#72: Simanim 128 - 129
Rav Asher Meir
LAWS OF BIRKHAT KOHANIM (BK)
SE'IF 44 - A
quote the opinion of Rav Yitzchak bar Yehuda (a teacher of Rashi) who ruled that
an unmarried kohen should not bless BK.
He based this ruling on the statement of our sages that a single man has
no joy (Yevamot 62b), whereas one giving a blessing must be in a state of joy,
as we learn from the fact that Yitzchak gave Yaakov (whom he thought was Esav) a
blessing only after he ate (Bereshit 27:7).
(Responsa I:85) expresses amazement at this ruling which is not hinted at
anywhere in the Talmud.
The Beit Yosef
concludes that while it is hard to exempt a single kohen from the mitzva of BK
due to a ruling with no basis in the Talmud, we can not disregard entirely the
ruling of Rav Yitzchak bar Yehuda.
Therefore, we should not prevent a single kohen from leaving the
synagogue before the kohanim are summoned if he wants to exempt himself from
saying BK. However, if there are other kohanim present, he has
no reason to excuse himself, since even a boy may bless together with other
kohanim (as we learned last week).
the reasoning of the Beit Yosef is brought down only in the
The ruling of
R. Yitzchak bar Yehuda was actually adopted in some communities. Rav Ovadia (Yechaveh Da'at II 12)
replies to a question from an oleh from Gerba, in Tunisia, who asks if their
custom that single men do not ascend the dukhan is proper. Rav Ovadia, after quoting scores of
authorities on the subject, does not challenge the custom per se but rules that
those who are in Israel should adopt the custom of Eretz Yisrael that even
single men should say BK. (Rav
Ovadiah even cites a responsum of the Geonim which explains that the custom of
Bavel is that single men do not say BK but the custom of Eretz Yisrael is that
surmise that the originators of this custom did not agree with the Beit Yosef
and the Rema in Darkhei Moshe who say that with other kohanim there is no reason
to refrain. This conclusion follows
from the fact that almost all of the residents of Gerba were kohanim and
consequently the custom for single men to refrain almost certainly included the
case where there were married kohanim in Beit Knesset.)
mention that Rav Ovadia in general tends to advocate that olim adopt the customs
of Eretz Yisrael in lieu of customs from their communities
Rav Yitzchak bar Yehuda's ruling, we should note that he, in effect, makes two
1. A kohen who
is distressed should not say BK;
2. A single man
is in a state of distress.
of these assertions lack a clear source, as the Rashba points out, we see from
the previous se'if that the FIRST assertion IS accepted - for we exempt a
mourner from BK. We reject the SECOND assumption though - see MB s.k.
AMONG ASHKENAZI JEWS
The Rema in
this se'if records a truly remarkable custom common to all Ashkenazic
communities outside of Israel: that birkhat kohanim is done only on Yom
Tov! I don't know precisely how old
this custom is, but it was already well established some 600 years ago when the
Maharil was asked the reason for the custom. The Maharil offers several suggestions,
the first in the name of his father-in-law, who was a
1. Since the
custom is to immerse in a mikveh before dukhaning (this is cited in the name of
Hagahot Maimoniot, and according to the Tur Shalem is found in manuscripts of
that work), and it's hard to go to the mikveh every day.
from work." That is, we do not want
to lengthen the prayer service too much, just as we do not add aliyot except on
Shabbat so as not to lengthen services.
3. "Because of
the gentiles." There were some
communities who did not allow non-Jews into Beit Knesset when the kohanim were
blessing BK. Presumably, they were
reluctant to have to keep non-Jews away and therefore refrained from saying BK
all the time.
The Beit Yosef
relates to the first reason only, pointing out that immersing is a mere
stringency regarding BK, and is certainly not a reason to abolish BK
itself. We could apply the same
reasoning in response to the third explanation; we could add that this reason
does not explain why BK WAS said on Yom Tov. The second reason, while logical enough,
does not explain why BK was not said on Shabbat, when aliyot are added and the
congregation is accustomed to lengthy prayers.
The Rema in
Darkhei Moshe innovates a fascinating explanation combining the second
explanation of the Maharil and the explanation of Rav Yitzchak bar Yehuda in the
previous se'if. The fact that
people will be late for work is not a justification per se to omit part of the
prayer service on a regular basis.
But the fact that people are concerned about the delay is itself a reason
that the kohanim are not in a joyful state.
Of course, this
reason also should not exempt the congregation on Shabbat. So the Rema adds that livelihood
difficulties rob the kohanim of joy all year long. Only on Yom Tov, when there is a special
state and even a special commandment, of simcha are the kohanim in the proper
frame of mind.
