Sunday, September 7, 2008

Conversion - Woman to marry a cohen?

One of the questions involved in conversions is whether to convert a non-Jew to minimize the sins a Jew is committing by living with or marrying a non-Jew. There is a famous teshuva by Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman that seems to permit a cohen to commit the sin of marrying a giyorus. Such a ruling is rejected by most if not all major poskim. I thought it might be of interest to see the teshuva as well as the rejection by Rav Moshe Feinstein.
R’ Dovid Tzvi Hoffman(Malamed LeHo’il 3:8 E.H. C.M.): Question: A cohen who is married to a non‑Jewish woman and she gave birth to a son and he was circumcised and died. She is now upset that she is not the same religion as her son and wants to convert and marry the cohen according to Jewish law. There is concern that if the court does not agree to give the non‑Jewish woman that she will become ill and have a nervous breakdown. What should be done? Answer: First we need to investigate which is the greater prohibition - for a cohen to marry a giyorus or a non‑Jewish woman? It seems obvious to me that there is a greater prohibition to marry a non‑Jew. There is no need to elaborate on this but 1) there is a loss of all his progeny since they will be non‑Jews like the mother 2) the Maharam Shich (E. H. #37 & #155) states that marrying a non‑Jewish woman is a Torah prohibition which is severely punished by kares. In contrast a cohen who marries a giyorus is only violating a Torah prohibition. Consequently in order to save a Jew from the more severe transgression it is best to convert this woman. However objections can be raised against this solution because the rule is that we don’t say that a person should sin in order to save another from sin. It says clearly in Berchos (30b) that if someone wishes to convert but doesn’t want to accept even one obligation – he is not accepted for conversion. Consequently this non‑Jewish woman who wants to convert would be required to leave her husband, while she in fact wants to marry him according to Jewish law! So clearly she will not accept the prohibition of a giyorus marrying a cohen. So how would it be possible to accept her for conversion in order to help the cohen avoid sinning. We can answer that in truth if she explicitly states that she does not want to accept this mitzva of not marrying a cohen – it would be prohibited to accept her as a convert. However in this case she has not stated explicitly that she doesn’t accept this mitzva. Therefore even though we know that she will transgress this prohibition, nevertheless in order to help the cohen and in order that his progeny will be Jewish – we accept her. Furthermore we can say that it is only in the case where the benefit accrues only to the non‑Jew that we say the potential convert is told that either he accepts the entire Torah or else he will remain a non‑Jew as before. That is because a non‑Jew is not punished for not keeping all these mitzvos. However if the non‑Jew is converted in order to benefit a Jew – it is definitely better that the conversion be done in order that the progeny of the Jew not be lost and that the Jew not be punished by kares for sinning with a non‑Jewish woman – even if it results in both of them doing lesser sins. That is because now it is not only that the Jew is sinning but she is sinning by causing him to sin. In particular in our case since there is the additional concern that she will have a nervous breakdown because she is not accepted as a Jewish convert. If that happens it will be a chilul haShem, G‑d forbid! The non‑Jews will say that Jews have no mercy on this non‑Jewish woman and they don’t care if she becomes sick and has a nervous breakdown. As opposed to this is the prohibition of a Jew marrying a convert he has been suspected of living with (Yevamos 24b)… Furthermore if she becomes sick they can say to her that if her whole motivation for converting with only because she considered her son Jewish – this is a mistake because even after circumcision he wasn’t Jewish if a Jewish court didn’t immerse him in a mikveh. However after all this analysis, if she really wants to convert because she believes in the G‑d of Israel – it is possible to convert her. The person who raised this question thought that there was a basis for leniency because the cohen was blemished. However this is a mistake because there is no difference between a blemished cohen and one who isn’t blemished concerning which women are prohibited to marry… It is only with a challel (a disqualified cohen) that it is permitted to marry these women since he really isn’t a cohen at all as is stated in Shulchan Aruch (E. H. 7:20). It is important to warn the man and woman that they must be very careful to observe the laws of nidah and mikveh. Because otherwise the conversion will cause a greater loss than it helps. Their children will also be challelim (disqualified cohanim) and they will not be able to give the priestly blessing and their daughters are similarly disqualified (Shulchan Aruch E.H. 7)

Igros Moshe(E.H. 2:4): This that you bring from Melamed l’Ho’il that it is better to convert the woman who wants to marry a cohen – in order to save the cohen from a more severe Torah sin which involves the punishment of kares and instead he will be transgressing a Torah sin without kares. This makes no sense to me. The opposite is true because if she converts and doesn’t observe the prohibitions of nidah, he will then also be violating the prohibitions of nidah which is itself punishable by kares. On the other hand if she doesn’t convert there is no Torah prohibition of nidah but it is only a rabbinic decree. But there is also the prohibition of “not marrying non-Jews” since this is done in the circumstances of marriage. If they live together as a married couple amongst Jews then this is considered a public violation that is liable to the punishment of death at the hand of zealots which is even more severe than kares. In addition there is also the punishment of kares learned from tradition (Sanhedrin 82). However if they live amongst non‑Jews it is not considered a public violation and therefore there would only be the violation of the Torah law not to intermarry. However perhaps without conversion when there are two Torah prohibitions 1) not to intermarry and 2) zona and the Rambam (Hilchos Issurei Bi’ah 12:7) says that there is a loss that is not found in other sexual transgressions and perhaps it is more severe than involvement with a convert even though there would be the additional prohibitions involving nidah and zona. Besides the question of which is a more severe sin - I have already explained that in this case the conversion is considered invalid. Even though the Melamed l’Ho’il states that the desire to commit the transgression of marrying a cohen does not invalidate the acceptance of mitzvos – in my humble opinion this is not so as I have already explained. The sefer Melamed leHo'il is not available to me now to study. The bottom line is that in my humble opinion his views in this matter are not to be relied upon.


  1. I read a lot of posts that use the logic that it is good to convert the gentile woman who is already with a Jew in order to cause him to stop sinning.

    I am curious: Why is the intermarried Jew worthy of such generosity? This doesn't seem to be principal applied elsewhere.

    Are their precedents for redefining theft as "borrowing" in order to absolve the thief of his sin? If someone intentionally makes his scales run inaccurately, do we redefine the weights as "plus or minus 10%" to get them off the hook?

    If we don't do favors to Jewish criminals of one type, why do favors to Jewish criminals of another type?

  2. This is not a comment, but a serious question about a related topic and I would be very grateful if you could answer it, either in the comment section or in a new post:

    Someone who spent more than 10 years learning in a kollel told me that "there is no issur mideoraita to have sexual intercourse with a non-jewish woman, as long as no one sees it"

    He says that only Rambam says that there is an issur mideoraita, but if you do not accept rambam, you can go with non-jewish prostitutes as a religious jew and you do not infringe halacha, except perhaps miderabbanan.

    Can you confirm this opinion?
    If not: what are the sources?


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