By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
RESPECT AND HONOR: HOW TO TREAT A KOHEN
Included in Hashem's commandment to Moshe to appoint his brother Aharon and
his sons as kohanim is the Biblical command: 'You shall sanctify him... he
shall remain holy to you'(1). The Torah commands us to acknowledge the
sanctity of kohanim by showing them respect and giving them preferential
treatment, since they are the ones who are entrusted to do Hashem's work in
the Mishkan and Beis ha-Mikdash.
This mitzvah is divided into two parts: a) the mitzvah of honoring a kohen;
b) the prohibition against using the services of a kohen for one's needs.
Let us elaborate:
THE MITZVAH OF HONORING A KOHEN HOW DO WE HONOR A KOHEN?
Whenever a blessing is recited in public, a kohen should be the one asked
to recite it. Thus a kohen is the first one to be called up to the Torah
whenever it is read. At meal time, he is the one who is asked to recite
Kiddush, Birkas ha-Motzi and Birkas ha-Mazon. In addition, a kohen is served
first, he is asked to speak first and is generally given more respect then a
yisrael or a levi(2).
Some poskim(3) mention that a levi is given priority over a yisrael in all
of the above honors, just as he is called to the Torah before a yisrael.
Other poskim hold that a levi does not take precedence at all(4).
MAY A KOHEN FOREGO THIS HONOR?
A kohen may be mochel [lit.: release others from paying him] the honor due
him [except being called up first to the Torah](5). The reason why a kohen
may be mochel his honor is based on the Rabbinic dictum(6) that "one honors
a man by doing his will." Since the kohen wants to bestow upon someone else
the honor due him, that, in turn, becomes his honor(7).
If a yisrael recites Birkas ha-Mazon in the presence of a kohen, he must
ask for the kohen's permission. It is not sufficient to merely say
As stated above, the only exception to the rule that a kohen may forego his
honor is that he must be called up first to the Torah. This is a Rabbinic
edict instituted by the Sages of the Mishnah, who insisted that the kohen
always accept his aliyah lest he defer to some people and not to others, and
thus cause discord among members of the shul(9).
ARE THERE ANY EXCEPTIONS TO THIS REQUIREMENT?
1. The head of a household where a meal is being served is not obligated to
offer a kohen guest the honor of reciting ha-motzi(10) or Birkas ha-Mazon
2. If a yisrael is a greater talmid chacham than a kohen, the yisrael is not
obligated to honor the kohen. It is, nevertheless, proper for him to do so,
and one who does so is rewarded with longevity(12).
3. If the kohen is an am ha-aretz, a yisrael - who is a talmid chacham - is
not permitted to honor the kehunah of such a kohen, since he is thereby
degrading the honor of the Torah(13).
THE PROHIBITION OF USING THE SERVICES OF A KOHEN
The second half of the obligation to honor a kohen is the prohibition
against having him perform "services" for the benefit of a yisrael(14). It
is forbidden to ask a kohen to serve a yisrael or to send him on an errand,
etc. Even if a kohen waives his status and allows a yisrael to use his
services, this should not be done l'chatchilah, and certainly, the yisrael
should never ask a kohen to perform a lowly task for him like emptying the
garbage(15), etc. For this reason, it is preferable that a kohen not enter a
profession which may require his yisrael employer to order him to engage in
degrading types of work(16).
WHEN IS IT PERMITTED TO BENEFIT FROM THE SERVICES OF A KOHEN?
1 If a kohen receives payment or if he is serving a distinguished person and
derives pleasure from serving him, it is permitted to ask the kohen to serve
a yisrael(17). Similarly, if a kohen offers to serve a yisrael without being
told to do so, it is permitted to accept his offer(18).
2.Some poskim allow a yisrael to use the services of a kohen am ha'aretz,
although not in a demeaning manner(19). A kohen who violates the sanctity of
the kehunah by marrying a divorcee or entering a cemetery when he is
forbidden to do so, etc., forfeits the privileges of the kehunah. It is not
a mitzvah to honor him, nor are there any restrictions on asking him to
perform services. Such a kohen is excluded from nesias kapayim as well(20).
