Thursday, June 08, 2006

Can a zar (non-kohein) perform birchas kohanim?

At first glance the whole question of whether a non-kohein, a zar, can duchen, as absurd. The command of birchas kohanim is directed to bnei Aharon, and the gemara in Kesubos(24) indicates that this constitutes an issur aseh for all others. Yet, Chazal tell us that R' Yosi, who was not a kohein, praised himself for always obeying his friends' advice (one can only speculate how R' Yosi would have replied to the favorite question of mother's everywhere: would you listen to your friends if they told you to jump off a bridge?) even to the point of going up to duchen at their behest(Shabbos 118b). Tosfos quotes R"I who was perplexed at the praise - there is no issur for a zar to duchen, writes Tosfos, so why should R' Yosi have not been willing to fulfill his friends' request, strange as it may have been? How did the R"I deal with the explicit issur aseh menationed by the gemara in Kesubos?
The simplest answer for Tosfos is that the gemara in Kesubos meant that there is an issur for a zar to recite birchas kohanim, but for a zar to simply stand on the duchen with the kohanim while they recite the bracha is not a problem (see Aruch haShulchan siman 138, Shu"t Oneg Y"T O.C. #15 who also has an interesting discussion of the MG"A who attempts to hinge the issur aseh on a machlokes tana'im found elsewhere). The Minchas Chinuch suggests that the gemara in Kesubos might be speaking only of birchas kohanim in the mikdash where shem hemeforush was used (which suggests that the issur aseh is not particular to birchas kohanim, but is a violation of pronouncing Hashem's name unneccesarily - see maharasha shabbos 118).
These answers are so good they force us to redress Tosfos' original question - if indeed there is no issur of being oleh l'duchan, what is the big deal of R' Yosi listening to his friends when they told him to do so? Perhaps one can bring proof from here to the position of the sefer chareidim (cited by minchas chinuch) that there is a mitzvah on a yisrael to be blessed by the kohanim. By being oleh to duchen, R' Yosi was forfeiting this kiyum mitzvah for the sake of the middah tova of listening to his friends. The Meshech Chochama suggests a similar approach: the gemara (Sota 38) tells us that workers in the fields who are onusim, pervented by circumstance, from coming to hear birchas kohanim, are included in the bracha, but those who can come to listen but intentionally avoid doing so are not included. By being oleh to the duchen R' Yosi was forfeiting the opportunity to receive birchas kohanim. However, the gemara is mechadesh that since R' Yosi always followed the midah tovah of listening to his friends, he was considered onus and still included in the bracha.


  1. Anonymous10:40 AM

    Maybe we can also say that R. Yosi was blind and pattur from mitzvas aseh. (I wonder if that applies to issurei aseh also? Maybe the fact that no one answers this is a raya that it doesn't.)

  2. How do you know R' Yosi was blind (R' Yosef was blind, but I do not recall a gemara that R' Yosi was - see Megilla 24b)? Even so, a blind person is chayav merabbanan (Tosfos R"H 33 I seem to recall a debate whether this applies to issurei aseh or everything, but need to check the details. Maybe someone else can fill in).

  3. I posted about this as well, the Haflaa has a similar idea to the Meshech Chochma and the Nesivos also has an interesting pshat.

  4. The say three's a crowd but I am planning on talking about this topic this week as well.

    If you have a Minchas Asher, he discusses this issue as well.

  5. Baruch shekivanti! I do not understand the nesivos (did not see it - I assume it is on the daf?) - what does he do with the issur aseh?

  6. The Dvar Avraham (Siman 31) discusses the Hafla'ah as well. He understands the Hafla'ah that there is a chiyuv on the Yisroel to search after Birkas Kohanim. The Dvar Avraham brings a Ritva in Sukkah (31B) which implies there is no mitzva on a Yisroel (in a discussion on bal tosif)
    The Minchas Chinuch also brings down this Ritva.

    The D'var Avraham wants to say that there is only a mitzvah if the Yisroel is there. Not that there is a mitzvah to search for Birkas Kohanim.With this the D'var Avraham answers the kasha from the Ritva ayin sham kol hadevarim.

  7. The nesivos understands the issur aseh is the fact that a Cohen will not go up to duchen because he hasn't proven his yichus. In other words they were more mikel by duchening so that the Cohen will avoid the issur of not duchening when called.

