Cohen & Michael Alterman
Among the first laws commanded to the spiritually elevated kohanim (priests) is the baffling prohibition for him to marry a divorced woman (Leviticus 21:7). In fact, this problem even applies to us in 1995. To this day, modern-day kohanim living in Boston, Bangladesh, and even Birmingham must confront this issue.
Among the first laws commanded to the spiritually elevated kohanim (priests) is the baffling prohibition for him to marry a divorced woman (Leviticus 21:7). In fact, this problem even applies to us in 1995. To this day, modern-day kohanim living in Boston, Bangladesh, and even Birmingham must confront this issue. At first glance, this seems to be an extremely cruel law which displays a clear prejudice against women who were previously married to other men. Are we to understand that a divorced woman is somehow "tainted" and therefore unfit to occupy a more lofty position within the community as a kohen's (priest's) wife? Surely this is not the Torah's intention, for if a divorcee is to be viewed as inferior, how could she be allowed to marry other religious leaders? We therefore see that such a conclusion is clearly incorrect. While we can never really know for certain why the Torah requires us to refrain from performing certain actions or to carry out particular chukim, unexplained and seemingly illogical mitzvot, we can at least attempt to understand and suggest, on a basic level, the Torah's message and intention behind such laws. This being the case, how are we to understand this perplexing prohibition?
Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka, author of Torah Therapy and More Torah Therapy, presents the following unique suggestion. Several weeks ago we read (Leviticus 12:6) that, following childbirth, a woman is required to bring a karban (offering) in the Temple which serves to atone for any oaths she may have taken due to the stress and intense pain of giving birth. (Please see Yoel Spotts' article entitled "Labor Pains" for further discussion.) This karban was proceeded by a conversation with the administering kohen to ensure that she would have the correct kavana (intent) accompanying the offering. Such a discussion with a woman whom, after experiencing the exhilarating yet traumatic experience of childbirth, may still be emotionally vulnerable creates a rather awkward position for both the kohen and the woman.
In the process of pouring out her heart to the kohen, she may find that he is more understanding than her own husband. It is not unlikely that she may even regret selecting her husband as a mate in the first place, thereby seeking a divorce in order to marry the understanding kohen. It would only take one or two of these occurrences until many husbands would be reluctant in allowing their respective wives to go to the Temple; hence the process of bringing such an important karban would have been sabotaged. Perhaps it was for this reason, among others, that the Torah forbade the marriage between a kohen and a divorced woman, thereby circumventing the problem completely.
The message the Torah is conveying applies as much today as it did 3,000 years ago. A cursory glance at our modern-day society reveals the severe problems which can be created when professional therapeutic relationships suddenly turn into emotional ones as lives can be destroyed with a momentary lapse of judgment. Looking at life from a purely pragmatic viewpoint, the Torah provides us with a clear example as to how far we must go to prevent such opportunities for moral collapse.
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