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CenterforJewishLawandValuesFullEssay

GenderandtheKehunahIyyar5776

GenderandTheKehunah
ByRabbiEthanTucker

I.

Introduction

Afewmonthsago,withtheholidayofPesahapproaching,theorganizationWomenoftheWall
announcedthatitwasgoingtoholdafirstevereventinthewomenssectionoftheWesternWall
(Kotel)plaza.InadditiontothenowbiannualPriestlyblessingheldatthesacredsite,Womenof
theWallproposedtoinitiateafemaleversionofthisritual,withdaughtersofkohanimoffering
thetraditional,biblicalblessingtotheassembledwomenaswell.WomenoftheWallspark
controversymoregenerallyinlightoftheireffortstopromoteegalitarianritualpracticeatthe
Kotel.Butthistime,resistancewasevenfiercer.AnadtheysubmittedtoIsraelNationalRadio
wasrejectedonaccountofitbeingtoocontroversial.Numerousrabbinicfigures,includingthe
officialrabbioftheWesternWall,wentoutoftheirwaytocondemnthisproposedactionas
offensiveandprovocative.Mostsignificantly,justthreedayspriortothescheduledevent,the
AttorneyGeneralofIsraelruledthatitwasillegal(!)toholdtheceremonyatthesite,itbeingan
unprecedentedversionofthistraditionalritual,inviolationoftherequirementtorespectlocal
customattheKotel.Afewweekslater,onRoshHo deshIyyar,WomenoftheWallhelda
priestlyblessingledbywomeninseemingdefianceoftheAttorneyGeneralsorderandthe
controversymayyetheatupfurtherincomingweeksandmonths.
Toacertaindegree,thisdustupwasjustthelatestactintheunfoldingdramaofmanaging
conflictingidealssurroundinggenderandritualinshared,sacred,publicspaces.Butthis
particularissuealsohitarawnerveformany,pittingagainstoneanotheranethosof
egalitarianism,withundeniablygenderedandpatriarchalelementsoftheJewishtradition.Of
course,patriarchyandgenderdifferencerunthroughtheentireJewishtraditioninthoroughgoing
wayswecandebateatlengthwhetherthatisgoodorbad.Butinmany,manyareasofJewish
ritual,socialconventionsandideologiesdefinethelimitsandboundariesofhalakhaharound
gender,muchmorethandoessentialistnotionsofbodyandbeing.1Whilewecanargueabout
theproperinterpretationoftheoriginalmeaningoftheTorah,itisindisputablethat,inthe

Foranindepthanalysisofthegenderconsiderationssurroundingpublicprayer,seemyforthcomingbookwithR.
MichaelRosenberg,GenderEquality,Prayer,andJewishLaw,Urim,2016.


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GenderandtheKehunahIyyar5776

rabbinictradition,womenare,andcanbe,Jewsindependentoftheirfathersandtheirhusbands.2
Bycontrast,thekehunahisessentiallyandinescapablypatriarchalandtheexclusionofwomen
fromcertainrolesisfundamentaltoitsconstruction,beginningwiththeTorah.Howdoesa
moreegalitarianJudaismengagewithsuchanonegalitarianinstitution?
Mygoalsinthefollowingtwoessaysareseveral:First,Iwanttooutlinethebasic
challenge.Second,Iwillsuggestafewpossiblemodelsfordealingwithit.Third,wewilllook
concretelyatthepriestlyblessingasamajormanifestationsofpriestlyprivilegeand
responsibilityinJewishritualtoday.Returningtoouropeningstory,wewillexplorethe
halakhicsourcesthatarerelevanttothequestionofwhetheramoregenderequalpracticeis
possibleinthisarea.

II.

Thechallenge

ThekehunahtheJewishpriesthoodanchorstheJewishpeopleinantiquitythroughits
unbrokenlineofmaledescent.UnlikethegenealogicallinesofnonpriestlyJews,whichmay
ultimatelytracebacktoconverts,aKohencantheoreticallybetracedpatrilineallyalltheway
backtoAharon.EvenasJudaism,especiallyitsrabbinicforms,movedawayfromthecentrality
ofthepriesthoodtowardsamoremeritocraticmodelthatprizedscholarshipandobservanceof
mitzvot,thekehunahhasremainedanimportantsymbolformany,untilthepresentday.Whileit
ispossibletomarginalizetheroleofthekehunahandmitigateitsimpactontheJewish
2

ThemostdramaticplacewherethisplaysoutisintherabbinicreadingoftheTorahsaccountofrevelationin
Shemot19.InShemot19:15,Moshewarnsthepeople,aspartoftheirpreparationtomeetGod,/Do
notcomeneartoawoman.Thisbanonintimateorsexualcontactisunmistakablyaddressedtomen.The
straightforwardreadingofthepassageisthattheaudienceoftheentirechapterandtherevelationoftheTen
Commandmentsthatfollowsinthenextchapterismen.Thisisreinforcedwhenwehearaboutthecovenantinthe
plainsofMoavinDevarim29.There,inDevarim29:10,/wivesareamongthosewhoareincludedinthe
covenant.Womenarethusincludedinthecommunityofexpectation,buttheyareadjuncts,attachedtotheprincipal
menwhodefineandanchorit.Clearlyanticipatingthispotentialreadingandrejectingitarabbinicmidrash
expoundsonExodus19:3.TheversehasGodsaying,/Soshallyousaytothe
houseofYaakovandrelatetotheIsraelites.Asurfacereadingwouldsuggestthatthisisatypicalbiblicaldoublet,
poeticallyreferringtwicetotheassembled(presumablymale)Israeliteaudience.TheMekhiltadeRabbiYishmael
(YitroHaHo desh2)arguesotherwise,givingeachappellationitsowndistinctivemeaning:,
,/SoshallyousaytothehouseofYaakovthesearethewomenandrelateto
theIsraelitesthesearethemen.ThisreadingoftheversenotonlyinsertswomenasprincipalsintotheSinaitic
revelation,itputstheminfirst!Themidrashhereisclearlyinvestedinclarifyingthat,possiblereadingsofthe
biblicaltextnotwithstanding,womenareunquestionablyindependentandequalmembersofthecovenantal
audience.


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communitymorebroadly,itisnotsoeasy,widelydesired,or,likely,wisetoattempttoeliminate
italtogether.
Thekehunahisalsounmistakablypatriarchal.Inanincreasinglygenderequal
environment,themalenessofsomanyaspectsoftheJewishpriesthoodareglaringlyoutofstep.
Thebasicarchitectureofitsrulesofdescentfollowthemalelineandthemalelinealone.Lets
reviewpreciselywhatrolegenderdoesanddoesntplayinthekehunah,andunderstandthe
limitsofapproachingitinamoreegalitarianway.
TheTorahclearlyconsidersboththemaleandfemaleoffspringofAharontobesacred,as
itoccasionallyincludesthefemaleoffspringinthescopeofvariousprivilegesandregulations.
Indeed,thephrases/allthemalesamongthepriestsand/allthe
malesamongthechildrenofAharonsuggestthattheunadornedtermsandcan
refertothemaleandfemaledescendantsofAharonalike.3Thereareinfactsourcesthatgive
meaningfulstatustofemalemembersofthepriestlyclassinanumberofareas.4Vayikra10:14
statesthatthemeatofthethighandbreastof/wellbeingofferingsisdesignatedforthe
maleandfemaledescendantsofthekohanim.Bemidbar18:1119buildsonthisfurther,
explainingthat(priestlygiftsremovedfromagriculturalproduce),(firstfruits),and
(firstbornanimals)areallsimilarlygenderblind.Theseelementsofthepriesthoodare
amenabletoamoregenderequalculturearoundthekehunah.
Nonetheless,implicitlyandexplicitly,theTorahstatesthatmalenessiskeyforanumberof
definingaspectsofthekehunah.Asidefromthefactthatthepriestswhonarrativelyappearin
theBible(bothwithinandwithouttheIsraeliteworld)aremale,theTorahexplicitlyspecifies
malenessasessentialtothepriesthoodmainlyinonecontext.Theremainderofthe/grain
offering,aswellasthemeatofthe/purificationofferingandthe/guiltofferingare

