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Bloody Hands

“When you spread out your hands I will hide My eyes from you, even when you say your prayers I will not hear, for your hands are full of blood” (Yeshaya 1,15). It is considered inappropriate for hands that have been responsible for the death of another person to draw down Divine Blessings of love. Based on this verse, our Sages ruled that if a kohen has taken a human life he may not recite Birkas Kohanim (Brachos 32b, Rambam Brachos 15,3).

Someone was driving on an icy road when his car skidded and smashed into another automobile. The other driver was killed instantly by the impact of the collision. May the surviving driver continue to recite Birkas Kohanim?

The Rema rules that if he does teshuva he may continue to recite Birkas Kohanim (128,35). Therefore, if he is Ashkenazi and has undertaken a proper regimen of teshuva, he may continue to say this bracha (Responsa Shevet HaLevi 1,43). The Shulchan Aruch is more stringent, however, and Sephardim follow its ruling that the driver may not continue saying the bracha even though the death was an accident (Shulchan Aruch 128,35).

The above halacha assumes that the driver was following road safety regulations. However, if he was driving recklessly, the death of the other driver is not considered accidental. According to some opinions, if he repents completely he may resume saying Birkas Kohanim (Rema ibid.).

A soldier returns from service in Iraq, where he killed a number of enemy soldiers. May he also return to his service blessing the Jewish people with Birkas Kohanim? Since he was fighting with the positive intention of protecting his country and the Jewish people, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that he may certainly continue to say Birkas Kohanim (Igros Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 2,158).

Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and



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