3.The poskim debate whether these halachos pertain to a kohen who is a
minor(21) or who has a blemish which renders him unfit for the avodah(22).
WHY ARE SOME PEOPLE NOT CAREFUL TO OBSERVE THESE HALACHOS?
There are some people who, although generally meticulous in mitzvah
observance, are not careful about their treatment of kohanim. The poskim
offer two possible reasons for their behavior:
1. Now that the Beis ha-Mikdash is destroyed, this mitzvah does not
apply -except for those who conduct themselves lifnim mi-shuras ha-din(23);
2. With the passage of time, the lineage and yichus of the kohanim have
become blurred. Thus we are not positive who is a kohen(24).
These objections notwithstanding, the majority of the poskim agree that the
mitzvah of honoring a kohen applies even nowadays(25) and we ought not doubt
the purity of lineage of our kohanim(26).
1 Vayikra 21:8. There is a dispute among the Rishonim if this is a mitzvas
assei min ha-Torah or mi-d'Rabbanan - See Magen Avraham 201:4 and Korban
Nesanel 300 (Rosh, Gitin 5:20).
2 Mishnah Berurah 201:13.
3 Mishnah Berurah 201:12; Kaf ha-Chayim 167:101.
4 Aruch ha-Shulchan 201:4. This is the prevailing custom - Ben Ish Chai
5 Rama 128:45; Mishnah Berurah 201:13.
6 Originally appearing in Sefer Chasidim 152.
7 Shulchan Aruch Harav 128:60; Eishel Avraham 128:45.
8 Mishnah Berurah 167:75.
9 Mishnah Berurah 135:9. The custom is that even a private minyan always
calls up the kohen first. See Sha'ar ha-Tziyon 12. See Igros Moshe O.C.
2:34; 3:20 for possible exceptions.
10 Mishnah Berurah 167:73.
11 See Sha'ar ha-Tziyon 167:65 and Beiur Halachah 201:1; Aruch ha-Shulchan
12 O.C. 167:14 and Mishnah Berurah 71; 201:12.
13 O.C. 201:2; Mishnah Berurah 167:70.
14 According to some poskim, a kohen cannot serve another kohen either.
Others allow this - see Kesav Sofer O.C. 15; Beiur Halachah 128:45; Aruch
ha-Shulchan 128:75; Kaf ha-Chayim 128:283.
15 Mishnah Berurah 128:175; Yabia Omer 6:22. See also the Chafetz Chayim's
opening remarks to Shemiras ha-Lashon where he rules that one who speaks
lashon ha-ra about a kohen [in the presence of the kohen] transgresses the
halachah of honoring a kohen.
16 Harav S.Z. Auerbach, quoted in Nishmas Avraham O.C. 128:10.
17 Mishnah Berurah 128:175.
18 Eishel Avraham 128:45; Aruch ha-Shulchan 128:72.
19 Beiur Halachah 128:45. Aruch ha-Shulchan 128:72 disagrees.
20 O.C. 128:40-41.
21 Mishnah Berurah 282:12 and Sha'ar ha-Tziyon 15 quotes a dispute between
Magen Avraham and R' Akiva Eiger concerning this. See Emes l'Yaakov al
ha-Torah, pg. 391.
22 Most poskim maintain that a kohen who has a blemish is included in this
mitzvah. See, however, Minchas Chinuch 269, Aruch ha-Shulchan 128:72 and
Responsa Avnei Cheifetz 71.
23 R' Tam (quoted by Taz 128:39); Mekor Chayim 128:45.
24 Magen Avraham 201:4. Many other poskim are also of the opinion that the
kohanim's yichus is questionable - see Y.D. 322 Taz 5 and Shach 9; Sh'elas
Ya'avetz 155; Chazon Ish, Shvi'is 5:12. See also Rama O.C. 457:2 and Mishnah
25 Mishnah Berurah 128:174; Aruch ha-Shulchan 71. See Rivash 94.
26 Maharit 1:149; Be'er Heitev O.C. 128:83; Aruch ha-Shulchan O.C. 128:72;
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
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Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne
Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily
Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.
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