SeeGurAryehonVayikra21:1:...,,'',''
....":
4
OnesuchareaislaidoutinVayikra21:9:thedaughterofaKohenwhocommitsharlotryisexecutedbyburning.
Theplainsenseofthisverseisthatthispriestlydaughterisengagedinlicentiousbehavior,includinggeneral
promiscuityoutofwedlock.WhereasthismightbefrowneduponforanyIsraelite,onlyinthecaseofadaughterof
apriestdoesitrisetothelevelofdesecrationthatshemustbekilled.Therabbinictraditionrefusestorecognizesex
outofwedlockaseverbeingacapitaloffenseandthusreadsthisverseasdealingwithamarrieddaughterofa
Kohen.Thisbluntstheeffectoftheverseconsiderably,asadulteryismoregenerallyacapitalcrime.Theverse
comestoteachthatthedaughterofaKohenisexecutedbyburningasopposedtostoning(inthecaseofawoman
whoisbetrothed,butnotyetfullymarriedcf.Devarim22:2124)orstrangulation(thepresumedgenericcapital
punishmentwhennoneotherisspecified,asinthecaseofgeneraladulterywithafullymarriedwomancf.Vayikra
20:10).Fortheanalysishere,seeSifraEmorParashah1Perek1Halakhah1516.


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designatedforthemalesamongthepriests.5Basedonthis,itisfairlyobviousthatonlythemale
descendantsofAharonarefittoperformessentialserviceonthealtar.Itisuntenabletosuggest
thatsomeonewouldbefittoofferasacrificeonthealtarbutbeunfittoconsumeit.Therefore,
thedesignationofmaleprivilegeintheseareasofconsumptioninherentlyassumesmale
privilegeandresponsibilityintherealmofsacrificeaswell.
Laterrabbinicmidrashimattempttoanchorthisassumedfactintothetextureofbiblical
languageitself:Vayikra6:711discussesthelawofthe/grainoffering,statingthatitis
offeredby(verse7)andconsumedbyallthemalesmembersof(verse11).The
Sifra,workingwithsomeversionofourlogicalprocessabove,concludesthattheseemingly
neutraltermoughtinfacttoberenderednotaschildrenofAharonbutrathersonsof
Aharon:6thesons,notthedaughtersofAharonofferthesacrifices.This
generalpointislaidoutinMishnahKiddushin1:8:

:
...

MishnahKiddushin1:8
Thelayingofhands,thewavingofsacrifices,bringingthegrainofferingnearthealtar,
separatingoutofapartofthegrainoffering,burningsacrificialitemsonthealtar,
snappingofftheheadofasacrificialbird,sprinklingtheblood,andreceivingtheblood
allapplytomenandnottowomen

thusbecomesagenderedtermthatcananchormalenessinthetextinplaceswhere
itwasalreadysomewhatobvious,andpossiblyclarifyambiguityinotherlessobviously
genderedcontexts.7OneexampleisVayikra21,wheretheTorahlaysoutasetofrestrictions
thatapplyto/thepriests,thechildrenofAharon.TheSifraclarifiesthatthisban
doesnotapplytofemaledescendantsofAharon:

Vayikra6:11,6:22,7:6,andBemidbar18:910.
Thespecificgenderedmeaningofhereisprobablyalsosuggestedbythespecificuseoftoreferto
AharonsdaughtersinBemidbar18:11and18:19,asopposedtothemorerestrictiveusedinBemidbar18:9,in
thecontextofalawspecificallytargetedtomalesinthefollowingverse,18:10.
7
Kiddushin36apicksupwheretheSifraleftoff,generatinggenderedreadingsofinotherpassages,inorder
tojustifythatalloftheitemsinMishnahKiddushin1:8aremeanttoexcludefemalepriestlyactivities.
6


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SifraEmorParashah1Halakhah1
SonsofAharondonotdefiletothedead,butdaughtersofAharondodefiletothedead.8

Inaslightlylaterrabbinictradition,Ravclarifiesthatthereisno
femaleequivalentofmarriagelawsthatbansthedaughtersofkohanimfrommarryingmenof
problematicstatus.9
Allofthisleadsfairlyclearlytoamaledominatedkehunah,whereonlymenarefitto
performthemainsacrificialrites,themostsacredfoodsaredesignatedfortheirconsumption,
andcorerestrictionsondefilementandmarriageonlyapplytothem.Evenifonecould
somehowinterpretthemalenesstheTorahspecifiesintheseplacesasasocialstatusratherthana
ritualreificationofbiologicalsex,thereisanotheraspectofthekehunahthatisessentiallyand
unavoidablymale:descent.Wecannotforgetthatthepriesthood,accordingtotheTorah,isa
tribalandgenealogicalidentity.Assuch,likealltribalidentitiesintheTorah,itispassed
patrilineally.Thisisperhapsthemostessentiallymaleelementofthe
kehunah:Itisatraitpassedonbymen,notbywomen,justasinthecaseofthetribesofReuven
andShimon.
Therearenoclearpracticalpathwaystomakingthelinealaspectofthekehunahless
patrilinealandpatriarchal,atleastwhilemaintaininganyrealcontinuitywithJewishpriestly
statusascarriedoverfromthepast.Functionally,anyefforttoarticulateatheoryofambilineal
priestlydescentwherebythechildofeitheraKohenorabatKohenisconsidereda
priestfloundersonthefactthatsuchasystemwouldeventuallyleadtotheentireJewish
peoplebeingkohanim!Morepromisingmightberequiringduolinealdescentforpriests,
8

Thegenderedreadinghereislikelyalsoaidedbytwootherpointsofcontext.Whenthischapterlaysout
numerouswomenwhoarenuptiallyofflimitstokohanim,itdoessoonaccountofthefactthat
/heoffersthebreadofyourGod.Totheextentthatthiswasalreadyobviouslylimitedtomen,forthereasonswe
statedabove,itrecommendsagenderedreadingoftheentirepassage,andwouldnaturallydrawonetosee
asencodingmaleness.Second,themarriagerestrictionsinthatchapterareentirelyaboutmennotmarryingwomen.
Indeed,someofthecategoriesofforbiddenwomenlaidoutinVayikra21couldnotpossiblyhavehadamale
counterpartintheancientworld.Forinstance,the/divorce.Thereisnonotionofamanbeingdivorcedor
sentawaybyhiswifeintheBible.
9
Yevamot84b.Infact,thisisintendedasanevenbroaderstatementaboutgendergapsinpersonalstatuslawsand
marriage,butitcertainlyincludesthecaseofthedaughtersofkohanim.


