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Tethered To The Mother
‘…If She Is Fit, Her Daughter Is Also Fit…’
(Kesubbos 13b)



If a girl consorts with a man whom she is forbidden to marry, such as a non-Jew (or other pesulei kahal), she and the daughter born from that forbidden union are disqualified from marrying a kohen. [The mother is termed a zonah and her child a chalala.] However, if the man is someone she is permitted to marry (i.e., a Jewish man), she and any children born from the union are not disqualified from marrying a kohen.

The Mishna (13a) discusses the case of a girl who became pregnant out of wedlock, thus casting aspersions on her status, and her child’s permissibility to marry a kohen.

The halacha follows Rabban Gamliel (13a), who maintains that if the girl claims that the man she consorted with is an ish kasher, a legitimate Jewish man (whom she is permitted to marry), she is believed and she does not become disqualified from marrying a kohen.

A Matter Of Presumption

R. Eleazar (13b) asserts that even though the girl is believed and is permitted to marry a kohen, her daughter (born from the union with the unidentified man) is forbidden to do so. Rashi explains that the mother is permitted to marry a kohen because her claim that the man is an ish kasher is supported by a chezkas kashrus – a legal presumption of continuance of an existing condition – which states that we may presume that the status of the girl’s heter likehunah (permissibility to marry a kohen), which existed prior to the incident, continues to exist until we have positive proof that her status has changed. Her daughter, however, lacks the benefit of chezkas kashrus since there was doubt regarding her status from the moment of her conception. R. Eleazar, therefore, considers the daughter a safek chalala – a doubtful chalala – and does not permit her to marry a kohen.

R. Yochanan disagrees with R. Eleazar and maintains that despite the daughter’s lack of chezkas kashrus, she is qualified to marry a kohen because the mother’s chazakah is valid for her daughter too (Tosafot 26b).


Not Revisiting The Past

The Ba’al Hafla’ah (Kesubbos 13b) as well as many other authorities (see Responsa Rabbi Akiva Eger, Mahadura Tanina No. 111; Shev Shema’teta 4) explain that the stringency of R. Eleazar is limited to the daughter born from the questionable union. However, if a daughter is born from a subsequent marriage with a legitimate Jewish man, that daughter is permitted to marry a kohen even though she lacks a chezkas kashrus because there is a doubt as to whether her mother once consorted with a non-Jew and became a zonah. Since the mother was ruled permissible to a kohen after the incident (and the father of this daughter is known to be an ish kasher), we do not revisit the mother’s questionable act in the past.


Contradictory Rulings

Rabbi Akiva Eger (Responsa, loc. cit.) as well as other authorities referring to R. Yochanan’s leniency in this matter, indicate that R. Yochanan’s logic is that once the mother’s status is judged and she is ruled qualified to marry a kohen based on the assumption that the man she consorted with was a legitimate Jewish man, the beth din cannot render a contradictory decision concerning her child, saying that the child might have been fathered by a non-Jew.

Rabbi Akiva Eger argues that if the mother was in any case forbidden to marry a kohen (e.g., she was a divorcee), the beth din does not issue a ruling (with regard to the mother) as to the legitimacy of the man with whom she consorted. Consequently, it is not paradoxical for the beth din to render a stringent ruling regarding the daughter’s status and disqualify her from marrying a kohen due to the possibility that she was fathered by a non-Jew. (See Kovetz Shiurim, Mahadura Tanina 62:2 – where the mother’s status extending to the daughter is discussed and explained.)


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.