Letters May 2011

Baseless Suspicion

Meira:  A woman was trying to answer the question of why Kohanim can't marry widows or divorcees. She said that the Talmud says that since Kohanim were allowed to go into the Kodesh Hakodashim and ask for anything using Hashem's name, it could jeopardize the stability of women that the Kohanim wanted to marry. For example, they could ask for the death or divorce of a women of their affection.

Rabbi:  I heard of this, but it doesn't make sense to me. Why weren't prophets similarly prohibited from marrying widows or divorcees? Aren't they of higher status, and can pray for such matters? 

Meira:  Agreed; and that also doesn't explaint he convert which is put in the same category in the verse.  Do you know where to find an alternative explanation?

Rabbi: First of all, the Kohanim are leaders; not those whom we should impute such corrupt intentions, as if to wish for the death of innocent men simply to fill their desires. Additionally, God does not kill innocent men, nor does God satisfy every desire of the Kohanim. Finally, the Kohanim's Temple service is not for his personal wishes, but for the nation. We see, there are many problems with this explanation you heard.

I believe the restriction on marrying widows/divorcees is not because of any inherent flaw in these women. But due to his public role as spiritual leader, the Kohen must have an untarnished reputation. No "flaw" (even according to incorrect assessments) like marriage to a widow or divorcee is acceptable. Some people view divorce as a rejection of a woman, and a widow as perhaps carrying some connection with sin, for why did her husband die? We can easily appreciate the negative associations some people attribute to divorce and death. And as God wishes the objective of Torah education via the Kohanim, He created laws that preserve a pristine identity for all Kohanim. In this fashion, there exists no negative psychological or social associations that might prevent the nation from full respect for our spiritual leaders. Thereby, Torah flourishes at an optimum.