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wherebyonlythechildofbothaKohenandabatKohenhaspriestlystatus.Somescholarshave
suggestedthattheBiblecanbereadasexpectingthepriestlysubtribetomarryonlywithin
itself,perhapsopeningthedoortotheideathatthepriesthoodcanonlybepassedonwitha
priestlyfatherandmother.10Thisapproachwouldsignificantlyshrinkthenumberofkohanim,
butwouldindeedmaintainthekehunahasadiscreteandinsularminorityamongtheJewish
peoplewhilebeingcompatiblewithgenderequality.Intheory,suchasystemcouldalsobe
adoptedwithoutoverlydisruptingtheconnectionofkohanimtotheirpastiftheyweretobe
grandfatheredinundertheoldrules.Still,likeanysolutionthatwouldseektobringgender
equalitytotherulesofpriestlydescent,thenewgenealogicalprincipleswouldcreatearupture
withthecontoursofthepriestlypast.11
Thisshouldhelpussharpenthedilemmaweareanalyzinghere.Forthosecommittedto
continuitywiththeJewishpastandwiththenormativediscoursearoundit,thekehunahis
fundamentallyinconflictwiththeimpulsetoeliminatehierarchicaldistinctionsbetweenmen
andwomen.Thereisreallynowaytomaximizebothofthesevaluesatonce.Theverything
thatmakesthekehunahsocompellingitsdeep,nonnegotiable,andgenealogicalrootsin
antiquitytiesustoancientsocialarrangementsandpowerstructuresthatareatoddswiththe
contemporaryaspirationsofmany.Thisconflictissharpinmanyareasofpracticethatsurround
thekehunah,andisessentiallyunavoidablewhenengagingthetraditionaldynamicsofJewish
priestlydescent.

10

SeeE.QimronandJ.Strugnell,DisocveriesintheJudaeanDesertX,159forareconstructionof4QMMTthat
followssuchaninterpretation.OnQimronandStrugnellsreading,thistextunderstandsVayikra21toforbidpriests
tomarryregularIsraelitewomen,undertherubricof,and,iftheydoso,theydesecratetheirpriestlylineand
theirchildrenarenolongerpriests.Accordingtothisreading,Vayikra21discussesthecaseofabatKohenwho
marriesanonpriestasanunfortunatereality.ItisevenpossibletoreadVayikra21asholdingthatabatKohenwho
conceivesachildwithanonpriestisdesecratedfromherstatusaswell.Thisreconstructionof4QMMThasbeen
stronglydisputedbyotherscholars.Forarecentsummaryofsomeofthescholarship,seeHannahHarrington,
IntermarriageinQumranTexts:TheLegacyofEzraNehemiah,inMixedMarriages:IntermarriageandGroup
IdentityintheSecondTemplePeriod,ed.ChristianFrevel,London2011,251279.Nonetheless,itisinterestingto
notethatonPesahim49a,R.Yoha nanstatesthatthemarriageofabatKohentoanonpriestisa
aninappropriatemarriagethatshouldnotbeespeciallycelebrated.RavHisdasaysthatsuchmarriageswillend
withthebatKohenbeingprematurelywidowed,divorced,orchildless.ItissaidthereofR.Yehoshuathathe
marriedabatKohenandbecameillasaresult.ThissoundsagreatdealliketheproposedreadingofVayikra21
aboveandmaybeavestigeofaharsherlegalapproachthatisdowngradedtostrongdisapprovalinRabbinictexts.
Analternatesetoftraditionsthereencouragenonpriestlymentoseeoutbenotkohanimaswivesandpromise
rewardtothosewhodoso.
11
Otherpossiblemodelswouldbeevenmorediscontinuous.Intheory,onecouldadoptasystemwherebythe
kehunahswitchedgenderswitheachgeneration:AmaleKohenwouldbegetafemaleone,whogivesbirthtoa
maleone,andsoon.


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Beforecontinuingtothinkourwaythroughsomemodelsforaddressingthisdilemma,I
wanttoacknowledgetwoveryrealpathsthatwewillnottake.First,onecouldcertainlysimply
redrawthekehunahinawaythatisdiscontinuouswiththerabbinicpast.Iknowofonerabbi
whowasextremelydrawntotheritualofthepriestlyblessing,buthecouldnotbeartoanchor
theritualinanysortofgenealogicalcriterion,muchlessapatriarchalandpatrilinealone.He
endedupinvitingthegrouphefeltwasthemostselfevidentsourceofblessinginthe
community,pregnantwomen,toascendthebimahandblessthecommunitywiththetraditional
formula.Consideredatananthropologicalremove,thisisabeautifulandinnovativesuggestion.
Itishardly,however,continuouswiththeJewishpriesthoodofthepast.Anditisthusthesortof
fullscalereimaginationofthearchitectureofthekehunahthatwillnotbehelpfulforsomeone
tryingtomaintainmaximalfidelitytohalakhicdiscourseandthenormativeJewishlanguageof
thepast.Mythoughtshereareaddressedtothosewhoseeksuchfidelity.
Second,onecandeeplyaffirmthepatriarchalelementsofthekehunahasimportantand
central,withacriticalroletoplayinpushingbackagainstcontemporaryaspirationsforgender
equalityinallaspectsoflife.Thisisthegenderequivalenttothosewhoferventlywanttosee
thepracticalrestorationofallformsofanimalsacrifice,orthosewhosawthelackofJewish
politicalsovereigntyasaterrible,temporaryhistoricalaberrationthatwasmeanttoberectified
bytheredemptiveturnofZionism.Forsome,recenttrendsroundgender,particularlythedrive
forincreasinglygenderequalritual,aresimilaraberrationsfromwhathasbeenandoughttobe
thenorm.Myanalysisisnotprimarilyaddressedtothisgroup,butrathertothosewhoseethe
possibilityofgreatergenderequalityinJewishlifeandpracticeasredemptiveandanappropriate
applicationoftheeternaldivinewilltoourowntimeandplace.Forthislattergroup,the
wholesaledismissalofgenderissuesraisedbythekehunahisnotviable.Norisitviabletohide
behindthenotionthatthekehunahsmalenessissubsumedunderanevennarrowercriterion:
beingofAaronidedescent.True,themalehierarchiesofthekehunahdontpracticallyaffecta
nonpriestlywomananymorethantheydoanonpriestlyman.Both,beforetheyaremanand
woman,are,foreignersexcludedfrompriestlyspacesandprerogatives,oftenonpainof
death./foreignness,indefiningthekehunah,ismuchmorefundamentalthan/maleness.
Butstill,thedaughterofaKohendoesnotserveonthesamealtarasherbrotherforonereason
andonereasonalone:becausesheisawoman.Andthatmakesgendernotjustapracticalissue


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forher,butaproblemforherentirecommunity:Eventhosewhoarenotexperiencingsuch
genderexclusiondirectlyliveinacommunityinwhichgenderexclusionishappening.
Instead,Iwantustothinkaboutouroptionsforbridgingourcommitmentsto
Torah/halakhahandgenderequalitywhenitcomestothekehunah,withtheassumptionthatwe
holdbothofthemdear.Isthekehunahsalvageableinagenderequalworld?Canitbevital,or
onlyvestigial?Howfarcanwegoinbringingthevalueofgenderequalityintothisancient
institutionwhilemaintainingitsintegrity?

III. Threemodels

Iwanttosuggestthatthereareessentiallythreemodelsforthinkingthroughthisconflictand
attemptingtoresolveit.Whileitispossibletomixandmatchbetweentheminpractice,each
representsabasicphilosophicalandlegalorientationtonavigatingthetensionweoutlined
above.

A.

