We Ask:

I am a Reform Jew and am now looking to get married. I went to a few Jewish dating sites, and I saw some profiles which say “permitted to a Kohen.” I am a Kohen, and therefore this caught my attention. What exactly are they talking about?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

A Kohen is not allowed to marry a divorcee, a convert, or someone classified as a “zonah.” (see Leviticus 21:14; Talmud – Kiddushin 78a; Maimonides – Forbidden Relations 18:3)

A “zonah” is defined as a woman who had intimate relations with a man whom she was forbidden to marry according to Jewish law – e.g. adultery, incest, or relations with a non-Jew.

A Kohen is forbidden to marry these women, not because she is a bad person, but because there is metaphysical reality that is created, which prevents a Kohen from being able to create the proper bond. Consider that H2O is water, and H2O2 is Hydrogen Peroxide. The difference may seem negligible, but is actually the difference is between life and death.

This is a very serious issue, and if a Kohen goes ahead and marries someone that he is not allowed to be married to, he is transgressing a Torah commandment every minute he remains married to her.

On a practical level, the kohanim, who are charged with being the spiritual leaders and role models for all of Jewry, must preserve a more scrutinizing level of holiness. The fact that a particular Kohen today may not see himself in such a lofty role does not diminish his obligation to live up to that.

There is another issue, however. It is important to check if the “Kohen” is a real “Kohen.” How reliable is the Kohanic tradition in the family? Just because someone’s last name is “Cohen” does not mean that he necessarily has the status of a Kohen. To be considered a Kohen, one must have an unbroken tradition, as well as other factors too numerous to mention here. (Nevertheless, most people who have the name Cohen also have the status as Kohen.)

Also, it may be that the Kohen is really a “chalal.” If his mother, paternal grandmother, etc., was forbidden to marry a Kohen, in that case the resulting son would be a chalal, not a Kohen – thereby disqualifying the “Kohen” (and his subsequent descendents) from the regular Kohanic rights and obligations.

Bottom line: If you have any questions about your status, or about that of any particular young woman, you need to speak with a reliable authority in Jewish law. If you tell me what city you’re located in, I’ll be happy to recommend someone you could contact.