While various cases are presented in today’s daf (Yevamot 57a) relating to Kohanim, I would like to focus on just two, and by examining these two cases, I hope to share a valuable perspective that I think is often overlooked. However, in order to do so a little background is necessary in order to explain the laws of Terumah (the tithes given to the Kohanim) and at least some of the laws concerning whom the Torah allows and forbids a Kohen to marry.
In terms of Terumah, we are taught in Vayikra 22:10 that the food given to the Kohanim may only be eaten by Kohanim and their families. This is important given that the wife of the Kohen may eat from Terumah notwithstanding the fact that her biological father may not have been a Kohen.
Beyond this, various restrictions exist about whom a Kohen may marry such as convert or emancipated slave (see Mishna Yevamot 6:5, 61a).
At the same time we are also taught that a Kohen who is a פצוע דכא – someone with wounded or crushed testicles whom the Torah in Devarim 23:2 restricts from marrying into the ‘the assembly of God’ – is nevertheless allowed, as noted in Yevamot 76a, to marry a convert or emancipated slave.
Given this background let us turn to the first case in our daf where Rabbi Yochanan asks Rabbi Oshaya whether a Kohen who is a פצוע דכא who then marries the daughter of a convert thereby enables her to eat Terumah. As should be clear, while this marriage is permissible, the very fact that it is permissible seems to suggest that a Kohen who is a פצוע דכא is not bound by the same rules as a Kohen who is not. Significantly Rav Oshaya remained silent and did not respond since he felt that this question didn’t have a simple or obvious solution.
Moving onto the second case found in our daf – which is, in fact, a citation from Mishna Bikkurim 1:5 – we are taught the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov that a woman who is the daughter of a convert may not marry into Kehunah unless, and here itself there is some disagreement, her mother her converted (Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion), or unless one of her parents is born Jewish (Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion), or unless both of them are converts (Rabbi Yossi’s opinion). This then leads our Gemara to discuss what benefit this adds? Does it mean that, with this additional layer of her Jewish connection means that she is now able to marry a Kohen, eat Terumah, as well as marry a Kohen פצוע דכא? Or does it mean that she may not marry a Kohen פצוע דכא, but she may marry a Kohen who is not and may eat Terumah?
Both cases raise questions about who a Kohen may marry, and who is disqualified from marrying a Kohen, and given all this, Rav Nachum Rabinovitch clearly explains (in his ‘Hadar Itmar’ p. 108) how there are three separate factors involved here, with the question being what happens when one overlaps the other.
Firstly, there are restrictions on whom a Kohen may marry due to his increased holiness (קדושה).
Secondly, there are women who are not permitted to marry a Kohen due to, at least in some cases, certain questions about them or their background (פגם).
And thirdly, there are women who may marry a Kohen (כשרות).
What this means is that when a Kohen wishes to marry someone whom the Torah or Sages forbid him to do so due to his increased holiness, and a woman whom the Torah or Sages forbid to marry a Kohen due to certain questions about her or her background but nevertheless still wishes to do so, then we have a clash of two overlapping yet separate halachic concerns – one from him and one from her – which creates the prohibition.
Applying this reasoning to the first case mentioned above, what was hard for Rav Oshaya to figure out what the mechanics of the law permitting a Kohen who is a פצוע דכא who marries the daughter of a convert. Simply put, what is the relationship between the concepts of קדושה, פגם and כשרות in this case, because how we weigh up each factor will or will not determine whether she may eat Terumah.
Similarly, in the second case, the question is whether the additional layer of the woman’s Jewish connection adds greater קדושה, or more כשרות etc.
Overall, though all I have attempted to do here is explain, with the assistance of Rav Rabinovitch’s insights, two of the cases found in today’s daf, we should remember that though we often speak of those who can’t marry a Kohen, the Kohen himself also has restrictions on whom he can marry. Consequently, the prohibition actually stems from two sources, and it is only when we have a clash of these two overlapping yet separate halachic concerns – one from him and one from her – that a problem arises.