Marginalizationandelimination

Onemodelisessentiallytoconcludethatthekehunahisnotreallyredeemableinour
contemporaryenvironment,andweoughttoembraceareligiousapproachthatseizesonevery
legitimateopportunitytoignoreitorcircumventit.Ifthekehunahisintrinsicallypatriarchal,
andifweunderstandourreligiousmissioninthepresentmomenttoincludeeffortstomove
beyondsuchgenderedhierarchies,thenthekehunahcannotreallyhaveaplaceinourworld.
Thisapproachessentiallysaysthatthekehunahmayhavebeenverymeaningfulandimportantin
itsoriginal,Templebasedcontext,butitisnolongermeanttobeausefulchannelfor
worshippingGod.MuchastheRambam,intheGuideforthePerplexed,talksaboutsacrifices
asanecessarytransitionalstepforaphilosophicallyunsophisticatednation,thiscampwouldsee
thekehunahasanancientinstitutionthatoncemirroredallsortsofcentralhierarchiesandtribal
genealogiesthatdefinedtheworldinwhichitoriginated.Butastimeprogressedandtheworld
changed,Godintendedustomovebeyondthatearliermodel.Whilethedestructionofthe


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Templewastragic,itwasalsoaninflectionpointwherebythedefinitionoftheJewishelitewas
dramaticallyoverhauled.EvenifwelongfortheTemplesrebuilding,wemisreadhistoryand
Godshandinitifwethinkwearemeanttoclingtothoseolderformsindefinitely.
Thereismuchthoughtandmanytextsthatareinlinewiththisbasicapproach.TheTorah
stateswithoutironythatthedescendantsofLeviarethepeoplesteachers,
.Theyarenotonlygenealogicallydistinct,theyareofficiantsintheTemple,and
theintellectualandspiritualeliteofthepeople.BythetimeoftheMishnah,wehear,somewhat
shockingly,thattheyhavemostlylosttheirplaceatthetopofthepeckingorder:

MishnahHorayot3:8
ApriesttakespriorityoveraLevite,aLeviteoveracommonJew,acommonJewovera
Jewwithalinealtaint(mamzer),amamzeroveradescendantoftheGibeonites(natin),a
natinoveraconvert,andaconvertoveranemancipatedslave.Whenisthisthecase?
Whentheyareallequal.Butinthecaseofamamzerwhoisascholarandanunlettered
highpriest,thescholarlymamzertakespriorityoveranunletteredhighpriest.

ThisMishnahisclear:Whenitcomestocommunalprioritiesandhonors,thesystembasedin
genealogy,oncecentral,isnownothingmorethanatiebreaker.Therealsocialcapitalisnow
locatedinknowledge,inameritocraticapproachtoTorahasopposedtoanessentialistapproach
togenes.
R.Tamoffersasimilarstatement(intheMordekhai)aboutthehistoricalcontextofthe
kehunahandchartsasimilarphilosophicalcourse:12

""
"

12

Iquotedthistextafewweeksagoinourdiscussionofkohanimandritualdefilement.Seethereformyfuller
analysisofthetext:ParashatEmor,KohanimandDeath.


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HagahotMordekhaiGittin#461,Germany,13thc.
IthappenedthatacertainpriestwashedR.Tamshandsandastudentobjected,Havent
welearnedintheYerushalmithatonewhousesthepriesthood[forpersonalpurposes]
hascommittedtheftofthesacred?RabbenuTamrespondedthatthereisnosanctity
nowadays,forweholdthatiftheirvestmentsareuponthem,sanctityisuponthem,andif
not,not

Strippedofboththeirvestmentsandtheirinstitutionalrole,kohanimcantreallyberegardedas
playinganymeaningfulroleinsociety.Accordingly,itisappropriateforthemtowaiton
scholarswhooncewouldhavewaitedonthemwhentheywerethesocialelite.
Thosewiththisorientationwillessentiallyseektofollowanyandallhalakhicpathways
thatleadtothemarginalizationandeliminationofthekehunah.Webeginfromthestartingpoint
thattheTempleisdefunct,allowingustoignoreallaspectsofsacrificiallawandpractice.
Buildingonthat,onewouldbuildontheAshkenaziDiasporictraditiontoeliminatethepriestly
blessingfrompublicprayerexceptonthemajorFestivals.InShulhanArukhOH128:44,Rema
statesthatthislessfrequentblessingisduetoinsufficientjoytherestoftheyear.Startingfrom
there,onewouldarguethatthistrendcan,andshould,becontinuedtowardsitstotalelimination,
appealingtotheconflictsthatthisblessingmaygenerateforcontemporaryJewsaroundgender,
andnotingthatthereisnoreal,formalrequirementtooffertheblessingindependentofcontext,
justanobligationforthekohanimtoperformitwhensummonedtodoso.
WithrespecttoaliyottotheTorah,proponentsofthisapproachwouldemphasizethat
MishnahGittin5:8describestheentirepracticeofgivingtheKohenthefirstaliyahas
motivatedby,increasingpeaceinthecommunity.TheTalmudonthatMishnah
describesthealternativetotheKohenleviyisraelpeckingorderas,beinggenerative
offights.TotheextentthatgivingprecedencetomaleKohanimisitselfcausingfightsand
tension,perhapsthisarrangementismeanttobesetasideinfavorofotherhierarchies.Addto
thisthefactthatRambam(HilkhotTefillah12:18)seemstothinkthattheMishnahinHorayot
meanttoeffectivelyeliminatetheKohenleviyisraelhierarchyaroundaliyot,anditwasonly
conventionalpracticethatpreventedthisfromhappening.Addfurtherthefactthatwehave
numerousrulingspermittingignoringthepresenceofkohanimonMondayandThursday
mornings,aswellassomeextraordinarycasesofputtingasidethathierarchyonShabbat

10


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morningincasesofgreatcommunalneed.13Thesethreadscanbewovenintoatapestrythat
effectivelyremovesthekehunahfromplayinganyroleinpublicritual.
ThoseinthiscampwouldbeinclinedtohighlighttheviewsofRaavadandSeferMitzvot
Gadol,whichwelookedatafewweeksago,bothofwhomsuggestthatthebiblicallawsaround
priestdefilementarenolongerineffecttoday.Totheextentarabbinicvestigeofthisrestriction
remains,itwouldbedealtwithjudiciouslyinsituationsofpressingneedorpotentialshame.
Certainly,acommunitywouldnotmakeabigdealoutofitsinconsistentobservance.Andwith
respecttoforbiddenmarriages,thespecificrestrictionsinthisrealmwouldbetreatedas
obstaclestobegottenaround,ifnotkilledentirely,thenevisceratedonacasebycasebasis.
KeyforthiscampwouldbeconstantreferencetotheclaimofResponsaMaharashdamEH
#235(R.ShmueldeMedina,Greece,16thc.)thatcontemporarykohanimmerelyconventionally
claimthisstatus.Sincerecordshavenotbeencarefullykept,andsincemanyofthelinesof
kohanimhavebeencorruptedandviolatedovertheyears,allcasesinvolvingpresumedpriests
shouldbetreatedashavingdoubtfulstatus.Aslongastheprohibitioninvolvedisrabbinicand
notbiblical,thatopensthepathwayforignoringit.Whatrestrictionsandguidelinesremainare
unfortunateremnantsofaoncecoherentsystem,observednowonlyinordertokeepthebooks
cleanandmaintainreligiousandjurisprudentialstability.
Thestrengthsofthisapproachshouldbeobvious:Itessentiallyaffirmsthatthekehunah,a
oncevenerableinstitution,reallydoesntmakesenseasabuildingblockofJewishlifetoday,and
ismeanttobegivenadecentburial.Thispavesthewayforafullembraceoftheforcesof
genderequalityintheserealmsofritualandpracticeaswell,withoutneedingtoconfrontthe
ongoinglegacyofthepatriarchalpriesthood.Itsweaknessshouldalsobeapparent.Itdemands
atendentiousembraceofsomeofthefarthestandsmallestbrancheshangingoffthehalakhic
tree,anddeniesthekehunahanyongoingwisdomtocontributetoourlives.

