Monday, July 2, 2007

Pinchos, Bamidbor 25:13. Bris kehunas olam - A Kohen with Blood on His Hands

The Gemora in Brochos 32b says that “kohen she’horag es hanefesh lo yiso es kapov shene’emar ‘yedeichem domim molei’u.” A kohen that killed someone may not perform the priestly blessings. The question here is, how could it be that Pinchas was granted the status of Kehuna precisely because he killed Zimri and Kozbi? The act of killing, while it was praiseworthy and indeed stopped the plague that followed the event of Bnos Moav, would have prevented a Kohen from serving in the Kehuna, and certainly ought not be a reason to be made a Kohen.

Some meforshim take the legalistic approach, and say that indeed, it was because he was not a Kohen before that he could become a Kohen afterwards. If he had been a Kohen before, his killing of Zimri would passel him, as it says Orach Chaim 128. Only a current Kohen is deconsecrated through an act of killing. Since he was not a Kohen at the time of the killing, no legal result followed from the act.

See, e.g., Rav Gedalya Schorr’s sefer Ohr Gedalyahu, where he brings that the Gur Aryeh talks about why he wasn’t niskahein before, and that the Chiddushei HoRim asked why he wasn’t passeled, but instead was Zoche to kehuna through something that would normally passel him, and the Rim answers that since the retzicha was an act of chesed it didn’t passel. Reb Gedalya adds that if he already had been a kohen that lomdus wouldn’t have helped prevent a psul. He also brings that the Zohar says that he should have been passul but it was a matono of Hashem that he wasn’t passeled— sort of a horoas sho’o.

First of all, I don’t think this is correct lehalocho, because a killing that is a tzorech mitzva should not passel, like if a Kohen who is in a milchemes mitzvah kills someone, or in self defense. In fact, in Shulchan Aruch, it says that a Mohel who inadvertently kills a child is allowed to duchen.

Second— a he’ora— according to these meforshim, the psul of a kohen who killed is only if he was a kohen when he killed, i.e., if the act and his kehuna were contemporaneous; if he was not a kohen when he committed the act, it has no effect on him. The fact that this person had killed doesn’t passel him, it can only passel a contemporaneous status of kehuna. This is like the din of nir’eh venidcheh in Kodshim. I find it hard to believe that the idea is applicable here, where it is the blood on the hands that is the problem. It shouldn’t matter what status the person had when the act occurred; the legalism of a change in status cannot erase his history. A ger might be ke'koton shenolad, but a Kohen Sheniskahein certainly isn't.

Third, see Tosfos Yevomos 7a DH Shene’emar Mei’im Mizbechi. The gemora there talks about Retzicha doche avodah, and it says that if you have to execute a kohen, you take him away from doing the avodah even when there is nobody to replace him. Tosfos asks, maybe that’s because of the Gemora in Brochos 32b “kohen she’horag es hanefesh lo yiso es kapov shene’emar ‘yedeichem domim molei’u?” And Tosfos answers 1. Obviously he is not really nifsal, because the rule is me’im mizbechi velo mei’al mizbechi, so the rule of lo yisso must be a ‘chumro be’almo.’ 2. It’s only to duchen that he’s possul, because his hands that killed cannot invoke brocho and rachamim because ein kateigor. As the possuk brought in Brochos says “ube’porishchem kapeichem.” So we see from Tosfos that even in the case of a murderer, the psul is only a chumroh, or is limited to duchening.

Reb Moshe in the Igros says that it is Poshut and Borur that a kohen who kills because he was in a legally constituted army, or wherever his killing is just ahl pi halocho, he is not passeled from the Kehuna. Igros Yoreh Deiah II 158 (p. 270 column I).

Later still, I saw that the Mishulchon Govo’ah brings that he heard in the name of R Rudderman that it would have passeled him if he were a kohen.

If the quote from Rav Rudderman is reliable, it would be interesting to think about what the machlokes is– whether yedchem domim molei’u is a din in ein kateigor or more like the psul for use in the Mizbei’ach of a stone that was touched by iron, where intent and circumstances are irrelevant.


  1. R' Ovadya Yosef has a tshuvah on this issue. David haMelech certainly fought legally justified wars, but was passeled from building bais hamikdash for shedding blood. IIRC, R' Soloveitchik held that a kohen who killed b'oned was pasul as well.

  2. I didn't see Rav Ovadiah's teshuva. But it's interesting to see the Radak in Divrei Hayamim I 22:8. Dovid tells Shlomo that he was prevented from building the Beis Hamikdash, as you noted, because "Dohm lorov shofochto." The Radak there says that this refers to the innocent blood that he shed, not the people he killed who needed killing. For example, the Radak says, in wars, innocent and righteous non-combatants are invariably killed. We call this 'collateral damage.' It was for those deaths that Dovid was precluded from building the Beis Hamikdash. No other meforeish that I am aware of says like the Radak.

    As usual, I feel a need to focus on the torah of people and mekoros that (for me) form the basis of a coherent hashkafa, as opposed to an encyclopedic review. The problem with being thorough, especially in matters of hashkafa, is that the multiplicity of incompatible opinions can result in paralysis and confusion.

    But I would be interested in seeing what R' Soloveichik held. I know the Pri Chodosh is also machmir by a mohel. Still, even with the chumroh of the Pri Chodosh by mohel, you have to remember that Ones, and even to'oh bidvar mitzvah, are not the same as kiyum mitzvah. That's why, I assume, Reb Moshe said "poshut uborur" that the kohen would not be nifsal.

  3. "If the quote from Rav Rudderman is reliable, it would be interesting to think about what the Machlokes is". Perhaps Rav Rudderman agrees with Reb Moshe but holds that what Pinchas did would have Passeled יןצ since it was extrajudicial and, according to some, only a Reshus. YO

    1. I was thinking exactly that fifteen minutes ago, when the Rabbi was talking about Pinchas. This is one of the older posts (veho rayo because the kometizes are o's,) and I haven't looked at it for a long time, and I can't imagine why I didn't talk about that nekudah.