Menachot 18b – A Kohen Who Does Not Accept All the Rites of Priesthood

Today’s daf yomi, on Menachot 18b, quotes the statement of Rebbe Shimon that “Any Kohen who does not accept all the rites that were given to the children of Aharon has no portion in the kehuna, the priesthood.”   That is, if a Kohen takes issue with any one rite, he  is disqualified from doing all the rites, even those he fully believes in and is committed to.

Now, the text is actually ambiguous as to what such a Kohen is disqualified from.  The verse that R. Shimon quotes, “To him will be the right thigh for a heave-offering” and the language, “he has no portion among them,” suggests that such a Kohen is only disqualified from receiving a portion in the sacrifices.  It is exactly in this context that Rambam rules in Bikkurim 1:1, “… he has no portion in the Kehuna, and we do not give him a priestly-gift from them.”    According to this read, a Kohen who rejects some of the rites would still be allowed to serve.

A different impression emerges from the original source of this statement, the Tosefta in Demai.  There it states as follows (see also Bekhorot 30b):

[ה]  גר שקיבל עליו כל דברי תורה חוץ מדבר אחד אין מקבלין אותו ר’ יוסה בי ר’ יהודה או’ אפי’ דבר קטן מדקדוקי סופרים
[ו] כהן שקבל עליו כל עבודות כהונה חוץ מדבר אחד אין מקבלין אותו  
[ז] בן לוי שקבל עליו כל עבודות לויה חוץ מדבר אחד אין מקבלין אותו

[5] A convert who accepts upon himself all the words of the Torah save for one matter, we do not accept him.  R. Yose then son of R. Yehudah says: “Even a small matter from the derivation of the Scribes”
[6] A Kohen who accepts upon himself all the rites of kehunah save for one matter, we do not accept him<
[7] A Levite who accepts upon himself all the rites of the Levites save for one matter, we do not accept him

Here the Tosefta’s language is “we do not accept him,” and not “he does not have a portion.”  This suggests that such a Kohen cannot serve.  This is further bolstered by the juxtaposition to the case of the Levi and the convert.   In the case of the Levi, presumably we are not talking about ma’aser, but about function in the Temple as a Levi.  This is unquestionably the case regarding the convert – the issue is, can such a person convert?  Not, “Is such a person entitled to all the privileges of his class?”

Presumably, the logic is that if one wants to be a member of a group – Israel, Levite, or Kohen – one has to jump in with both feet.  If one is picking and choosing, then one is not really fully accepting the obligations of the group, one is not submitting to the authority of the system, and in the end, the ultimate authority remains the person him or herself.  This does not mean that we expect that everyone will always perform according to the level of their obligation, but we do expect that everyone fully accepts that they are obligated and what their obligation is.  [In the case of conversion, it should be noted that there is a debate of the poskim whether this means that the conversion is not good, even post facto, or just that such a convert should not be accepted, ab initio.]  

According to the Tosefta, the requirement not to exclude any matter from the assumption of one’s obligation, or – to say it in the positive frame – to fully accept all of one’s obligation, is the same for a Kohen as it is for a Levi (as it is for a convert, etc.).   However, Rav Soloveitchik, in the second volume of his Shiurim liZekher Aba Mari,  Yahrtzeit Lectures in Memory of His Father, in the lecture “B’inyan tekiah vi’shira b’Mikdash” – On the Matter of Shofar-blowing and Song in the Temple, distinguishes between the two:

ונראה, כי ישנו חילוק גדול בין עבודת כהן לעבודת לוי.  בעבודת כהן עצם העבודה מהווה חפצא שפסול בזר, וזרות כרוכה בגופה של העבודה, כגון תנופה, יציקה, בלילה, וכיוצא בהן.  ולכן, בין אם העבודה מעכבת… בין אם העבודה אינה מעכבת, פסולה ואסורה היא בזר.  מה שאין כן בלוי, חלות שם זרות תלויה בהכשר הלוי ומינוי הגברא לעבודה ובסדר וחלות שם עבודת הלוים.   והרי אנו רואים כי משורר ששיער חייב מיתה משום זר… שעבודה שמצותה בלוי זה הרי היא אסורה על הלוי השני… דבר זה לא שמענו מעולם בכהונה… הכהנים כולם כשרים לעבודה…

כמו כן, סוף דבריו [של הרמב”ם, כלי המקדש, א:ב] “ובן לוי שקבל עליו כל מצות לויה חוץ מדבר אחד, אין מקבלין אותו עד שיקבל את כולן” צריך עיון,  קבלה זו מה טיבה?  ועוד יש לשאול מדוע לא נקט הלכה דומה ביחס לכהן, שכל כהן שלא קבל עליו כל מצות כהונה אין מקבלין אותו?

ובביאור הדברים נראה, כי דין הבדלה מיוחד נאמר בלויים, דצריכים המה להתמנות להיות מוכנים לעבודה מן העבודות, וכל אחד מן הלוים מובדל ומנוי לעבודה מסויימת… ברם בכהונה מינוי לעבודה וחילוק עבודות אינם קיימים כל עיקר, ועבודה אינה מתבצעת על ידי זר לא מפני שחסר המינוי לה, אלא מפני שהעבודה, מצד עצמה והכשרה, מפקיעה את הזר… מפני שאינו כהן.
(ע’ ס”ב-ס”ד)

To paraphrase, a Levi is defined in reference to the work he does and the job he is assigned to.  Thus, we find that some Levites were assigned to watch the Temple gates and others to do the singing, and if one did the job assigned to the other, he would be considered a zar, a non-Levite for that job, and be chayav mitah, obligated in heavenly-death.  Such a concept is completely foreign to Kohanim.  We never find that a Kohen is assigned only one particular task, or that if one Kohan does the task of another that any violation has occured.  The reason for this is that a Kohan is sanctified, and his status does not derive from any particular assignment.  In contrast, the status of a Levi is not intrisic, it is rather a function of his assignment to work in the Temple, and it is the assignment that is primary.

This is also why a non-Kohen who does any of the tasks of the Kohanim, even the non-essential ones, has transgressed and invalidated the act, because what excludes a non-Kohen from such acts is not that they have been assigned to a Kohen (since the concept of assigning is not relevant for Kohanim), but rather because the sanctity of the act demands a Kohen, and any other person corrupts and invalidates it.  Whereas by the service of the Leviim, a non-Levi or the wrong Levi is excluded not because of the inherent nature of the act, but because it has been assigned to a Levi or a class of Levites.

This is why if a Kohen does not accept all the rites, he can still serve.  There is no concept of appointing a Kohen to a task, so even when he takes this offensive stance, we cannot say that we refrain from appointing him or giving him his assignment.  He still is a Kohen, and he still can serve.  Such is not the case with a Levi.  If a Levi objects to one of the rites, then “we do not accept him,” – we refuse to assign him a task in the Temple.  With no assigned task, he has no right to serve, and thus is excluded from serving in the Temple.

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About Rabbi Dov Linzer

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva and Dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, a groundbreaking Orthodox smicha program. Rabbi Linzer spearheaded the development of YCT to create an innovative four year smicha program which provides its students with rigorous talmud Torah and halakhic study and sophisticated professional training in the context of a religious atmosphere which cultivates openness and inclusiveness. Rabbi Linzer has published Halakha and machshava articles in Torah journals and lectures widely at synagogues and conferences on topics relating to Halakha, Orthodoxy, and modernity. He is most recently the awardee of the prestigious Avi Chai Fellowship.
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