B.

Maintainingandtoleratingavestigewithintegrity

Anentirelydifferentapproachacceptsthatthekehunahisoutoftunewiththebroadertrendsof
rabbinicJudaismoverthecenturies,butseesthefaithfulpreservationofwhatisleftofitasan
13

Forreferencestosomeofthesesourcesandoneanalysisofthem,seeResponsaIggerotMosheOHII:34.

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importantpartofcontemporaryreligiouslife.Wherethekehunahhasfadedalliswelland
good.Butwhereitremainsonthebooks,itshouldbenormativelyprotected,withoutmessing
withitsfundamentalgeneticcode.Yes,thekehunahispatriarchalandconflictswithagender
egalitarianethos.Butitsroleintheoverallschemeofthingsisminoranditcanbetoleratedas
iswithoutitgummingupthelargerworks.Moreover,itspreservationisanimportantpartof
connectingustoourpast.Nomillenniaoldreligioncanexpecttobeaperfectmatchwithany
givenmomentinhistory.TotheextentJudaismwasaroundlongbeforecontemporarysocial
reassessmentsofgender,itsritualswillreflectthat.Aslongasthesevestigesofpatriarchydo
notaffecttherealpowerstructuresinthecommunity,thisisacceptable,perhapsevenpositive
foritsaddedauthenticityandantiquity.
Thisapproachmayormaynotaccepttraditionalopportunitiestodowngradethekehunah,
suchaslimitingthepriestlyblessingtoFestivals,anddoingawaywithKohenleviinthe
synagogueforMondayandThursdaymorningTorahreadings.Butitwillinsistonmaintaining
rolesforandrestrictionsonkohanimwheretheyhavebeenstableforalongtime,anditwill
insistonmaintainingthisvestigialkehunahinitsfullypatriarchalform.Whatpointisthere,
proponentsofthisviewwillargue,inpreservingthekehunahifwearenotgoingtopreserveit
justasitwas?Therefore,thefirstaliyahwillalwaysgotoamaleKohen,atleastonaShabbat
morning.Insteadofemphasizingtheaspectsofthealiyahregime,onewouldtap
deeplyintothispeckingorderasafulfillmentof,thebiblicalrequirementtosanctifythe
priestsinpublicritualsettings,asarticulatedbyvariousauthoritiesonGittin59b.Themale
kohanimwillascendtoofferthepriestlyblessingatleastonthemajorFestivals,thesemenwill
avoiddefilementtocorpses,andtheywillonlymarrywivesinaccordancewiththeregulations
laidoutinVayikra21.WhilethefirstgroupwillbeattractedtoMaharashdamsgenealogical
skepticism,thisgroupwillbedrawntorecentstudiesofYchromosomesthataffirmthegenetic
linktoantiquitythatmostkohanimpreserveintheirverybodies.14Yes,eventhoseinthiscamp
maybewillingtotakeadvantageoftraditionallenienciestosolvepracticalproblems,buttheydo
notseethekehunahassomethingtocircumventorkilloff.Apreciousquillpenandinkwell
inheritedfromalovingancestorisnotusedfordailywriting,butitsitsproudlyonadeskand
maybeusedfromtimetotimetosignsymbolicandemotionallychargeddocuments.Similarly,

14

Foronesuchstudy,whichincludesareviewofearlierresearch,see
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2771134/.

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ourgenderequalandmeritocraticworldpreventsthekehunahfromplayingasignificantrolein
determiningthestrategicoutlinesofourcommunity.Butaslongasrabbisandteachersarenot
boundbygenderrestrictions,aslongascommunalprayerisledbyallJewishadults,thena
patriarchalmalekehunahcanandshouldbeembracedasacriticallinktoourpast.
Theinstinctatworkheredeeplyvaluestraditions,includingstrangeones,perhaps
especiallythem.Ifwereviewedallofourritualsfortheircorrespondencewithcontemporary
needsandsensibilities,howmuchwouldbeleft?JudaismandtheToraharefullofpatriarchy,
deeplyanchoredintheMiddleEast,andlargelypredicatedonanagriculturalsociety.Ifweare
notinterestedinstartingover,needwenotacceptthefactthatnotallaspectsofourrituallife
willbemadeinourimage?Thoseinthiscampwillsaythatwecanhandlevestigialgender
powergapsinessentiallyceremonialandsymbolicareasofourreligiouslives.Ourjobisnotto
quashthemoredifficultelementsofthepast,itisrathertoaddnewlayerstothepresentandthe
future.
Here,theadvantagesareaclearlineofcontinuitywiththepast,andamaturesenseofwhat
ittakestoengagewithatraditionthatisfarolderandlargerthanourpresentmoment.The
weaknessisthepossibilityofanavesenseoftheharmlessnessofperpetuatingpatriarchal
hierarchiesinthecontextofalargerefforttowardsgenderequality.Anyelementofreligiouslife
thatsaysyestomenandnotowomenaffectsallaspectsofreligiouslife.Evenvestigial
elementsofaculturehaveaneffectonitsmoremainstreamelements,or,minimally,makeit
harderforthemainstreamelementstomovebeyonditself.Powerdynamics,particularlyifand
whentheyhaveadiscriminatoryandoppressivepast,arenoteasilyquarantinedinareligious
saferoom.Theytendtobemoreinfectiousandresistanttobeingoverwhelmed.Mostofus
wouldnevertolerateavestigialformofracialdiscriminationinanobscuregovernmentoffice,
evenunderanAfricanAmericanpresident.Thepotentialcomparisontoourcasereallygoesto
theheartofJewishconversationsaroundgenderandhalakhah.Isthedrivetowardsgreater
genderequalitymainlyanefforttoexpandrolesandopportunitiesforwomen?Totheextentit
is,andtotheextenttowhichgenderdistinctionsareseenasaboutdifferenceandnotpower,then
thissecondmodelisextremelyeffective.Oristhemovementtowardsgenderequalityborneofa
concernthatanyotherpathisapotentialmisapplicationofGodseternalwilltoour
contemporaryreality?Totheextentitis,andtotheextentthatweseemanyofthegender

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distinctionsofthepastasexclusionary(evenifjustifiablysoinearliertimesandplaces),theless
anauthenticembraceofeventhevestigialkehunahwillbeasufficientsolution.

C.

