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Reading the Book of Ruth

 

Parsha Halacha - Parshat Emor

Sponsored by Wolffers Cohen & Edderai LLP in honor of the community

Click here for a print version of this article 

Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner and Dr. Morton Berg in loving memory of Stephen's father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella's parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.


The Torah portion of Emor includes many laws relevant to Kohanim. The Haftorah from Yechezkel 49:15-31 continues on this topic with some additional details.

Who May Only Marry the Widow of a Kohen?

There is a verse in the Haftorah which seems to contradict the law as stated in the Parsha; “They shall not marry widows or divorced women; they may marry only virgins of the stock of the House of Israel, or widows who are widows of priests.”[1]This differs from the Parsha which states that a regular kohen may marry a widow whereas the Kohen Gadol must marry a virgin.[2] There is no kohen who may not marry a widow but may marry the widow of another kohen.

The Talmud and other commentaries offer several explanations for this discrepancy: 

●      Kohen Gadol and Regular Kohen

The Talmud says[3] that the beginning of the verse is referring to a Kohen Gadol who may only marry a virgin whereas the end of the verse is referring to a regular kohen who may marry a widow of any man. The Hebrew verse וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר תִּֽהְיֶה אַלְמָנָה מִכֹּהֵן יִקָּחוּ should be translated as follows: If a woman is widowed, some of the kohanim may marry her. (מִכֹּהֵן is translated as some of the kohanim.) The Talmud cites another verse where the beginning and end of the verses refer to different groups of people.[4]

●      The Widow of Someone Fit for Kehuna

According to one opinion in the Talmud (not the final halacha), a Kohen may not marry the daughter or widow of a convert. As such, the verse can be interpreted to mean, “A widow of a man whose [daughter is fit to marry] a kohen, he may marry.”

●      Kohanim in the Messianic Era

Some say[5] that although by Torah law a regular kohen may marry a widow, in the Messianic era the Kohanim will accept a more stringent custom upon themselves and will marry only the widow of another kohen. (Such a woman will be more familiar with the laws of tahara [purity], terumah and korbanot [sacrifices] that apply specifically to kohanim.) Regular kohanim will not try to marry only a virgin so as not to give the appearance that they consider themselves to be on the level of a Kohen Gadol (Malbim).

●      Not a Chalutzah

Although by Torah law a kohen may marry a woman who had chalitzah,[6] the sages forbade this as such a woman resembles a divorcee.[7] Some say[8] that Ezekiel was alluding to this in this verse which should be interpreted as follows: וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר תִּֽהְיֶה אַלְמָנָה מִכֹּהֵן יִקָּחוּ – “If a widow is only an almanah [and not a chalutzah], some of the kohanim [i.e., a regular kohen as opposed to a Kohen Gadol] may marry her.”

●      Assured to be Fit for Kehuna

Reb Meir Simcha of Dvinsk explains[9] that Yechezkel was prophesying about the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian exile.[10] During the siege of Jerusalem, some of the women may have been raped (G-d forbid) which would render them unfit to marry a kohen.[11] The law states that an Israelite may marry (or remain married to) a woman who was raped, even if she was raped by a non-Jew.[12] A Kohen, however, may not. As such, if a regular kohen would want to marry the widow of a non-Kohen, there may be a concern that, during the siege of Jerusalem, she was raped and is therefore unfit for him to marry. On the other hand, the widow of a kohen was surely fit for another kohen since, otherwise her first husband would have had to divorce her.

About Yechezkel

Here is some biographical information about the prophet Yechezkel:

●      Ancestors

Yechezkel was a Kohen[13] who had several notable ancestors:

  1. Yirmiyahu. Some say[14] that Chizkiyahu’s father was Yirmiyahu (who was a Kohen) and that Yechezkel was called the son of Buzi because Yirmiyahu was constantly scorned by the people.[15]
  2. Rachav. According to the Midrash,[16] Yechezkel (and his father, Buzi) were descendants of Rachav, the woman who assisted the spies of Yehoshua in their spying of Yericho. It is notable that the Talmud[17] does not list Yechezkel as one of Rachav’s descendants.
  3. Buzi. Since Yechezkel father’s name (Buzi) is mentioned, we can presume he was a prophet (even if he was not Yirmiyahu) since all of the fathers of the prophets whose names are mentioned were prophets in their own right.[18](Some say that Buzi was not the name of Yechezkel’s father, but it was a nickname given to Yechezkel because he would debase himself in order to study Torah.[19])

Prophesizing in the Diaspora 

According to our sages, once the land of Israel was chosen by G-d and given to the Jewish people, it was only possible to receive prophecies while in Israel. As such, the sages discuss how Ezekiel was able to prophesize in Babylonia.

