Oct 20, 2010

Three Years and a Day?

I'm doing some reading for class in Lee I. Levine's Sages, Patriarch and Community Life, which has provided some interesting fodder on parnasa (i.e., charity livelihood/making a living/money required to live), which happens to be the topic of my semester-long paper framed around Ovadiah ha'Ger (after all, the man survived in multiple countries on the charity of Jewish communities, and charity/tzedakah/parnasa is sort of a major theme of Jewish living). But what I want to throw out to the crowd here is something interesting that is sort of mentioned in passing but not really discussed. Of course, being me, I sort of stopped, read it over again, read the paragraph after the quote, and wondered "what?! why!? huh!? is this actually halakah?!" So here, let's start with the quote.

R. Jacob b. Idi (said) in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi: "It happened that there was a family in Rhodes that was being questioned (about its priestly lineage). And Rabbi sent R. Romanus to investigate. He checked and found that an ancestress had converted (to Judaism) before she was three years and one day old (and had subsequently married a priest). He then declared it (i.e., the family) eligible for priestly status (BT Yevamot 60b).
So here's what resulted in my pause: the law states that a convert cannot marry a kohen (i.e., a priest), and her daughter may not marry a kohen, but that the convert's granddaughter and further generations may marry a kohen without question. In this instance, a woman converts at a very young age, marries a priest/kohen, and the family many generations (we assume, no clue what "ancestress" means as far as years gone by) later is declared kohanic.

My questions are

  1. What does three years and one day old have to do with anything? I've never seen this limit before.
  2. Because I've never heard of this rule, I'm perplexed that she would have been allowed to marry a kohen
  3. Because I've never heard the rule and because I'm perplexed that she would have been allowed to marry a kohen, I'm confused as to why the family would be declared kohanic. 
So, if you're a master of the laws on conversion and can explain No. 1 and, as a result, Nos. 2 and 3, maybe I'll feel better about this little anecdote. 

Sidenote: "family" is found elsewhere as "maidservant" and elsewhere again as a "town." Levine says it's unlikely that a special envoy would be made for a simple maidservant (also, what would it matter if she was a bat kohen?).

Another note: Okay, I used the wrong translation for parnasa but you have to understand in my head it's all one big ball of sense-making. If that makes sense. For some people, parnasa is how they survive -- like Ovadiah haGer. For him charity/tzedakah WAS parnasa!)


Josh said...

3 years and a day is the Talmudic age at which intercourse with a female is considered halakhic intercourse, for males it's 10 years and a day. (Talking halakha, not creepiness factor).

General rule is that a convert is considered to have had intercourse with a non-Jew which would make her invalid to marry a Kohein. If she in fact *did* marry a Kohein, the children would be considered hallalim - i.e. they retain the family ties but would be disqualified for any rights and privileges of being a kohein.

The logic in this gemara is that since the girl was too young to have had halakhic intercourse, we need not be concerned with the normal halakhic assumption. However, in practice normative Jewish law does not rely on this dispensation.

No time to look up sources for footnotes now, email me if you want me to do the research :-)

Anonymous said...

My guess? Age three is when the laws of yichud and tznius become relevant for girls, and if a girl is raped after the age of three, she does not get her halakhic virginity back. If she's raped before the age of three, she does. A girl converted before the age of three and thenceforth raised in a Jewish community can be presumed to be a halakhic virgin, in a way that a girl converted after that age can not be.

tweeper said...

תלמוד בבלי מסכת יבמות דף ס/ב
תניא ר' שמעון בן יוחי אומר גיורת פחותה מבת שלש שנים ויום אחד כשירה לכהונה שנאמר וכל הטף בנשים אשר לא ידעו משכב זכר החיו לכם והרי פנחס עמהם ורבנן לעבדים ולשפחות אי הכי בת שלש שנים ויום אחד נמי כדרב הונא דרב הונא רמי כתיב כל אשה יודעת איש למשכב זכר הרוגו הא אינה יודעת קיימו מכלל דהטף בין ידעו בין לא ידעו קיימו וכתיב וכל הטף בנשים אשר לא ידעו משכב זכר החיו לכם הא ידעי הרוגו הוי אומר בראויה ליבעל הכתוב מדבר

תלמוד בבלי מסכת יבמות דף נז/ב

אמר שמואל ומודה לי אבא בתינוקת פחותה מבת שלש שנים ויום אחד הואיל ואין לה ביאה אין לה חופה אמר רבא אף אנן נמי תנינא בת שלש שנים ויום אחד מתקדשת בביאה ואם בא עליה יבם קנאה וחייבין עליה משום אשת איש ומטמאה את בועלה לטמא משכב תחתון כעליון נשאת לכהן אוכלת בתרומה בא עליה אחד מכל הפסולין פסלה בת שלש שנים ויום אחד הוא דמפסלה בביאה מפסלה בחופה הא פחותה מבת שלש שנים ויום אחד דלא מפסלה בביאה לא מפסלה נמי בחופה שמע מינה

Leah Sarah said...

I can't cite exact sources as this comes from a very brief conversation with my Rabbi, but there are a few lenient positions about kohanim marrying converts of certain types. I *almost* had a gerus l'chumrah, and my Rabbi didn't consider it hopeless that I marry my guy(who is, obviously, a kohen). Although I admit he is probably giving the super most lenient position ever.

Anonymous said...

ditto what everyone else said...I thought it has something to do with three years old being the start of separation/yichud/tznius etc

Devorah said...

Interesting post Chaviva...
Josh's answer sounds right.

Sophia said...

Like Josh said.

The reason why converts are not allowed to marry Kohanim is because a Kohen cannot marry a woman who is 'zonah'. So the girl, at three years and a day, was too young to at the stage be 'zonah'.

David Tzohar said...

As opposed to the story in Yevamot,The halacha is that it is forbidden for a cohen to marry a gioret even if she converted before the age of 3 yrs+1day. And if they marry the marriage must be annulled ( Rambam issurei biya 18-3 and Shulchan Aruch Even Haezer 6-8). This seems to point out that there is more involved in the issur than the halachic definition of "zonah" and how it relates to the issur of a gioret to marry a Kohen.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Wow. You guys are some serious chachamim! Thank you Rabbi Josh for your outstandingly quick reply with the answer I was looking for.

CrazyJewishConvert said...

So can we get an answer on how this is applied today? Does this mean that daughters adopted and converted before this age can marry kohanim? What about the children of converts?

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