Egalitarianization

Afinalapproachistousetoolsandprecedentswithinthenormativetraditiontomakethe
kehunahasgenderequalaspossible,atleastintheworldinwhichweexperienceit.While
recognizingtheinescapablelimitsonmakingthehistoricJewishpriesthoodegalitarian,this
modelseekstoequalizethelivedexperienceofkohanimandbenotkohanimandcertainlythe
communitysexperienceofthemasmuchaspossible.Whiletheunderlyingtheoreticaland
essentialstructuresofthekehunahcanneverbemadegenderblind,perhapsitslimitedpresence
inourpublicritualcancomeclose.Embracingthepowerofthekehunah,thoseinthiscamp
seektomaintainitstraditions,whilebluntingitspotentiallycorrosiveeffectsonabroader
commitmenttogenderegalitarianism.
Wesawabovethatthebiblicalandrabbinictraditionclearlyexcludeswomenfromthe
centralculticresponsibilitiesofthekehunah,butincludestheminotheraspectsofit,andissilent
onarangeofotherareas.Indeed,wefindafewclassicalsourcesthatalmostseemtoassume
thatbenotkohanimmightbetreatedasequalstokohanimunlessspecificallyexcluded.Consider
thelanguageofMishnahSotah:

:
...
:

MishnahSotah3:7
WhatisthedifferencebetweenaKohenandakohenet(thedaughterofapriest)?The
grainofferingofakohenetiseaten,whereasthegrainofferingofaKohenisnoteaten
[butisentirelyburned].15Akohenetcanbedesecrated[andloseherstatusandsanctity
15

ThisisareferencetotheprescriptioninVayikra6:16thatakohensgrainofferingmustbeburnedratherthan
eaten:.ThebasisfortheMishnahsrulinghereisnotentirelyclear.YerushalmiSotah
3:7offersatraditionthatpinsthisgendereddistinctiononthewordintheverse:.(Seeparallelat
BavliSotah23b.)Thatis,themaleformofisdeliberateandmeanttoexcludefemaledescendantsofAharon

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entirely],whereasaKohencanneverbedesecrated.16Akohenetdefilesherselftothe
dead,whereasaKohendoesnot.AKoheneatsthemostsacredsacrificialfoods,whereas
akohenetdoesnot.

Thislistisobviouslynotcomprehensive,andleavesoffperhapsthemostimportantdifferences
thatrelatetoofferingsacrificesonthealtar.17Nonetheless,itreifieskohenetasameaningful
categoryandsuggeststhat,whileakohenetiscertainlynotaKohen,sheissomethingquite
meaningful,andsometimestherewillindeedbenodifferencebetweenherandaKohen.
Indeed,onefascinatingTalmudicpassagesusestheTorahsfrequentsilenceongenderand
thekehunahtoincludebenotkohanimandthosearoundthemincertainpriestlymitzvot.The
discussionheresurroundsthegiftstobegiventopriestsfromslaughteredmeat,enumeratedin
Devarim18:3:


/Andthisshallbethepriests'duefromthepeople,fromthemthatofferasacrifice,whetheritbe
oxorsheep,thattheyshallgivethepriesttheshoulder,andthetwocheeks,andthemaw.18
Thereisnospecificallygenderedlanguageinthistext,noristhereanyuseoftheform,
whichmightbeinterpretedasthegenderspecificsons.Doesthisopenthepossibilityof
givingthesegiftstoabatKohen?Manyrabbisthoughtitdid:

.:
.

fromthislaw.Thisisanoddsuggestion,particularlysincetheworddoesnotappearanywhereintheBible!R.
Abahu,furtheronintheYerushalmipassage,objectstothisderivationoranotherreason:Rabbinictradition
assumesthattheslavesofabatKohenareallowedtoeatterumahandotherpriestlygiftsthatarenotofthehighest
sanctity.Buttheversethatauthorizestheslavesofprieststoeatsuchfoods(Vayikra22:11)usesthewordas
well!Therefore,hesuggestsinsteadthatweshouldtakeourcuesfromVayikra6:15,oneverseearlier,whichspeaks
abouthowthetwicedailygrainofferingofthehighpriest,whichisalsoentirelyburned,shouldbeofferedbyhis
sonwhotakesoverfromhim:.R.Abahuthenargues:Justasthesacrificialresponsibilities
ofthe(high)priesthoodonlypassestosonsandnottodaughters,sotootherequirementtoburnthegrainoffering
onlyappliestosonsandnottodaughters.
16
Thiswouldhappenasaresultofforbiddensexualintercourse,suchaswithanypersonthatitwouldbeforbidden
forhertomarry,oronaccountofintercoursewiththesonofaKohenandawomanforbiddentohim(aha lal).
17
Thenoncomprehensivenatureofthelistisconfirmedbythefactthatthenextmishnahasksthequestion
.Thelistthatfollowsislengthy,buthardlyexhaustiveofallthegenderdifferencesinbiblicalandrabbinic
law.
18
ThisverseishardtoreconcilewithVayikrasspecificationthatthepriestsreceivethethighandthebreastastheir
portionofwellbeingofferings.Rabbinictraditionthusunderstandstheinthisversetobemeatslaughteredfor
homeconsumption,notformallypartofthesacrificialsystem.Kohanimarenonethelessentitledtoaportionofthis
meat.

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:,:
!
.!,:
:',,:
.,,
,,,
:,...:,,
.

TalmudBavliHu
llin131b132a
Ullausedtogivethegiftstoakohenet.
Ravachallengedhim:[TheMishnahsays:]Thegrainofferingofakohenetiseaten,
whereasthegrainofferingofaKohenisnoteaten!If[yourpracticeofgivingthegiftsto
akohenetisbasedonsayingthat]thetermKohenismeanttoincludekohenet,theverse
demandingthatakohensgrainofferingbeburntalsousesthetermKohen[butthe
Mishnahisclearthatthatlawisgenderedanddoesnotapplytowomen]!
Ullasaidtohim:Mymaster,[Iwillrefuteyou]basedonyourpremise!Thesection
[dealingwithburningthegrainoffering]explicitlyincludesareferencetoAharonandhis
sons!
ItwastaughtinthehouseofR.Yishmael:Kohenmeanstoexcludekohenet.The
ambiguoustextsshouldbeinterpretedinlightoftheexplicitones.[I.e.,sinceKohenis
sometimesusedincontextswhereitisunquestionablylimitedtomen,asinthe
grainofferingsection,thisteachesusthatitisagenderedtermeverywhere.]
ItwastaughtinthehouseofR.Eliezerb.Yaakov:Kohenmeanstoincludeakohenet
aswell.Thisisacaseofanapparentdoublenarrowingofthelawthatismeanttoexpand
it.[Theversedealingwiththesegiftsusesthewordfollowedbytheword.
Whileeitheroftheseonitsownmightbereadasindicatingthatthelawislimitedtomale
membersofthepriestlyclass,thedoubleusagesuggeststhatperhapsthelegalcategoryis
meanttobecrackedopenabitwiderinthiscontext.Thisthisincludesbenotkohanim.]
RavKahana,RavPappa,RavYeimar,andRavIdib.Abinusedtoeatthegiftsonaccount
oftheirwives[whowerekohanottheserabbiswerenotkohanim].
SaidRavina:MereimartoldmethehalakhahfollowsUlla,anditalsofollowsRav
Adab.Ahavah,whosaidthataleviah[daughterofaLevite]whogivesbirthdoesnot
needtoredeemherfirstbornson.

