Thursday, August 27, 2009

Questions from a cohen with a non-Jewish girl friend


I received permission to post the following from a young American Jew with some difficult questions.

Hello Rabbi,

I am a Kohen seeking answers to important questions. Any advice or wisdom you can bestow upon a very concerned soul who is yearning for answers would be immeasurably appreciated. About my background: I was losely raised in a Conservative setting, and at this point, I am cautiously interested in becoming more observant. I did not first go to Israel until three years ago. This was my first exposure to Orthodox Judaism and the significance of my status as a Kohen. Unfortunately, and this is the basis for my letter, I think that I have contracted the herpes virus. I want to learn if there are any halachic implications when one contracts such a virus, and if so, what those implications are.

For example, am I no longer a Kohen? If I have a son in the future, can I still pass on my Kohen status? Can I still have Kidushin with a Jewish woman? Practically speaking, how will dating work for me in the Orthodox world should I decide to turn Frum?

My circumstances also present other complicated issues. Unfortunately, I was not raised in a strong Jewish setting, and as such, the notion of only dating Jews was not instilled in me. Consequently, I have been dating a non-Jew for several years. I am in love with my girlfriend. However, based on my exposure to Judaism, I have become "in love" with Judaism, and thus, I am considering breaking off the relationship. Yet if as a result of contracting the virus I am Halachikally barred from marrying or having Jewish children, then what is the point of breaking up? Moreover, even if I am not Halachikally barred from marrying, as a practical matter, how will I find a Jewish woman that will marry me me with my condition?

Thank you for your time.

23 comments :

  1. As for the shidduch process, an FFB family won't give this young man the time of day when they hear this - and obviously it would be unethical for him not to disclose his disease during the process. IMHO, he has, unfortunately, effectively cut himself off from any prospects of having undeniably Jewish children, since (if I recall correctly) a cohen can't marry a convert and most BTs can't "prove" their unbroken lineage sufficiently for a marriage to a cohen, either. His promiscuity has been spiritual suicide as far as his descendants are concerned in regards to retaining cohen status. It's regrettable he didn't think about this before.

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  2. Ahava Gayle said:
    "As for the shidduch process, an FFB family won't give this young man the time of day when they hear this"

    Since this young man is not FFB,
    would it not be better for him
    to consider marriage to another
    BT, rather than an FFB? Although
    of course it will an issue, there
    will be more flexibility concerning the families.


    Ahava Gayle said:
    " since (if I recall correctly) a cohen can't marry a convert and most BTs can't "prove" their unbroken lineage sufficiently for a marriage to a cohen, either.

    Can this not work both ways?
    If the young man was not raised
    observant, and "most BTs can't
    "prove" their unbroken lineage",
    can this work in the favor of the
    young man, in that his status of
    a kohane is suspect? That the word
    of his family is not sufficient
    nor reliable enough to establish
    his kohane status? Just wondering....

    Ahava Gayle said:
    "His promiscuity has been spiritual suicide as far as his descendants are concerned in regards to retaining cohen status. It's regrettable he didn't think about this before."

    Maybe, but it is done and I think
    we need to treat him with some
    compassion- he is interested in
    becoming more observant, and we
    should welcome him warmly, and
    help him, rather than chase him
    away by being overly critical,
    especially of something that has
    happened in the past and of which
    he sincerely seems to regret.

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  3. "Maybe, but it is done and I think
    we need to treat him with some
    compassion- he is interested in
    becoming more observant, and we
    should welcome him warmly, and
    help him, rather than chase him
    away by being overly critical,
    especially of something that has
    happened in the past and of which
    he sincerely seems to regret."

    Agreed. WRT Ahava Gayle's remarks about thinking about it before, it sounds like this fellow was not in a position to be at all cognizant of such issues.

    I think it's important to be quite clear and upfront with the potential issues that one might face, even as we welcome those distanced from Yiddishkeit. There's plenty that no one told me about being a Jew in observant society today; I was/am committed regardless, but mildly resent this as a failure in responsibility, and can see how others might be led to ill feelings, even up to leaving observance because of things they didn't find out until later. I'm not making excuses for this behavior, but it's human and it's up to us to be proactive.

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  4. The fact that a Kohen has Herpes virus does not affect his Kohen status.

    A Kohen with Herpes is not halachically barred from marrying a Jewish woman and having kids.

    A Kohen may find finding a BT wife difficult, but not because of lineage issues. The problem is that the BT woman could have slept with a non-Jewish man before she became religious. If such is the case, the woman would be barred from marrying a Kohen.

