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Let's say you are part of a minyan during a holiday like Sukkot. There is only one Kohen present, so he goes up to perform the birchas kohanim. However, you know - either from reliable sources or even from seeing it yourself - that this kohen is either ignorant (i.e. he doesn't know how to daven properly, and can barely say the proper words of the blessing) and/or is not orthodox (e.g. he came to the shul in his car). What is the procedure here? Should you allow yourself to be blessed by this kohen? Should you walk out just before birchas kohanim?

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    If only learned kohanim could bless, I wonder why we would need to feed the blessing to them one word at a time. – Monica Cellio Oct 3 '12 at 15:06
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    @MonicaCellio An excellent question. A similar question can be asked why we feed them the first word (something not all opinions hold of). One answer could be that conceptually the tzibbur is supposed to be an active part in the blessing, sort of like a conversation. This also fits with some other rules such as the tzibbur and kohanim need to be facing each other, and the kohanim have to pronounce the blessing in a speaking voice not a whisper. – Double AA Oct 4 '12 at 0:06
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Shulchan Aruch O.C. Siman 128 discuses the qualifications of a Cohen to recite bircas kohanim. Disqualification include having consumed too much alcohol, having a severe speech impediment, blindness, having taken a human life, having married a disqualifying wife (such as a divorcee) and the recent death of a close relation. The Shulchan Aruch (Sif 39) writes that in absence of aforementioned disqualifying factors, any Kohen may (and is in fact obligated) to recite the blessing, even if he is not scrupulous in his Torah observance as other sins do not invalidate him. The Mishna Berura (S"K 143) writes that this extends even to serious sins such as sexual misconduct. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (S"K 52) brings in parentheses that an exception to this is one who publicly desecrates Shabbos who has the status of a gentile and is thus disqualified from recited bircas kohanim.

  • Although I agree with you (as per @MonicaCiello's comment), these are the conditions under which a kohen is obligated to bless. AFAIK, the kahal is never required to accept the blessing. – Charles Koppelman Oct 3 '12 at 15:33
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    I'm told there's some Zohar out there about non-Sabbath-observant Cohens not doing the blessing. I know of a few such individuals who would step out before the congregation reached that point. I think it's a call for the local rabbi to make. Regardless, the most Joe Congregant should be doing is privately making the rabbi aware of the issue. As for the Cohen's pronunciation -- if it's really so horribly awful as to be a distraction to the congregation, then the rabbi will realize that after the first time, and determine whether to approach the Cohen about it. – Shalom Oct 3 '12 at 18:29
  • @Michoel Interesting--so Moshe Rabeinu would have been disqualified from birkas kohanim?! – SAH May 29 '17 at 2:49
  • @Michoel (possibly three times over? wife/taking life/speech impediment) – SAH May 29 '17 at 2:51
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The Rambam addresses your concern directly, in Hilkhot Birkat Cohanim, chapter 15, law 7:

ואל תתמה ותאמר, ומה תועיל ברכת הדיוט זה--שאין קיבול הברכה תלוי בכוהנים, אלא בהקדוש ברוך הוא: שנאמר 'ושמו את שמי, על בני ישראל; ואני, אברכם' --הכוהנים עושים מצוה שנצטוו בה, והקדוש ברוך הוא ברחמיו מברך את ישראל כחפצו

"Do not be perplexed and say, 'What effectiveness can the blessing of this ordinary/not-scholarly/not exemplary person have?' For the receiving of the blessing is not contingent on the Cohanim but on the Holy-One-Blessed-is-He. As it says 'And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.' The Cohanim do the commandment they were given and the Holy-One-Blessed-is-He, in his compassion, blesses Israel, according to his desire."

I.e., the section of the Torah that explains the commandment of Birkat Cohanim concludes (Numbers 6:27): "ושמו את שמי על בני ישראל ואני אברכם" "And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them." God is the "I" who is speaking; it is always God who blesses. Birkat Cohanim is a mitzvah like any other: the purpose of performing a mitzvah is to perform a mitzvah.

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