  8. Anonymous10:07 PM

    Rav Asher's piece is great. Also, for an extremely enjoyable and creative piece on Birchat Kohanim, I strongly recommend Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein's article in "Zichron HaRav".

    I published the note below also on Jewish Worker, so if you saw it there, you've seen it.

    I wish to point out one fascinating textual problem that HaGaon Rav Avraham Kavalkin (the general editor of the new Shulchan Aruch, editor of the new Minchas Chinuch, Otzar Mefarshei HaShas, etc.) pointed out to me (I'll post this on Divreichaim also).

    The Rama on 128:1 seemingly contradicts himself. Initially he records "ואין לזר לישא כפיו אפילו עם כהנים אחרים...

    Then the comment continues:
    ואפשר עם כהנים אחרים שרי וצ"ע.

    Obviously, the first clause in the Rama contradicts the second clause.

    There's actually a definitive answer.

    When you look at the initial edition of the Rama from the 1570's, the second half (ואפשר עם כהנים אחרים שרי וצ"ע) simply is not there. It's not the Rama!

    In fact, the comment first appears as a printer's insertion in the Cracow edition of the Shulchan Aruch - published in 1607, well after the Rama's death.

    The new Shulchan Aruch corrects this and makes clear that the comment is not to be attributed to the Rama.

    As a general matter, Rav Kavalkin instructed me that the Rama records only “pesak”; he does not typically make statements such as “וצ"ע" further, he never gives mekoros. Those items in Rashi script are almost always something else (in Choshen Mishpat, for instance, Mekoros that appear in Rashi script are generally the Sm"a).

    So next time you see an inconsistency in the Rama or someone tells you that Rashi script always means it's the Rama... well check out the new Shulchan Aruch, one of the great contributions of our Dor - lidorei doros.

  9. Abbafive,

    The Rama does write the second half of that statement in the Darkei Moshe, so even if it wasn't in the Hagahos HaRama o the Shulchan Aruch he said it in the Darkei Moshe Haaruch

  10. Anonymous8:50 AM

    See my response to Bluke on his blog.

  11. Anonymous4:26 AM


  12. Deborah Shaya9:09 AM

    Hashem passes His Beracha to the Kohen. And only a true Kohen can pass the full Bracha from Hashem to all of Am Yisrael - for material and spiritual blessing.

    In ancient times, where there would be a difference of opinion between the Melech and the Cohen, the Melech, the King, would always have to defer to the Cohen.

    This demonstrates the extremely high stature of the Kohen.

  13. Deborah Shaya9:10 AM

    The Cohen has a specific function to act as an “interface” between Hashem and the Jewish People – and to bless them.

    This is done through the, “Birchat Cohanim”. No one else, other than a true Kohen, is permitted to recite the, “Birchat Kohanim.”
    (Parsha of Nasso – 6:22-27)

    The Cohanim are specifically commanded to bless the Jewish People, “Be’ahava” - “with Love”. The Shechinah, the Presence of Hashem, is only able to rest on the Cohen, as he is a true descendant of Aharon HaKohen, the first Cohen HaGadol.

  14. Deborah Shaya9:14 AM

    1. Concerning:
    (a) Rabbis who are clearly not Kohanim and
    (b) Rabbis who are not true Cohanim, but who claim to be (this includes many of the ‘rabbanim’, ‘dayanim’ and ‘mekubalim’ of today) and
    (c) The ‘layman’ who is not a true Cohen, but who claims to be:

    Take note:-
    There are numerous people who fall into the above 3 categories. These people are regularly pronouncing the, “Birchat Kohanim”, or giving ‘brachot’ to the Jewish People.

    They have no right whatsoever, to do this.

    And they are actually “taking over” the role of the Cohen - for themselves.

    • This should be corrected speedily, so that the role of the Kohen to give brachot, is returned to him, and is no longer usurped by others.

    • Rabbis and rabbonim should have the humility to direct a person in need to a true Cohen.

    2. Those who need a brocha would be well advised to find someone who is known to be a true Cohen.

    Those seeking a bracha should be made aware, that the full Bracha from Hashem can only pass from Hashem, to His true Kohanim, and then to the Jewish People.