Spread the word! Rav Shlomo Amar is coming for Shabbat to Congregation Shaarei Orah in Teaneck. We are incredibly excited to host one of the great chachamim of our generation and eagerly look forward to hearing his divrei Torah and words of inspiration. Rav Amar currently serves as the rav roshi of Jerusalem and is the prior Rishon LeTzion (Sephardic chief rabbi). In preparation for this exciting visit, we shall share a very important ruling issued by Rav Amar while he served as a dayan on the Israeli Supreme Rabbinical Court of Appeals beit din.
Introduction to the Case
Rav Amar’s ruling introduces us to the debate as to whether a kohen may marry the daughter of a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man. It deals with a specific instance in which the district beit din of Rechovot ruled strictly regarding this question, but Rav Amar, while sitting on the State of Israel Supreme Rabbinical Court of Appeals, overturned this decision and ruled leniently due to a special circumstance.
The Gemara (Yevamot 45b) presents that established Halacha regards the child of a non-Jewish man and a Jewish woman as Jewish and legitimate. No mention is made, though, of the daughter’s possible ineligibility to marry a kohen.
Rishonim and Shulchan Aruch
The Rishonim debate how to interpret the Gemara’s silence regarding the daughter’s disqualification to marry a kohen. The Rambam (Hilchot Issurei Biah 15:3) permits the daughter to marry a kohen, the Rosh (Yevamot 4:30) forbids her to marry a kohen, and the Rif (Yevamot 15a) is uncertain about this matter. The Ramban (Yevamot 45a) is similarly uncertain but adds that if a kohen marries such a woman we do not require that they divorce.
The Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 4:5 and 7:17) rules that the daughter may not marry a kohen, in accordance with the view of the Rosh. However, the two premier commentaries to the Even HaEzer section of the Shulchan Aruch, the Beit Shmuel (4:2 and 7:39) and the Chelkat Mechokeik (7:26), rule in accordance with the Ramban that if the couple is already married, we do not require that they divorce.
The Acharonim debate whether the strict opinions in the machloket cited above believe that it is a biblical prohibition or a rabbinic prohibition for a kohen to marry such a woman. The Mishneh LaMelech (Hilchot Issurei Biah 17:7) and Shaar HaMelech (Hilchot Issurei Biah 15:3) believe that it is a biblical prohibition. On the other hand, the Chelkat Mechokeik (ad. loc.), Rabi Akiva Eiger (Teshuvot Rabi Akiva Eiger no. 91), the Maharshal (Teshuvot Maharshal n. 17), the Beit Meir (4:5), and the Rama MiPano (Teshuvot Rama MiPano no. 124) rule that the prohibition is rabbinic in nature. Among 20th-century authorities, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe E.H. 1:5) rules that it is a biblical prohibition, while Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 7 E.H. 9) and Rav Shalom Messas (Teshuvot Shemesh U’Magen 3 E.H. 58) rule that it is a rabbinic prohibition.
This debate carries serious ramifications, as it impacts whether one should be lenient or strict regarding the implementation of this halacha. The opinion that it is only a rabbinic prohibition fits well with the fact that we do not compel the couple to separate if already married. Since it is only a rabbinic prohibition, we do not impose the hardship of separating a couple that is already married.
One ramification of this dispute is the debate that rages between Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Messas as to whether a rabbi may officiate at a wedding of a kohen to a daughter of a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man if the couple already had been married civilly and had been living together for an extended period of time. Rav Moshe (ad loc.) forbids a rabbi to conduct such a ceremony, whereas Rav Messas permits it.
This question depends on what circumstances allow the couple to remain together based on the Ramban’s ruling. Rav Moshe’s approach is based on the fact that the overwhelming consensus of rabbinic opinions regards a couple that is married in a civil ceremony as unmarried according to Halacha. Since the couple halachically is not married, Rav Moshe forbids a rabbi to conduct a ceremony that will facilitate a sinful marriage.
Rav Messas, on the other hand, believes that since only a rabbinic prohibition is involved, Halacha does not require the husband and wife to separate since it is difficult for them to do so. He understands the Ramban’s ruling as permitting the couple to remain together if it is difficult to separate. Rav Messas goes as far as to permit a rabbi to officiate at the wedding if the couple is already living together in sin, even if they have not married civilly. Rav Shlomo Amar rules (Teshuvot Shema Shlomo 5 E.H. 8) in accordance with Rav Messas.
The Rechovot Beit Din vs. Rav Amar and the Appeals Beit Din
In 2006, a kohen wished to marry a woman whose mother was Jewish but whose father was not Jewish. The couple had been living together (in sin) for approximately one and a half years. The district beit din of Rechovot denied the couple a marriage license, in accordance with the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein. Rav Amar, however, sitting on the Supreme Rabbinic Court of Appeals, overturned the ruling and permitted the couple to marry.
Defending Rav Amar From Rav Bleich’s Criticism
Rav J. David Bleich concludes (Tradition Summer 2007) that the ruling of the Court of Appeals “strikes this writer as an abuse of appellate power,” since it ruled simply that Rav Messas and Rav Amar’s rulings should be followed instead of Rav Moshe’s. He writes that Halacha “bars exercise of purely subjective discretion in choosing one set of precedents over another” as considerations for a higher authority to reverse a decision of a lower authority.
Torah Academy of Bergen County alumnus Avi Levinson defends Rav Amar. He reasons that presumably the couple in this case was Sephardic. Hence, there is no compelling reason for them to abandon the rulings of the leading contemporary Sephardic rabbis in favor of that of Rav Moshe.
What a privilege it is for Shaarei Orah to be hosting Rav Amar. If you will be in Teaneck this coming Shabbat, please join the tefillot at Shaarei Orah and enjoy listening to one of the gedolei hador! So please spread the word—Shaarei Orah welcomes you!
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.