Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Violation of a Kohen's Wife

The Mishna (Nedarim 90b) stated: At first they said that the following three women must be divorced and they also receive their kesuvah: One (a wife of a Kohen) who declares, “I am defiled to you (I have been violated forcibly by another man),” or “Heaven is between me and you (my husband is impotent),” or “May I be kept away from the Jews (a vow to have no cohabitation with any of them; such a vow is assumed to be the result of the pain that cohabitation may cause her, and therefore justified).” This ruling was afterwards retracted in order that a wife might not cast eyes upon another man and act immorally towards her husband. Instead, it was ordained that one (a wife of a Kohen) who declares, “I am defiled to you (I have been violated forcibly by another man)” must bring evidence in support of her statement; in respect of a woman who tells her husband, “Heaven is between me and you (my husband is impotent),” peace is made between them by way of a request addressed to the husband that he should treat his wife properly; and if a woman vowed, “May I be kept away from the Jews,” the husband revokes his part of the vow and she may cohabit with him, though she remains removed from all other Jews.

The Meiri writes that it became common for women to cast their eyes upon other men, and they would gain their release from their husband with these claims. Even in the case where she made a neder prohibiting cohabitation with all Jews, they were still concerned that she might later petition a sage to have the neder annulled.

The Ra”n asks: If with these claims, she is believed, and therefore, halachically forbidden to her husband, how did the Chachamim permit her to her husband? Where has the prohibition gone?

The Ra”n answers that the Chachamim have the authority to retroactively take away their marriage, and it would emerge that at the time that she was violated, she was unmarried, and therefore, she is legally permitted to her husband. The Chachamim have this right, for any marriage is contingent upon the consent of the Chachamim, and if they see a reason to nullify the kiddushin, they may do so.

The Ra”n suggests an alternative answer: In truth, the woman should not be believed with respect to these claims, because she cannot release herself from her obligations to her husband. The initial ruling believed her to be speaking the truth, for otherwise, she would not have disgraced herself with these claims. Afterwards, when their level of morality deteriorated, and they realized that the women were casting their eyes upon other men and falsely claiming that there were grounds for divorce, the Chachamim rejected her claim.

The Rishonim ask: Why don’t we apply the principle of “shavya a’nafshei chaticha d’issura,” one who states that something is forbidden, even if he is not believed in respect to everyone else, renders the object forbidden to him? If so, she should be forbidden to him, even if we do not believe her!

Tosfos quotes from Rabbeinu Eliezer that a Kohen’s wife who is violated is forbidden as a zonah, is only a prohibition on the Kohen, but not on her, so since she is not believed, she is permitted to remain with him.