    From a practical standpoing, there are ways for a couple - where one partner has Herpes and the other doesn't - to have unprotected sex and have children together while keeping that chance of infecting the non-infected partner very low. Nevertheless, I would imagine that finding a willing frum marriage partner would be extremely difficult (it's difficult enough dating with Herpes in the non-Jewish world).

    Also, let's have some rachmanus on the guy. It's not fair to assume that just because he has and STD that he's been wantonly promiscuous, and even if he had been promiscous, saying that he has committed "spiritual suicide" has a finality to it that is grossly inappropriate, wrong, and misleading. He's clearly involved teshuva now.

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  5. most BTs can't "prove" their unbroken lineage sufficiently for a marriage to a cohen

    This simply is not true. Most BT's do not need to undergo Giyur L'Chumra, thus they are considered fully Jewish. The issue with BTs is whether they have crossed some halachic lines that bar them from marrying Kohanim. However, there are plenty of BT girls that can marry Kohanim.

    Secondly there are degrees of FFB. FFB with BT parents for instance may be far more open to the subject. And as far as whether he needs to disclose this fact, he needs to talk with a competent Rav about that. There is an issur of speaking Lashon HaRah about oneself and I have seen it used in many a case to cover up "undesirable" qualities within the Shidduch process.

    Make no mistake, as a BT Kohen, espeicially in the US he will have more trouble making Shidduch, then would a normal BT. However some of that may also be alleviated. A competent Rav should sit this person down and find out whether he is "really" a Kohen. Considering his religious background and the values he was raised with, he is a sofek Kohen at best. If it can be found to Possul his Kohanut it will make his entry into the Jewish world much much easier.

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  6. A BT girlfriend of mine married a Kohen; however, many BT girls can't. Perhaps he would have better luck among BT Israelis, since it's probably less likely that they would have had an intimate relationship with a non-Jew.

    Isn't there a vaccine for herpes?

    Also, with respect to what Mekubal said about perhaps finding a heter not to tell the girl.. I just don't see how that would be possible since she surely will catch the disease. How can you get a heter to infect someone with an STD?

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  7. Racheli,

    I understand your point. However, there is an issur to speak Lashon HaRa, even about oneself. I know of a great number of Rabbanim, R' Ovadiah Yosef in Yehave Da'at amongst them, that says that one need not voluntarily disclose these things within the shidduch process. I have heard the same thing in the name of R' Feinstein, but have not seen it inside. If asked, then yes you have to tell the truth. However to volunteer that information, especially if it will harm your chances of getting even a first date, essentially becomes nothing more than spreading lashon hara about oneself.

    Secondly, thanks to modern medical science the likelihood of infecting one's wife is extremely low. There are medicines that can surpress herpes, and it is only during full flareup that one is contagious, which one typically knows, based on pain and other symptoms that that is occuring.

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  8. "Considering his religious background and the values he was raised with, he is a sofek Kohen at best. If it can be found to Possul his Kohanut it will make his entry into the Jewish world much much easier."

    Indeed, I have a BT friend who married convert after he had his Kohanut possuled.

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  9. Chava et al:

    It's not that I don't have sympathy for the guy, but he wants a type of marriage and a guarantee that his descendants will still qualify as cohen, and the probability of that is simply astronomically low. Improbable in the extreme, to be exact. There are not any halachacially eligible women who are going to voluntarily agree to get herpes, which is what this would require. Birth control, especially condoms, is not permitted in ultra-orthodox households. If that's the level of practice he wants, he's out of luck.


    Mekubal said:

    "And as far as whether he needs to disclose this fact, he needs to talk with a competent Rav about that. There is an issur of speaking Lashon HaRah about oneself and I have seen it used in many a case to cover up "undesirable" qualities within the Shidduch process."

    Are you seriously suggesting this man should just not tell his wife he has herpes? What kind of person says such a disgusting thing?

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  10. I am the Kohen who wrote the letter. Thank you all for your invaluable advice. This is obviously a troubling issue for me. The fact that I am not very educated about the legal and practical aspects of Judaism only makes these problems much more difficult to deal with. Another question: are there any other sources (ie, blogs, rabbi's who have dealt with these precise issues, etc.) that you may know of? I want to gather all the relevant information I can. Thank you all.

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  11. Are you seriously suggesting this man should just not tell his wife he has herpes? What kind of person says such a disgusting thing?

    One who understands the halachic issues much better than you do. I never said that he should not disclose that information to his wife. Rather I said that he needs to consult a competent Rav about when in the process he should or should not disclose that information.

    I have seen many cases where competent Rabbanim have told people not to voluntarily disclose certain information, everything from physical illness to mental illness, until much later within the shidduch process. I have personally witnessed, as well as the adverse effects thereof, such concealment be carried on with the permission of the Rav anywhere from several dates in to several minutes before the chuppah.

