Talmidav Shel Aharon
20-5767: Mitzvah 51-52
April 16, 2007
Mitzvah 51 – It is a positive commandment that whoever ritually slaughters a kosher animal is to give the Kohen (A direct male descendant of Aaron) the foreleg, cheeks and maw.
Hafetz Hayim: As Scripture says: “he shall give the Kohen the foreleg and the two cheeks and the maw” (Deut. 18:3) This means the right foreleg from the shank, the two parts joined to each other, and the cheeks from the joint of the jawbone to the windpipe with the tongue between them. They should not be plucked or skinned but given to the Kohen with the skin and wool, and the maw with the fat within and upon it. The Kohanim had the habit of leaving the fat for the owner. These are called “gifts” everywhere in the Talmudic literature. The Kohen has the right to sell these “gifts” or to feed them to the dogs since there is no “holiness” in them he may give it to a non-Kohen who may be in pressing circumstances. In the present time we follow Rabbi Ila’i (Hulin 136a) in practice and do not give them. (we don’t give them in lands outside of Israel, but in Israel, we do give them to a Kohen) There are exceptional individuals who give these gifts in the Diaspora and it is fit and proper to do this in order to fulfill this positive commandment.
Mitzvah 52 –It is a positive commandment to give the Kohen the first of the wool.
Hafetz Hayim: as Scripture states, “and the first of the fleece of your sheep you shall give him” (Deut. 18:4) Its proper measure by the law of the Sages is one part in sixty; and one has no duty for this except with sheep, and this provided there are five sheep [at least] each of which has a fleece not less in weight than 12 s’laim, so that among them all there is a weight of sixty s’laim. It is in effect to the same extent as the “gifts” as written above in #51
In our last lesson (before Pesach) we explained about the duties of the Kohen in the Temple in Jerusalem and their ritual duties. These two gifts represent the donations made by thankful worshipers who brought their offerings to the Temple and the Kohen was assigned to help them with their sacrifice and who would see to it that everything was done properly. Some of the offering would be returned to the owner to be eaten by himself and his family. Some was designated as a “gift” to the Kohen for the services he rendered. Since they were not part of the “teruma” the taxes that were collected for the Kohanim, they were not “holy” and only able to be used in the Temple. They could be sold, or donated to someone who was in great need. A sela was 14.55 grams (according to Philip Blackman). At the Hafetz Hayim notes, these laws do not apply anymore in the Diaspora and are only in use in Israel today. I also repeat myself from the last lesson, that there are those, who believe that the entire practice of honoring a Kohen is anachronistic since we no longer wish to rebuild the Temple and reinstate the sacrificial service there. We have just grown more sophisticated in our worship and animal sacrifice and the patriarchal system that insured the lineage of Aaron is no longer needed.
In modern times there are only two types of issues present to us by a Kohen, honors that they are supposed to get, and restrictions that arise from their holy status. The main honor is to be called to the Torah first (it was the least the Rabbis could do when they stopped giving the Kohen animal parts and wool). The first Torah honor was reserved for the Kohen and if there were some reason to give it to someone else, the Kohen could be asked to leave the sanctuary (or he could volunteer to leave) until after the reading. The Conservative Movement, wishing to promote equality among all members of the congregation, and not wanting to force a Kohen to leave the service, ruled that congregations can scrap the system of honors and just call up anyone for the “first” Aliyah.
The only restriction placed on the Kohen that still exists is the law that states a Kohen cannot marry a woman who was divorced or who converted to Judaism. This was to insure that the lineage would not be tainted with questions about the spouse of a Kohen. Because the Kohen is no longer called to work in the Temple (destroyed long ago) the Conservative Movement in order to promote Jewish weddings and to avoid the embarrassment of a convert, ruled that a Kohen could marry a convert or a divorcee. Their children would not have any doubts about their status and the Kohen can still get the privileges of his status even though he no longer has followed the rules of the priesthood.
The Conservative Movement also ruled that while a woman may not pass on to her children her status as a Kohen (that she receives from her father), she may, however act as a Kohen and have the first Torah Honor, chant the priestly benediction and carry the title in her name.