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Question

I know that a Kohen is not permitted to marry a convert or divorcee. Could the Kohen be disqualified from his Kohen status if 1) his Jewish mother was a captive in Nazi camps during the holocaust (shevuya) and/or if 2) his mother lived with gentiles during the war to escape the Nazis? I thought Rashi said that a Kohen who lives with gentiles is no longer worthy of Kohen status.

Answer

Dear Ken,

Traditionally you are correct in that Jewish law did not permit a Kohen to marry a divorcee or convert, and the child born of that marriage loses his "priestly" status in terms of ceremonies that call for a Kohen.

The objection to a woman who was a convert or lived among Gentiles came from a medieval period and medieval perspective that assumed that Gentiles were per se immoral sexually. Today, it seems to me that there are - tragically - very few differences between unobservant Jews, Gentiles, Muslims, etc. in terms of their sexual morality, and accordingly we should not discriminate anymore in terms of marriage behind a Kohen and a divorcee or convert. That is now one of the responsa from the Committee of Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement.

Now, regarding a woman who survived the concentration camps or lived with Gentiles to survive. Far be it from me to judge the state of her virginity or sexual status, even though it doesn't matter as I follow the opinion of the CJLS permitting the marriage of the Kohen to her.

However, when once a woman did come to me many years ago, herself concerned about a personal sense of "tumah" or ritual impurity from what she was forced to endure, she asked for a way to ceremonially return to a state of Jewish purity. I took her to the mikveh, my wife acting as the matron, with a beit din of two other Rabbis - at her request - almost as if it were a conversion. However, the amount of tears shed could have filled the mikveh as we all understood what this act of immersion meant to her - and she ultimately married a lovely Jewish man (not a Kohen) and had a number of children.

Personally, I don't believe that a Kohen should be allowed to function when he has become a public figure known for immorality - conviction of criminal behavior, adultery, etc. But that's my opinion. He still has the right to marry.

Best Wishes,

Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner
Foundation for Family Education (FFFE)

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