●      Prophesied in Israel First

The Talmud explains[20] that Yechezkel was able to prophesy in Babylonia because he had begun to receive prophecy in Israel. This is alluded to in the first verse which describes Yechezkel’s prophecy where it says,[21] הָיֹה הָיָה דְבַר ה׳ אֶל יְחֶזְקֵאל בֶּן בּוּזִי הַכֹּהֵן בְּאֶרֶץ כַּשְׂדִּים  – “The word of the G-d came to the Ezekiel son of Buzi the Kohen, in the land of the Chaldeans.” The repetition of the words הָיֹה הָיָה (“came, it came”) can be understood to mean that the word of G-d came to Yechezkel (when he was in the land of the Chaldeans) because it had already come to him in the past (while in Israel).

●      Prophesized on the Riverbank

The Midrash says[22] that the reason he was able to prophesy in the Diaspora is because he did so while on the riverbank[23] which is a place of purity. (A natural river that originates in a spring is a kosher mikvah.)

●      Exceptional Prophecy

According to the Zohar,[24] although in the era of the first Beit HaMikdash prophecy was not granted outside of Israel (which is why Yonah left Israel to “escape from G-d”[25]), G-d made an exception in the case of Yechezkel for the sake of the Jewish people and their pain in the Babylonian exile. The verse הָיֹה הָיָה דְבַר ה׳ אֶל יְחֶזְקֵאל can be understood to mean, “The word of G-d came to Yechezkel (although he was in the land of the Chaldeans) as it had come to mankind in the past (i.e., before the land of Israel was chosen, prophecy could be attained anywhere in the world). The Lubavitcher Rebbe says[26] that since the Rambam does not write that a prophet must begin their prophecy in Israel, he evidently follows the view of the Zohar that, for the sake of the Jewish people G-d grants prophecy even in the Diaspora. Let us hope we experience it soon!

G-d willing, we will learn more about Ezekiel, the Prophet another time.


[1] Verse 22 

[2] Levit. 21:7, 13 and 14

[3] Kiddushin 78b. This is also the interpretation of the Targum Yonatan.

[4] I Shmuel 3:3

[5] Abarbanel on the verse. See Ahavat Yonatan that this may only apply to the descendants of Tzadok.

[6] This is a ceremony in which the widow of a man who passed away without children removes the shoe of that man’s brother which then releases her and allows her to marry outside the family. If the brother marries her (yibum), this is not necessary. See Deut. 25:5 and on

[7] Even HaEzer 6:1 and Yevamot 24a

[8] Metzudot David

[9] Meshech Chochma 132 on Parshat Emor

[10] Although the measurements given in Yechezkel’s prophecy of the Beit HaMikdash were for the Third Beit HaMikdash (may it be rebuilt speedily in our days) this is because it would have been dangerous for him to speak openly about the Jewish people returning to Israel from Babylonia. Nevertheless, aspects of his prophecy can be understood to be referring to the Second Beit HaMikdash.

[11] See Eicha 5:11 and Even Ha’Ezer 6:10

[12] Eicha, ibid

[13] Yechezkel 1:3

[14] Radak quoting the Targum Yerushalmi

[15] See Yirmiyahu 37:15 and in many places

[16] Ruth Rabbah 2:1

[17] Megillah 14b. The Talmud lists only eight notable descendants of Rachav; Neriyah, Baruch, Serayah, Machasyah, Yirmiyahu, Chilkiiyahu, Chanamel and Shalum. Some add Chuldah, the Prophetess.

The Ben Yehoyadah points out that the Talmud evidently does not follow the view (see above) that Yechezkel was the son of Yirmiyahu because if so, he too would be a descendant of Rachav’s.

[18] Megillah 15a

[19] See Vayikrah Rabbah 2:8 and Etz Yosef there

[20] Mo’ed Kattan 25a

[21] Yechezkel, ibid 

[22] Yalkut Shimoni al HaTorah, 187b

[23] On the river Kevar (Yechezkel 1:3). See also Daniel 8:2 that Daniel saw a Divine vision on the river Uval Ulay. In Daniel 10:4, Daniel sees angelic visions while on the bank of the Chidekel river.

[24] Parshat Lech Lecha, 85a

[25] See Yonah 1:10. In fact, he was able to receive prophecy in the Diaspora since he already started in Israel (Radvaz responsa 842).

[26] Likutei Sichot, vol. 8 pg. 337

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

Sun, June 23 2024 17 Sivan 5784