat soft foods, which are usually high in
carbohydrates and low in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Foods that are high
in protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as meat, poultry, grains, and fresh
fruits and vegetables, tend to be harder to chew. Consequently, people who eat
mainly soft foods may become undernourished. I have seen many cases where
people receiving their first set of dentures lose a lot of weight due to the
difficulty involved in learning how to use them. Some people adapt and those who
do not often seek implants if they can afford it. The only thing preventing
most people from having implants is the exorbitant cost, since insurance does
not usually pay for them at this time.”

At this point, I think it is important to explain the
difference between dentures and implants. (I admit that I was unaware what
implants are until I was asked this shaylah.)

DENTURES VERSUS IMPLANTS

Dentures are removable appliances that replace some or all
of the teeth. They are usually not firm enough to allow a proper bite and chew,
and thus a patient using dentures usually regains only a very partial ability
to chew. In addition, they are often uncomfortable.

To install dental implants, the
dentist utilizes a surgical screw to which he cements crowns or bridges.
Alternatively, he uses the implants as anchors to hold complete dentures in
place. In either instance, the resultant bite is much stronger than dentures
and allows the patient an almost total ability to chew a regular diet.

Dental researchers introduced implants in the ‘60’s, and
they became mainstream practice in the ‘90’s. The last few years have seen a
huge surge in patient awareness and acceptance of the use of implants. Most
people consider them the “standard of care” for tooth replacement.

Therefore one can understand the practical importance of
using high-quality implants, assuming, of course, that no compromise of halacha
results for either the patient, the dentist, or other cohanim in the vicinity.

USE OF HUMAN TISSUE

Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote a teshuvah concerning transplanting human remains in non- lif e-threatening situations (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:229, 230). Clearly, one may
transplant such organs as kidneys, livers, and heart because of pikuach nefashos ( lif e-threatening
emergency). However, transplanting items such as bone, cornea, muscle, and
ligament are not usually for lif e-threatening
situations. As explained above, dental implants relieve a non- lif e-threatening emergency, although one could argue
that these situations are considered choleh
kol gufo
, where halachic rules are somewhat relaxed. Nevertheless, treating
a choleh kol gufo does not permit
violating a Torah prohibition.

We noted above that there is a dispute whether one may use
remains of a non-Jew; Rav Moshe concludes that under extenuating circumstances
one may rely on the lenient opinions. A second question now presents itself,
which is whether one may assume that the remains used are those of a non-Jew,
since using remains of a Jew is certainly prohibited min haTorah. Again, here also Rav Moshe ruled leniently that one
may assume that the remains are of non-Jewish source, since most people are not
Jewish (Mishneh LaMelech, Hil. Aveil 3:1).

NOT THE NORMAL
USE

Some poskim permit
the use of human remains for non-life-threatening emergencies because of a
different line of reasoning. The Gemara (Pesachim
25b) rules that someone who is ill, but does not have a life threatening
condition, may apply a balm made from arlah
fruit (that grow in the first three years of a tree’s growth),
notwithstanding that the Torah prohibits benefiting from such fruit.

Why is this permitted where the situation is not life
threatening?

This is because many prohibitions that are asur b’hana’ah (forbidden to benefit from),
are prohibited min hatorah only
when the prohibited item is used in its normal way. Smearing fruit on one’s
skin is not a typical, normal use. Since arlah is prohibited min
haTorah b’hana’ah
only when used in its normal way, smearing arlah fruit
as a balm involves only a rabbinic prohibition, which is relaxed for an ill
person.

However, this leniency does not apply to all prohibitions. For
example, the Torah prohibits using kilayim (that is, those of a
grapevine) min haTorah even in an atypical way. For this reason, an ill
person may not smear kilayim as a
balm, even though he may smear arlah
balm.

Where does the prohibition to use human remains fall? Is it
like arlah, and is permitted for an ill person to use in an atypical
manner, or like kilayim and prohibited.

The poskim dispute
whether the prohibition not to use human remains applies to using them in an
atypical way, Shu’t Radbaz #979 and Mishneh
L’Melech, Hilchos Aveil
14:21 are lenient, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger (notes
to Yoreh Deah 349) prohibits. If it is permitted, then there would be a
basis to permit the use of human remains from a Jew for someone who is ill, but
not life threatening. Rav Moshe rules that min
hatorah
one may not use human remains in an atypical way, although other poskim are lenient (Shu’t Har Tzvi,
Yoreh Deah
#277). Following the latter approach might allow using muscle
and bone even from a Jewish cadaver for implants.

However, since there are alternative sources for implants, such
as bovine tissue, it is halachically unclear whether this justifies use of
human implants when one can use non-human sources. Although some dentists feel
that the cadaver-based material is superior, others do not agree. Therefore,
someone who is considering cadaver implants should ask a shaylah from his or her Rav, whether or not one is a cohen.
In addition, although the dentist may have asked a shaylah and been told that he or she may use human implants, the
patient’s Rav may feel otherwise. Thus I believe that a frum dentist who received a psak that he must use human
tissue should advise his frum patients to ask their own shaylah.

II. THE REQUIREMENT TO BURY THE
DEAD

Is one required to bury a small amount of human remains?

