Question:

Can the daughter of a Kohen who has had sexual relations with a gentile in the past, but has since done teshuva, marry a Kohen ba’al teshuva who was himself married to a gentile in the past and is now divorced?

Answer:

This is obviously a very sensitive question. First let’s clarify with a little bit of background knowledge:

  1. When any Jewish woman has relations with anyone who she is not allowed to be married to according to Jewish Law  (for example a gentile) it renders her invalid to marry a Kohen. If at that point she does marry a Kohen anyway the subsequent children are not Kohanim rather they are disqualified Kohanim or – “Chalalim”1)See more about this in Rambam Hilchos Issurei Biyah 18:1-6.
  2. However, when a Kohen is with a gentile woman it does not render him a Chalal, and therefore the laws of Issurei Kehunah still apply to him. Subsequently, any children he would have in the future with a fitting Jewish woman would also be Kohanim and have all the laws of Kohanim2)See more about this in Rambam Hilchos Issurei Biyah 19:1 and 19:5 and also Hilchos Biyas Mikdash 6:9p.
  3. There is a lot of discussion today as to how to establish whether a ba’al teshuvah man who comes along with a claim that he is a Kohen, is in fact a Kohen. It is actually quite rare that this can be done to the extent that he will get the status as a Kohen Meyuchas (i.e. a Kohen who has properly and fully established their lineage). The reason for this is that it is virtually impossible to establish that the mothers of these ba’alei teshuvah men were in fact fit according to Jewish Law to marry Kohanim. In addition even if there was no issue with the mother, the “testimony” of the father or in many cases the grandfather that they are descendent from Kohanim is dubious since at some point in the chain someone lost connection to the observance of Torah and Mitzvos. At that point their testimony is not valid in Jewish Law as believability regarding issues within Jewish Law is a function of the observance of Torah Law. Sometimes there is documentation or testimony that can be generated to prove it but it is not so common. Therefore the question is a deep and lingering as to whether these men are really Kohanim. There are Batei Din that have been established to guide ba’alei teshuva men in this process and obtaining the necessary elements to establish their Kehuna3)See more about this in the Rambam Hilchos Issurei Biyah 20:2 and 20:13 and also in Shut Shevet Halevi Volume 10 Siman 225.

Given the sensitivities of this question I should not render a decision without further clarification of the facts. However the nature of the case would point to one of two general directions.

  1. If the man can in fact establish himself as a Kohen Meyuchas then he shouldn’t marry this girl.
  2. If he can not establish himself as a Kohen Meyuchas and is nevertheless advised to duchan as a Kohen and get called to the Torah as a Kohen (because of the partial legitimacy of his claim that he is a Kohen) then there is room to marry her depending on the exact circumstances (but he will have to forgo being treated as a kohen – something he should not necessarily want to do)

References   [ + ]

1. See more about this in Rambam Hilchos Issurei Biyah 18:1-6
2. See more about this in Rambam Hilchos Issurei Biyah 19:1 and 19:5 and also Hilchos Biyas Mikdash 6:9p
3. See more about this in the Rambam Hilchos Issurei Biyah 20:2 and 20:13 and also in Shut Shevet Halevi Volume 10 Siman 225