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P5. Priests Marrying Persons Likely to Compromise Their Holiness.    [Make a Comment]

Priests are not to marry persons who are likely to compromise their holiness.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Leviticus 21:7 (Maimonides RN158-160; Meir MN138-140; Chinuch C266-268)
A cohen is not to marry a woman who is a prostitute, who has been profaned or who has been divorced; because he is holy for his God.

Leviticus 21:8 (Maimonides RP32; Meir MP50; Chinuch C269)
Rather, you are to set him apart as holy, because he offers the bread of your God; he is to be holy for you, because I, ADONAI, who makes you holy, am holy.

2 Corinthians 6:14-17
Do not yoke yourselves together in a team with unbelievers. For how can righteousness and lawlessness be partners? What fellowship does light have with darkness? What harmony can there be between the Messiah and B'liya'al? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement can there be between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God - as God said, "I will house myself in them, and I will walk among you. I will be their God, and they will be my people." Therefore ADONAI says, "Go out from their midst; separate yourselves; don't even touch what is unclean. Then I myself will receive you."

Supportive Scripture

Matthew 6:24
No one can be slave to two masters; for he will either hate the first and love the second, or scorn the second and be loyal to the first. You can't be a slave to both God and money.


Leviticus 21:7 commands that a Levitical cohen is not to marry a zonah (a harlot), a chalalah (a woman who has been profaned)1, or a g'rushah (divorcee). Its clear application was for when the Jerusalem Temple was fully functioning, in order to dissuade cohanim from marrying women who would compromise their ritual purity and disqualify them from Temple service. This has application even today, by those who look toward a future restored Temple (Ezekiel 40-47) that is accompanied by a restored Levitical priesthood (e.g. Orthodox Judaism applies the Scripture literally and without exception to men they believe to be cohanim).2

Conservative Judaism has ruled differently. Regarding the marriage of a cohen to a divorcee, in 1954, the "Committee on Jewish Law and Standards" (CJLS) of the Conservative Jewish Movement adopted a 1952 responsum written by R. Ben Zion Bokser authorizing Rabbinical Assembly rabbis to join cohanim and divorcees in marriage without interfering with the cohen's status.3 This was incorporated in R. Arnold M. Goodman's paper titled "Solemnizing the Marriage between a Cohen and Divorcee", which was adopted by the CJLS in 1996, and which contains the following paragraph:

We also regard divorce differently than did our Biblical and Rabbinic forbearers. We no longer perceive the divorced woman as being guilty of [an unsavory act]. To exclude a Jewish woman who is divorced from marrying the man with whom she is in love, affirms the negative status of the divorcee. This is inconsistent with our view of divorce or of our assessment of the character of a woman who happens to be g'rushah [divorced].

Messianic Judaism's view of a priest marrying a divorcee is similar but more complex, because we (unlike other branches of Judaism) contend that the New Covenant has replaced (or is in the process of replacing) the Covenant that created and gave function to the Levitical priesthood in the first place (Hebrews 8:13). It is also more complex for us because we profess the existence of a New Covenant priesthood that consists of all believers in Messiah Yeshua, both men and women.

Most Messianic Jewish scholars and leaders interpret Ezekiel 40-47 as applying to a Temple that will someday be rebuilt and, in which, certain sacrifices will resume. We do not believe that the sin-related sacrifices will resume (since Yeshua has become our sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:1-14)), nor that the presiding priests in the rebuilt Temple will necessarily be Levitical. Nevertheless, we tend to follow the Conservative Jewish Movement's point of view, and their practice of allowing both men and women descendants of Aaron to marry divorced persons (g'rushot) without any penalty to their perceived priestly status. We make an exception, however, in the case of a divorce that was biblically unauthorized, and the divorcee, while claiming to be a believer in Yeshua, either caused it or procured it. In that case, remarriage by the divorcee might be prohibited regardless of the intended spouse's identity. Such matters should be decided by a bet din of elders.

Regarding the other biblical prohibitions of Leviticus 21:7 - a cohen marrying a zonah and a cohen marrying a chalalah - the Scripture is speaking to the Levitical cohanim of the Mosaic Covenant, but it has application in the New Covenant as well. In Temple times, marrying a zonah or chalalah would have adversely affected a cohen's ritual purity, and would have disqualified him from serving in the Temple. The New Covenant extension of this is that no priests - neither men nor women - neither Jews nor Gentiles - neither those who are priests by virtue of their faith in Yeshua nor those who are priests by virtue of their Levitical inheritance - no priests of God (which means none of us) are to be yoked in marriage to persons who are likely to compromise our holiness and therefore our effectiveness in serving God.

Every covenant we are in yokes us to our covenant partners for better or worse, and the covenant of marriage is no exception. Both through our own marriages and through observing the marriages of others, we are keenly aware of how profoundly our spouse can affect the holiness of our thoughts and actions. The person we choose to marry becomes our life partner in whatever priestly ministry God expects of us, and he or she will either help or hinder. That is why, for both our own sakes and for God's, it is vital that we not marry persons who are likely to compromise our holiness and resulting ability to fulfill our priestly responsibilities.

1. A woman of defective cohen status

2. See, e.g., the Amidah, Benediction #17; The ArtScroll Siddur, pp. 110-111, (New York: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2006).

3. Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1954, pp. 55-61.

Classical Commentators

Of the three commentators compared herein, Chinuch is the only one who is expansive on the subject of how marriage is related to holiness. He states that the underlying purpose of the three prohibitions in Leviticus 21:7 is to preserve the cohen's ritual purity for his priestly service to God. HaChinuch and Meir point out an irony of the mitzvah that prohibits marriage to a zonah. It is that a woman who copulates with an animal is liable to death by stoning, but she is not a zonah because her copulation was not with a man. By inference, therefore, a cohen is not forbidden from marrying her - a strange result of logic. HaChinuch and Meir define a chalalah as a woman who is the product of a marriage that is prohibited to a cohen, or as a woman who has been intimate with a cohen whom she was forbidden to marry. Neither Maimonides, nor Meir, nor HaChinuch comment much about the prohibition against marrying a g'rushah, nor do they make any exceptions for unusual or contemporary circumstances that might be different from those of antiquity.

NCLA: JMm (Levitical cohen); JFm KMm KFm GMm GFm (New Covenant cohanim)

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