The poskim dispute
how small an amount of Jewish remains requires the mitzvah of burying. Some
contend that one must bury even an amount as small as a k’zayis (Tosafos Yom Tov
to Shabbos 10:5). Others contend that
one is required to bury only that which could represent an entire body (Mishneh LaMelech, Hilchos Aveil 14:21). However, it seems that all agree that there
is no Torah mitzvah to bury the remains of a gentile, except due to tumah concerns. Thus, this question
would not affect our shaylah once we
assume that the remains involved are of a non-Jew.

III. TUMAH AND A COHEN

A human cadaver (meis)
of either Jew or gentile conveys
tumah when a person touches remains
or carries them. Although these halachos do not affect most Jews nowadays, a cohen is still forbidden to come in
contact with human remains in a way that he will become tamei.

Jewish remains convey tumah
through ohel, which means that a cohen may not be under the same roof or
in the same room as the remains. However, if all the doors and windows in the
room holding the remains are closed, the tumas
ohel
is probably contained within that room (see Nekudos HaKesef on Taz, Yoreh Deah 371:3; see also Shu’t Noda BiYehudah, Yoreh Deah #94).
However, there is a lesser form of tumah,
called sof tumah latzeis (lit., the tumah will eventually leave), that
extends beyond the closed doors or windows, though only in the direction that
one will eventually remove the tumah.

OHEL AND A NON-JEW

The poskim dispute
whether non-Jewish remains convey tumah
through ohel; that means, will
someone who is in the same room as non-Jewish remains become tamei? According to those who contend that non-Jewish remains convey tumas ohel, a cohen may not enter a room containing a gentile corpse or part of a
corpse. Thus, a cohen should be
careful not to enter any hospital except for a life-threatening emergency, since
there is likely to be human remains somewhere in the hospital. Similarly, a cohen may not enter a museum without carefully
verifying that it does not contain any human remains — an unusual
circumstance. According to those who contend that non-Jewish remains do not
convey tumas ohel, a cohen may enter a hospital when one may
assume that it contains no Jewish remains.

The Shulchan Aruch
rules that non-Jewish remains do not convey tumas
ohel
, yet a cohen should still be
machmir not to be in the same ohel
as gentile remains. Thus, a cohen
should not visit someone in the hospital unless there is an extenuating reason,
i.e., there is something important that only he may accomplish. Similarly, a cohen
should not enter a museum without verifying that it does not contain human
remains. [This discussion is limited to a case where the remains in the
hospital are of a non-Jew. In a situation where there are likely to be Jewish
remains in the hospital, a cohen would
be allowed to enter the hospital only for a life-threatening emergency (pikuach nefashos).]

Thus, if we assume that the remains contained in the dental
office are a non-Jew’s, then a cohen
entering the office would not entail a halachic violation, but would be something
that should be avoided (according to the above ruling of the Shulchan Aruch).
However because of other halachic factors (too complicated to explain in this
article), there is a basis to be lenient and enter the dentist’s office and
certainly the building. Personally, I would encourage the dentist to store the
remains in a way that guarantees that there is no tumas ohel, a procedure that
I will gladly explain to any dentist on an individual basis, but that is too
complicated to elucidate in this article.

WHAT ABOUT YANKEL KATZ’S
IMPLANT?

So far we have discussed whether one may use human remains
as an implant and whether a cohen may
enter the office. Assuming that Yankel’s Rav rules that he may rely on the
remains being of a non-Jew and that one may use gentile remains, the shaylah is still not completely resolved. Because Yankel has the bone
graft installed in his mouth, he will now be touching and carrying the remains,
and a cohen may not touch or carry
non-Jewish remains. Is there any possible solution to this issue, or must
Yankel opt for a non-human product? The answer to this question lies in a
different direction.

IS THERE A MINIMUM AMOUNT OF
REMAINS THAT CONVEYS TUMAH?

Here the issue is, how small an amount still conveys tumah? Although the amount of flesh that conveys tumah is one k’zayis, the
amount of human bone that conveys tumah in this situation may be as
small as a k’se’orah, the size of a barleycorn, which is tiny (Ohalos
2:7; Rambam, Tumas Meis 4:4).

How big is a k’zayis?
The estimates of the poskim range from
as little as 3 cc. to as much as 25 cc. A dentist typically uses less than this
amount in a patient, although sometimes he might use a larger amount. Thus, one
should verify this information in order to ask a shaylah. However the
amount of bone used is certainly greater than the size of a barleycorn, thus
precluding a cohen from receiving a dental implant of human origin.

There is one other aspect about dental offices that one
should know: Some dentists keep a human skull on hand for explanation and
education. A cohen should clarify in advance before visiting a dentist whether
he is a skull-bearer, and should make similar research before scheduling an
appointment at the podiatrist and other physicians, who often also use human
remains in their surgeries or have cadaver models on hand for visual explanations.
A concerned practitioner will procure plastic replicas rather than genuine
human parts to mini miz e difficult
situations for a cohen.

A cohen has the
privilege of blessing the people, in addition to serving in the Beis HaMikdash, may it be built speedily
in our day. Concurrent with these privileges come many responsibilities,
including the requirement of avoiding tumah.
This necessitates an awareness of possible tumah
situations and being constantly aware of new developments in our rapidly
changing society.

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