    Hence, like I said, he should consult a competent Rav, about when he needs to disclose. However, by no means should it be on his shidduch resume, as that would be a clear violation of halacha.

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  12. I am the Kohen who wrote the letter. Thank you all for your invaluable advice. This is obviously a troubling issue for me. The fact that I am not very educated about the legal and practical aspects of Judaism only makes these problems much more difficult to deal with. Another question: are there any other sources (ie, blogs, rabbi's who have dealt with these precise issues, etc.) that you may know of? I want to gather all the relevant information I can. Thank you all.

    First and foremost is your local Orthodox Rabbi. However, aside from that, and specifically dealing with Kohanic issues see the Vaad HaKohanim. It is under the direction of R' Eliashiv, a major posek/Gadol and many other Gedolim as well. They specialize in halachic issues dealing with Kohanim.

    If you are looking for solid advice based in authentic Judaism, you would do best to steer clear of blogs and such, and actually speak with qualified competent Rabbis. Anyone, including myself can blog at will, with no real authority, credential, or accountability. Not so much with a Rav.

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  13. Ahavah Gayle said...

    Chava et al:

    It's not that I don't have sympathy for the guy, but he wants a type of marriage and a guarantee that his descendants will still qualify as cohen, and the probability of that is simply astronomically low. Improbable in the extreme, to be exact. There are not any halachacially eligible women who are going to voluntarily agree to get herpes, which is what this would require. Birth control, especially condoms, is not permitted in ultra-orthodox households. If that's the level of practice he wants, he's out of luck.


    You should really educate yourself both in the halachic aspects as well as the medical aspects. One there are many B"T women that are eligible to marry a Kohen. Secondly with the advent of modern medicine the chance of infection from herpes, even without the use of condoms, is astronomically low.

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  14. I know of several cases recently that were misdiagnosed as Herpes that were really:

    1. shingles (on a 12 year old)
    2. a terrible case of blistering eczema
    3. a staph infection
    4. a serious latex allergy from elastic (on a woman who had been widowed for many years)

    There are half a dozen other things that are misdiagnosed as genital herpes including:

    HSV-1, keratosis pilaris and several curable STD's.

    Was your diagnosis confirmed by a blood test (and not just a culture) and was the blood test repeated and rechecked because there are many stories of incorrect bloodtests and ruined lives.

    All the best to you.

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  15. Anonymous Kohen:

    I am not any kind of halachic or medical expert, but I am a fellow baal teshuva.

    I just want to say to you that I salute you and I stand in deep awe and respect at your journey, and the enormity of the personal growth that you are undergoing.

    Whatever tests Hashem is sending your way are His vote of confidence that you can pass them.

    My only advice to you is: daven lots. Pour out your heart to Hashem, trust Him to open the doors for you, because if you truly want to bring yourself closer to Him, He will make sure that you are able to make the journey.

    And of course, your actions should match your prayers. As Rav Scheinberg Shlit"a said to me in my early BT days, when I was also plagued by fresh-BT problems: "Do mitzvos, and Hashem will look after you."

    With profound awe and respect,
    Shaul Behr

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  16. I have a BT friend who thought that he was a Cohen and this caused him much shidduch difficulty.

    He went to Rav Dovid Feinstein who told him to check out his Cohen status. He ultimately found out that he wasn't really a Cohen and got married and is living a happy married life.

    The questioner should contact Rav Dovid Feinstein or some other competent Orthodox Rabbi to give him guidance as to how to proceed. I'm confident that Hashem will help this person find the correct solution to his issues.

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  17. 1) Cure the virus before you have sexual intercourse, you do not want to infect other people.

    2) The marriage rules for kohanim are.
    a) no divorcee
    b) no-one who had sexual relations with a non-jew
    c) no Gioret
    d) no-one who has a non-jewish father
    e) some say: no daughter of a gioret
    f) no daughter of a kohen with one of the categories mentionned above.

    But aside from this, you are pretty free to choose.

    The problem is: the older you get, the more representatives of the categories above you will find, and the less persons who do not belong to any of those categories...

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  18. To the author of the letter:

    First of all I wish you success in your search.

    I would like to add one more point to what has been said above.

    Judaism is not "all or nothing". If at this point in time, you find giving up your non-Jewish girlfriend too difficult, and decide to keep her. That isn't necessarily a reason to also refrain from keeping other mitzvot, such as shabbat, kashrut, prayer etc. I would recommend starting slowly.


    Regarding your medical condition, regardless of the path you will choose, it is imperative that you consult with a physician to get a definitive diagnosis and plan of treatment, as well as advice to avoid infecting anyone else.

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  19. If your mother was not permitted to marry a cohen when she married your father, then you might have the status of a chalal which may allow you to marry those otherwise restricted to cohanim.

