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May 3, 2014 / conservadox

two explanations

Today I heard two very different explanations of a rather odd mitzvah- that priests can’t marry divorcees (Lev. 21:7).

The morning sermon I heard relied on a midrash about Aaron’s (and by implication, other priests) being peacemakers.  If a priest’s job is to reconcile husband and wife, it might be a conflict of interest for a priest to marry a divorcee, since the priest might have an interest in creating divorces if he is interested in someone already married.  The obvious flaw in this logic is that is based on a midrash invented long after Aaron etc.  (and possibly long after the destruction of the Second Temple).

In the afternoon I heard a more persuasive argument: that divorce was stigmatized until very recently (and thus was perhaps stigmatized 2000-3000 years ago as well).  Thus, being married to a divorcee might detract from the honor given the priesthood in the same way that a physical defect might (see Lev. 21:18, forbidding priests with such defects from officiating).

But I wonder: the “physical defect” rule is of course became irrelevant after the Second Temple was destroyed and priests lost all official functions of substance.  So why didn’t the Talmudic sages treat the “no divorce” rule the same way?


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