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Thistextisrichandcomplexwewillnotengageallaspectsofitfully.Letuspulloutafewkey
points.Inthemiddleofthispassage,wehearaboutaTannaiticdisputesurroundinghowtoread
thewordintheTorah.R.Yishmaelconcludesthatthisisindeedamaleterm,asitscontextin
sacrificialcontextsproves.R.Eliezerb.Yaakovseesthingsdifferently.Whileheseemsto
acknowledgethatthewordmaygenerallyspecifymaleness,eachcontextmustbecheckedon
itsownterms.Inthespecificexampleofthesegiftsofmeat,hethinksthetextureofthe
languagesuggestsamoreexpansive,genderblindreadingoftheterm.Ullaseemstohavegone
further,suggestingthatwheneverthecontextofagivenlawisgenderambiguousandthereisno
specificgenderedlanguage(suchasinitsvariousforms),thereisnoreasontoassumethat
thetermislimitedtomen.Weseethat,inpractice,manySagesreliedonthisand,basedon
thestatusoftheirwivesaskohanot,atethismeatintheirhomeswhenitwasgiventothemby
otherJews.Thisisastrikingexampleofreadingkohanotintoanaspectofthepriesthoodthat
doesnotobviouslyexcludethem.19
Thepassagehereendswithanothersuchexample,asRavAdab.Ahavahisnormatively
confirmedinhisviewthatabatlevi(andobviouslyabatKohenaswell)exemptsherfirstborn
sonfromredemption.Bemidbar3detailshowthefirstbornmaleIsraelitesoriginallyintended
tobededicatedtoservicetoGodwereswappedoutforthemalemembersofthetribeofLevi.
Theexcessfirstbornsonsaretoberedeemedwithfiveshekalimofsilver,whicharemeanttobe
giventoAharonandhissons.Therefore,whenJewishwomengivebirthtoachildforthefirst
time/theinitiationofthewombthefatherofthechildisexpectedtogivemoneyto
aKoheninordertoredeemhim.ButwhatofthefirstbornofthetribeofLevi?Itisquiteclear
thattheyneednoredemption,sincetheyaretheveryoneswhohavetakenupspecialserviceof
GodinplaceoftherestoftheJewishfirstborn.ButwhatifabatKohenorabatlevihasachild
withanonleviticalJewishman?HereRavAdab.Ahavahrulesthatthemotherslinealsanctity
isequallysignificantforthepurposesofexemptingherchild,eventhoughthechildhimselfwith
notbeaKohenoralevi!Rava,citedonBekhorot4a,understandsthelogictobeasfollows:
Bemidbar3:12statesthattheLevitesaremeanttoreplacetheinitiationofthewombof
.Sincethislawisdependentonthewomb,itoughtonlytobenecessarytoredeem

19

AnexcellentexampleofthecontinuationofthistrendisfoundinRambamBikkurim10:17,whereheextends
Ullasanalysisinthesugyaheretotherequirementtogivethefirstoftheshearingtothepriest.Rambamrulesthat
itmaybegiventoabatKohenaswell,despitetherenotbeing,intheappropriateverse,thespecificexegetical
patternhighlightedbyR.Eliezerb.Yaakovwithrespecttoslaughteredmeat.

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childrenborntowombsthatarenonlevitical.Thisclosereadingaside,however,thereisalsoa
deepersensethatwedonotautomaticallypresumeallaspectsofthepriestlyandLevitical
regimestobegenderedmalewhenthereisambiguity,orcluesthatpointtoamoreexpansive
reading,itislegitimateandappropriatetomoveinthatdirection.Bothsuchmovesinthissugya
areacceptedasnormativeanddefinepracticeuntiltoday.20
Eveninareaswheretherabbinictraditionexplicitlygendersthekehunah,thereisroomto
askjusthowextensivethisgenderingis.Wenotedabovethatonlymalemembersofthepriestly
classareunderstoodtobesubjecttomarriagerestrictionsofthesortspelledoutinVayikra21.
Andyet,therabbinictraditionpreservesaninformalparallelforbenotkohanim.OnPesahim
49a,theTalmudresolvesconflictingsourcesthatdiscussthepropermateforabatKohenby
sayingthatafemalememberofthepriestlyclassshouldonlymarryascholar.Thisisclearlynot
abiblicallevelrequirement,andbynomeansaformalparalleltotheTorahsmarriage
restrictionsonkohanim,eitherintermsofitsseverityoritsconsequences.Butitisakindof
nonformalparalleltowhatthatlegislationisgettingat.JustastheTorahwarnsthekohanimnot
tomarryspurnedandlowlymembersofsocietytoremainwithintheeliteofthedaysotoo
rabbinicsourcestellthebatKohenthatsheshouldmarrytheeliteofherday,thescholarly
figureswhohavereplacedthekohanimofoldinmostaspectsofJewishlife.Onecancertainly
imagineanegalitarianizingapproachadoptingdistinctivestandardsforabatkohenschoicesin
marriage.
Eventheexplicitgenderedlicenseforbenotkohanimtodefilethemselvesmightbe
interrogated.True,theTorah,asinterpretedbyrabbinictradition,clearlydoesnotforbidthem
fromcomingincontactwiththedead.Butwhatiftheyelectivelychoosenotto?Istheresome
meaningtothisanddoesithaveritualweight?Mightthisbeparalleltothetraditionalapproach
togenderedmitzvotinmedievalAshkenazicommunities?Womenwereunderstoodtobeexempt
fromvarioustimeboundmitzvot,likesittinginasukkahonSukkot.Nonetheless,itwasviewed

20

Anotherfascinatingexampleisthequestionofwhetherthefiveshekalimofsilverusedtoredeemafirstborncan
begiventoabatKohen.Theanswerwouldclearlyseemtobeno,giventhatBemidbar3specifiestobe
therecipientsofthisredemptionmoney.Giventhegenderedhistorythataccruestotheterminthecontextof
thekehunah,thiswouldseemtoclosethecase.Indeed,manyposkimareclearonthispointseeRambamBikkurim
1:10andRoshBekhorot,HilkhotPidyonBekhor#4.Nonetheless,TosafotPesahim49bs.v.amarRavKahanahold
thatonemaygivetheredemptionmoneytoabatKohen(oreventohernonpriestlyhusband).Theyseemtohave
readthephraseinthiscontextasreferringtoahistoricalsituationatthetimeofthemassredemptioninthe
desert,butnotasaparameterwitheternalsignificance.Thatopensthedoorforreadinggenderblindnessintothe
Torahslacunaonthatfront.

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asreligiouslypositiveandmeaningfulifwomenperformedthismitzvah,andR.Tam(withmany
others)thoughtthatwomencould,andshould,saytheappropriateblessingsoversuchmitzvot
whentheyperformedthem.Couldwesaythesameaboutbenotkohanimwhovoluntarily
choosetoobservemitzvotfromwhichtheyareexempt?
Onehighlycrypticsourcemightsuggestthattherewassuchaphenomenon.Rabbinic
traditioninterpretedVayikra21asincludingspousesamongthoseforwhomaKohendefiles
himself.21Sincethatchapterisalsothesourceforthenotionthatonehasabiblicalobligationto
mournforcloserelatives,onesspouseisincludedinthissetaswell.However,unliketheother
bloodrelativeslistedthere,thereissomedegreeofambiguityastowhenoneisactually
consideredmarriedforthesepurposes.Isitfromthemomentofbetrothal(erusin),oronlyfrom
thetimeofactualcohabitation/marriage(nisuin)?R.Hiyyaaddressesthisquestion:22

:
,:'

TalmudBavliYevamot29b
R.Hiyyataught:Hiswifebybetrothal[alone]:Hedoesnotmournforher,23nordoeshe
defilehimselfforher.Andshetoodoesnotmournforhimnordefileherselfforhim.