    Regarding herpes, I imagine that there are baalot teshuva (female returnees) in the same predicament, the difficulty would be in locating them, and (if you really have cohen status) finding one who hasn't had relations with a non-jew.

    To add to Shoshi's list of thos a cohen can't marry:
    1) chalutza (rare: a childless widow who underwent the chalitza ceremony with her deceased husband's brother)
    2)unfortunately more common: a woman who had relations with anyone (willingly or unwillingly) that she would not be allowed to marry (not limited to non-jews) e.g. incest or adultery.

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  20. shoshi said...

    2) The marriage rules for kohanim are.
    a) no divorcee
    b) no-one who had sexual relations with a non-jew
    c) no Gioret
    d) no-one who has a non-jewish father
    e) some say: no daughter of a gioret
    f) no daughter of a kohen with one of the categories mentionned above.


    Actually "d" is generally a machloket. B'dieved it has not effect upon the children nor is the Kohen demanded to divorce his wife. The importance of this is crucial as it affects many halachically valid Kohanim within the B"T movement. Very few Rabbis, especially in the US know that this is a prohibition, and thus many Kohanim marry such women.

    As always in such cases one should consult with a competent halachic authority.

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  21. 2)unfortunately more common: a woman who had relations with anyone (willingly or unwillingly) that she would not be allowed to marry (not limited to non-jews) e.g. incest or adultery.

    Again this is not a clear cut issue. A competent Rav should be consulted.

    A competent Rav should always be consulted on these issues. Unfortunately in today's world a community Rav may be completely unaware of the relevant issues, as they are typically only learned by Dayyanim. While this normally won't lead a Kohen to trangress into a situation where the community must force him to divorce. It could put him into a situation where his marriage is valid only B'dieved.

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  22. In his book "Man's Search for Meaning", Viktor Frankl writes of an Eastern European rabbi who came to him for counseling. He had lost his wife and six children in the camps, and, having remarried, learned that his second wife was sterile. Among the things that Dr. Frankl told the rabbi was that "procreation is not the only meaning of life, for then life in itself would become meaningless, and something which in itself is meaningless cannot be rendered meaningful merely by its perpetuation."

    This is a self-evident point, but one that is often overlooked in discussions like these.

    Having an observant Jewish family is important because being an observant Jew is important in of itself. If one is, God forbid, unable to establish a Jewish family and having children, this does not - in any way - diminish his personal spiritual importance as a Jew.

    If one is convinced that Judaism is the true path, then the fact that one will not be able to have children is not a valid reason to not follow that path.

    -----

    Regarding the issue of revealing the information about having herpes to a potential spouse, I have to point out that herpes - an infectious disease - is not analogous to the kinds of generic health problems that are commonly discussed in the area of shidduchim.

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  23. Recipients and PublicitySeptember 1, 2009 at 2:16 PM

    This thread has been fascinating to read and to see how many others are willing to offer their opinions. Congratulations.

    However, the insertion and discussion of the "herpes" issue was highly questionable when the questioner asked:

    "I think that I have contracted the herpes virus. I want to learn if there are any halachic implications when one contracts such a virus, and if so, what those implications are."

    RaP: First of all, what does he mean "I think that I have contracted the herpes virus"? Is this blog a health forum or a crystal ball? In any case case, either you have herpes or you don't and the ONLY way anyone can find out for sure is if they go to a reliable doctor who will examine them and send them for tests. Once it is established then this can be a factor, but until such time, Jewish Law does not deal with hypotheticals that are a waste of time.

    Then when he says "I want to learn if there are any halachic implications when one contracts such a virus" -- if the person is so smart, why stop only with herpes, ask about any STD, there are plenty that are more serious, maybe the guy has a worse case of something far more terrible or how how about other health issues? In any case, herpes is very common among sexually active people who have sex with multiple partners. Even unfortunately in frum communities they're not immune to it because plenty of people fall victim to their yetzer horas and get herpes and worse, yet which can be controlled with proper medical attention and of course in the first place with self-control and ultimately only abstinance from sex with strangers outside of monogamous marriage.

    Just a little reading about herpes shows that with proper medical care and awareness it can be controlled and will not interfere with a normal sex life almost always. There are plenty of women who have herpes and are the primary ones to infect males. It's not as shocking as some would believe, but of course there is no need to wear a neon sign on one's head that tells the world you have herpes.

    "and if so, what those implications are."

    RaP: Just because you have herpes or any other illness, and you then become religious (becoming a ba'al/as teshuva), does not mean you have to act foolishly. Try to find a good local Orthodox rabbi to confide in and who you can consult with and who will hopefully guide you. It is never the "end of the world"!

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