4/19/2009

A Kohein and the Daughter of a Non-Jew

There’s an article in the most recent RJJ Journal (which Gil has done us the favor of posting here) that discusses the halakhic issue of a kohein marrying the daughter of a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man. The article reminded me of one of my worst moments as a Jewish professional, a story which I will retell here (concealing all information that might point to the identity of the principals).

It was my first year out of kollel, and we were living in the States, in an out-of-town community. We were involved in several communal institutions. At some point during the year, a situation developed in the community where this halakha would come into play. I was familiar with this halakha, but it did not register until my wife pointed it out to me that this was such a case. At that point, the couple was dating seriously and on the verge of engagement.

The boy’s family was part of the MO community, and the girl was a ba’alat teshuva from a somewhat remote suburb. I was not the rabbi of the community – in fact, the community was between rabbis at that time. I discussed the issue with another rabbi/ educator in the community, and we agreed that the best course of action was to get in touch with the former rabbi of the community, who remained close with the boy’s family, and basically lay it at his doorstep. I had absolutely no interest in getting involved, in having my name linked to the issue, or anything. I felt that I should call it to the attention of someone who could handle it, but nothing more than that.

Unfortunately, said former rabbi made a blunder that I still cannot get my head around. He indeed called the boy’s family and told them of the halakha, and mentioned that I had called him and brought it to his attention. The former rabbi was no longer in town, so by dropping my name, he made me the lightning rod for everything that happened later.

The girl’s parents, obviously, was not very pleased with me. I think that “hatred” would actually not be too strong a term, here. The girl had a sibling in the school where I was teaching, so it became an issue there as well. The gentile principal really did not have much context to understand the issue in general, never having studied Yevamot. Someone did him the service of explaining the basic issue, translating the word ‘pagum’ as ‘tainted’, adding a dimension of eugenics into the mix. Said principal was of the opinion that since the issue concerned two people who did not attend the school, I had no business mixing in anyway.

I got on the phone and made a bunch of calls, looking for some kind of hetter. The couple was pretty much in aveilut. Ultimately, the former rabbi came up with the following solution: he found a Sephardic rabbi (ostensibly someone who follows the Rambam, who permits such a marriage, even though the Shulchan Arukh is more stringent; I did not understand the basis for this Sephardic rabbi’s ruling then, and, after reading the article, am even more baffled, but whatever) to officiate. Couple got married. Happily ever after.

I often ask myself if I would do it differently now. For one, I would have said something much earlier in the courtship. Had the situation already developed, I’m undecided. I do not think that the situation falls under the rubric outlined by Rav Ovadiah, but perhaps that logic can be extended to include other types of fallout, pertaining, say, to those around the couple if not to the couple themselves. That would almost certainly provide me with the grounds to simply keep my mouth shut. Then again, I would probably want to bring it to the attention of the LOR, which is ultimately what got me into trouble the fist time.

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