In a recent
shiur we pointed out that there may be a difference between the REASON for a
rabbinic decree and the RATIONALE for a decree - WHY the law was instituted and
HOW the law works. Perhaps we can
say the same for a custom. The
Ashkenazi authorities were particularly reluctant to overturn custom, as we see
from the responsum of the Maharil.
Unlike the Rashba in Spain who disapproves of the exemption of single
kohanim, the Maharil exerts himself to educe a halakhic basis for the
custom. Still, it may be that the
ORIGIN of the custom was different from the halakhic rationales marshalled to
lesser emphasis on BK in the diaspora relates to the fact that the special role
of the kohen is primarily expressed in Eretz Yisrael. The kohen's responsibilities include
performing the Temple service - which is done only in Jerusalem - and eating
teruma (which is considered a "minor service" in itself - Pesachim 72b) and
challa - which are obligatory only in Israel; a kohen is in fact forbidden from
leaving Eretz Yisrael at all, because of the tum'a of the gentile lands (see SA
YD 369 - but compare the views of the Acharonim). Of course, a kohen IS commanded to bless
BK abroad, and others are still obligated to sanctify him (by giving him
precedence in being called to the Torah, in saying the grace after meals, and so
on). However, we could venture to
say that at the time of the exile the fall in the special status of the kohen
was keenly felt, and for this reason communities more readily weighed against it
considerations like the length of the service and the presence of
SE'IF 45 -
KOHEN AS A SERVANT
Abba bar bar
Chana and Rav Chuna were sitting and eating, and Rav Zeira was standing and
serving them. Rav Zeira came in
bringing both of their portions in one hand. Rav Abba bar Bar Chana said to him,
what, is your other hand amputated?!
His father [Bar Chana] got angry at him - he said to him, it's not enough
that you recline while he must stand and serve? Furthermore, he is a kohen, and Shmuel
said anyone who lets a kohen serve him is guilty of me'ila [benefit from
sanctified property] - and you make light of him? I decree that he should recline and you
should serve him!
Whence do we
learn that one who lets a kohen serve him is guilty of me'ila? R. Acha said in the name of Shemuel, [as
it is written] (Ezra 8:28) "And I said to them, You [kohanim] are holy to HaShem
and the [Temple] vessels are holy to HaShem" - just as one who uses the vessels
has committed me'ila, so one who uses a kohen has committed me'ila (Yerushalmi Berakhot
Once a kohen
poured water on Rabbeinu Tam's hands, and a student objected that we learn from
the Yerushalmi that one who lets a kohen serve him is guilty of me'ila ...
Rabbeinu Peter replied that even though they still have holiness, they may waive
[the honor due them] (Hagahot
Mordekhai Gittin siman 461).
Actually, there is a dispute among the commentators if a kohen may indeed
waive his honor; several authorities proved Rabbeinu Peter's ruling from the
very passage in the Yerushalmi, since after all Rav Zeira did indeed serve
others, and Bar Chana objected to this only when his son slighted Rav
leniency mentioned in several sources is that a student may serve his Rebbe even
if the student is a kohen, as this is a very important part of a student's
education (see Ketubot 96a).
discusses this issue in his usual encyclopedic fashion in Yabi'a Omer VI OC
halakha is found in Megilla 28b: "One who exploits the crown [of Torah] passes
away (Avot I:13) - this refers to one who makes service from one who knows
halakhot [by heart]." With regard
to this halakha also, many authorities make an exception for a student serving
An unrelated halakha is found in Even
HaEzer 21:5 - that a man may not be served by a woman (who is not his
wife). There the reason is not
because of degradation but on the contrary relates to the potential for
immodesty since the kind of service discussed may be viewed as a sign of
There is a
parallel halakha to prevent immodesty with one's wife, in Even HaEzer
SIMAN 129 -
WHEN BK IS SAID
We do not say
BK at Mincha since it is customary to drink wine at lunch. But we do say it during musaf since in
general we do not eat beforehand.
What about musaf of Rosh HaShana, when it is customary to make kiddush
beforehand so that people will not be famished as they listen to the
shofar? Or Simchat Torah when it is
customary to make kiddush before musaf since musaf is so
Berura 669:17 brings two opinions regarding BK during musaf of Simchat Torah and
concludes that each congregation should keep its own custom. (It seems that the same situation exists
on Rosh HaShana.) But in those
places where BK IS said, the kohanim must be careful not to drink. (Of course, the non-kohanim need to be
careful to the same extent, since the amount of drink which prevents saying BK
(SA 128:38) is the same which keeps us from saying tefilla (SA