Thepartofthisteachingthatfocusesonmourningisquiteclear.Thebondofbetrothalaloneis
insufficienttotriggeranobligationforspousestomournforoneanother.Morepuzzlingarethe
parallelclausesregardingdefilement.Inthefirstphrase,itseemswearespeakingaboutaKohen
whoisbetrothedtosomeonewhothendiespriortothecompletionofthemarriage.ThisKohen,
R.Hiyyateaches,isnotpermittedtodefilehimselftohisbetrothed.Sheisnotcloseenoughto
warranthimdesecratinghiskehunah.Butwhatdoestheparallelfemalephrasereferto?What

21

ThisinterpretationisbasedonreadingthewordinVayikra21:2asreferringtooneswifeseeSifraEmor
Parashah1Halakhah4.Thiswasintenselycontroversialandnotaccepteduniversallyinnonrabbiniccircles.See
SifraEmorParashah1Halakhah12.
22
OneofR.Hiyyascentralpointsherethatthetransitionfromawomansbirthclantoherhusbandsdomainfor
thepurposesofdefilementhappenswithmarriageandnotbetrothalisalreadyarticulatedinSifraEmorParashah1
Halakhah4and12.
23
Theformaltermintheoriginalis,whichtechnicallyreferstotheperiodbetweenthedeathandtheburial,
duringwhichtimeobligationsinotherpositivemitzvotaresuspendedandarangeofmourningpracticesalready
begintokickin.Buttheinapplicabilityofthiscategoryincludestheinapplicabilityofmourningmorebroadly,after
theburialaswell.

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doesitmeantosaythatawomandoesnotdefileherselftoherbetrothedifhediesprematurely?
Ifwearesearchingforstrictparallelism,itwouldseemthatthis/doesnotdefile
shouldbereadas/maynotdefileherself,asinthefirstphrase.Butwhywouldit
everbeforbiddenforawomantodefileherself?Ifsheisnotofthepriestlyclass,thenthereis
neverreallyaprohibitionagainstdefilingoneself!Ifsheisofthepriestlyclass,didntwesay
thatthisprohibitiononlyappliestoandnotto?
Anumberofsolutionsareproposedtomakesenseofthistext.Rashiheresuggeststhat
perhapsthisreferstoararecontextwherenoJewissupposedtobedefiled,asinthecaseof
preparingtogoonpilgrimagetotheTemple.24Thisisquiteabittoaddintothecontexthere.
AnothertraditioncitedbyRashiholdsthatthelanguagehereshouldbereadasimprecise
simplymeansneednotdefile.Thepointofthetextisjusttoclarifythatwomenhave
noobligationtodealwiththeburialofmentheyweremerelybetrothedto.Thiscreatesan
uncomfortablelackofparallelismbetweenthetwohalvesofthetext,withthesameexactterm
beingusedintwodifferentways.SheiltotEmor#103suggeststhatthewholephraseis
meaningless,simplyaddedinforstylisticparallelism,sothatthesecondhalfofthistraditionwill
havethesamestructureasthefirsthalf.Whilethissortofresolutionisusedwithsome
frequencyintheTalmud,andmakessenseinthecontextofanoralcultureoftransmission,
whereconsiderationsofrhythmarecritical,itisobviouslydeeplyunsatisfyingsolongasthereis
anotherwaytounderstandthetext.
Iwouldhumblysuggestthatalltheseproblemsgoawayifweassumethatbenotkohanim,
whilenotobligatedtostayawayfromthedead,oftenelectivelychosetodoso,andthatthis
patternofbehaviorwasrespectedandgivenvalue.Onlyincaseswheremalekohanimwere
expectedtodefilethemselveswouldtheybeexpectedtodothesame.Thesecondhalfofthis
textreadsverysmoothlyifwesayitisreferringtoabatKohenwhoelectivelyobservesthe
Torahsrestrictionsondefilement.Whilesheisexpected,likeanyKohen,todefileherselffor
herspouse,thatisonlyaftermarriage,notafterbetrothalalone.Evenifthisreadingisnot
correct,Iamsuggestingawayofthinkingabouttheroleofbenotkohanimthatwouldaffirm
themtakingonmorethantheyhavebeenburdenedwith,givingthemdeeperopportunitiesto
connectwiththeirkehunah,andgivingthelargercommunityamoregenderequalexperienceof
thekehunahingeneral.
24

SeeRoshHaShanah16b.

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ThepublicritualaspectsprimarilyaliyotandthePriestlyblessingwouldthenfollowa
similarapproach.Thismodelwouldpushforasmuchinclusionofbenotkohanimaspossiblein
theritualsinwhichJewishpriestscontinuetoplayarole.Thoseinthisthirdcampwould
emphasizethedimensionofaliyotinordertolowerthetemperaturearoundthe
discussion,butwouldalsoarguethatthebiblicalmandateofisfulfilledbyhonoringall
thosedescendedfromAharon,whethertheyarethesonsordaughtersofpriests.Thefirstaliyah
wouldbezealouslyguardedforthepriesthood,butforabroadersetofpeoplestemmingfrom
thatcommunity.ThePriestlyblessing,whileclearlynotobligatoryonbenotkohanim,couldbe
seenassomethingtheycouldtakeonandparticipatein,particularlysincethisisperformedasa
group,wheretheparticipationofbenotkohaniminnowaydisplacesthemalekohanimalready
doingit.Again,suchacommunitywouldseetheseritualsaspowerful,important,evenvital,
justinneedofamoregenderequalprofileforthemtobeeffectiveandtopreventthemfrom
beingalienating.Nextweeksessaywilldealwithwhatsuchanargumentwouldlooklikein
depth.
Thisthirdapproachhassignificantstrengths.Itholdsontothekehunah,andmostlyavoids
thecynicalgameplayingthatcanresultfromanefforttodowngradeorevadestrictureswehave
inheritedfromthepast.Ithonestlyandpracticallyaddressesconcernsaroundgenderequality,
evenasitrecognizesthatanyembraceofthekehunahisgoingtoentailacceptingsomedegreeof
residualpatriarchythatistheunavoidableconsequenceofworkingwithamillenniaoldreligion.
Whatisitsweakness?Itrequiresareimaginingofcertainrolesandimages.Forsome,itis
naturaltomovefromthemalevoicedbirkatkohanimofthepasttooneofferedinablendof
higherandlowerregisters.Forsome,awomansteppingforwardtoreceivethefirstaliyahwill
feellikethenaturalapplicationoftheeternalTorahtoourreality.Butforothers,theaesthetics,
asmuchasanythingelse,willgratetothepointofdeprivingtheritualsoftheveryauthenticity
thatmadethemattractiveinthefirstplace.Thisisnotnecessarilydifferentfromissuesthatarise
withregardtoegalitarianismmoregenerally,especiallyinpublicrituallife.Butitcanbemore
acuteinthecontextofthekehunah,whichisinsomesenseessentiallyaboutpreservingthings
fromanancientpastastheywere.Inmyview,thisismoreofanemotionalproblemthanan
intellectuallysubstantiveone,butemotionsarenolessrealthantheories,especiallywhenit
comestorituals.Whilemyowninstinctstellmethatthisthirdmodelisthedirectionweshould
bemoving,Idonotdeludemyselfthatanyeventualembraceofitwillbegradualanduneven.

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CenterforJewishLawandValuesFullEssay
GenderandtheKehunahIyyar5776

IV.

Conclusion

Ihopethesethreemodelscanhelpusbetterunderstandsomeofourinstinctswhenwethink
abouttopicsofthissort.Theycanalsohelpuschartoutstrategiesnotonlyforconfrontingthe
contemporarychallengesinvolvinggenderandkehunah,butforcommunicatingwithotherswho
thinkaboutthisissuedifferently.Nextweek,wewillaimtoturnthistheoryintopractice,aswe
seeifthepriestlyblessingcanbegivenamoreegalitarianformandwhatdoingsowouldsay
aboutthekehunah,gender,andourselves.

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