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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q8.26 TOC Q8.28 >

Question 8.27:
Is it possible for a Cohanim to marry a divorced Jewish woman?


There are two aspects to the question: permissible and possible.

Such a marriage is not permissable, even if the woman has an Orthodox "get". In extenuating case-by-case basis, it might be possible to prove the previous marriage never occured (for example, if the witnesses were not valid). Thus, one would have to consult a rabbi to be sure, but in most cases, the answer is that they may not get married. The circumstances of the divorce don't matter either.

R' Nachman of Breslov suggests that the reason is that divorce is an act of separation. A student of Aaron, the first kohein, is described as one who "loves peace, pursues peace, loves people, and brings the close to Torah." Bringing the anger that divorce produces into his home would make this quite difficult. The source of the prohibition is Leviticus 21:14.

Another reason is that a kohein may not marry someone with a premarital sexual history. In practice, a rabbi may be able to bring up enough legitimate doubt about one's kohein status to allow the marriage to occur. Conservative Rabbis routinely dismiss any family's belief that they're kohanim when this kind of need arises. Orthodoxy would demand leg work and evidence, and therefore can only do this when there are grounds.

Is it possible? Yes. Such a wedding, while prohibited, does produce a halachically recognized marriage. The couple are obligated to divorce. However, they must divorce; it's not grounds for anulling the marriage as never having occurred. The children of such a marriage would be "chalalim", and have the status of a non-kohein.

In a related vein, one might ask whether Kohainim may divorce. The answer is yes, however, the process is made more complicated. In normal cases of divorce, if you regret the decision before marrying someone else, you can remarry. (You can't remarry your ex if you were married in the middle. Otherwise there'd be a huge loophole allowing wife-swapping via quicky divorce.) However, a kohein could never remarry his ex-wife, so we want to make sure no mistake is being made.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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