What happens to the family of a Kohen today if his wife is a victim of rape?

What are the steps taken and how does this come to be resolved according to halachah and in the most constructive way for them to deal with such a tragedy as human beings?

Also, can a divorce be avoided?

Some background: What differentiates the wife of a Kohen who is raped from any other victim, is that Jewish law prohibits the Kohen from being married to a woman who had intercourse with ANY other man while she is married. Harsh as it is it seems in the case of a rape the marriage must end.

  • This question make more sense to the average Internet reader who comes across it if it'd include why you think there's any issue for a kohen's wife more than for any other rape victim (especially, why you think divorce might be necessary).
    – msh210
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 19:44
  • seekingclarity: That's not true. It depends on the man. See judaism.stackexchange.com/a/22496/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 21:06
  • I stand corrected -This pertains only if she was attacked by a gentile. Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 21:15
  • @Seekingclarity, no. A single woman is invalidated from marrying a kohen if her partner is a non-Jew. (If it was a Jew, we say "if we'd marched this couple down the aisle right now they could be married.") A married woman is prohibited from having relations with anyone other than her husband (if we march a married woman down the aisle with another man, no marriage takes effect), and thus whether she's raped by a Jew or non-Jew, the problem would arise.
    – Shalom
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 22:19

2 Answers 2


As I understand it, if a Kohen is certain that his wife was violated by another man, their union is now prohibited and a divorce would be needed. A kohen is prohibited from being married to an isha zonah, which the Talmud defines as a woman who has had relations with any man -- regardless of her choice in the matter! -- other than her husband, with the exception of premarital relations with a Jew (which does not disqualify a woman from marrying a kohen). Thus if a married woman is raped, her rapist is "another man", and she can't go home to her kohen husband. (If the husband is not a kohen, the couple is prohibited from reuniting only if she chose to "betray" her husband, not if she was raped.)

Rabbi Aaron Rothkoff-Rakeffet tells of a tragic such case years ago in Philadelphia, if I recall correctly, where she was raped on the way to/from the mikvah, which was still located in the older, sketchier part of town; as her husband was a Kohen, a divorce was needed. May God have mercy.

I think there may be some discussion about what constitutes "certainty" on the husband's part, or if he could try to argue he doesn't believe it really happened or the like -- but that only goes so far.

Nagah quoted a fascinating responsum of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (EH I:24):

Even if the wife was incredibly modest and had no business with other men and there was no conflict in their marriage, they were always peacefully in love -- perhaps she wanted to leave her husband and marry another man for whatever reason. Therefore [the husband's] saying that he believes [his wife was raped] is worthless; we must tell the husband "your belief is mistaken", he must put those thoughts aside.

You can tell me I've watched too much L&O:SVU, but it really bothers me to say "oh she was making up a rape allegation"; I really wonder how far you can take that. Let's say they're able to arrest and convict the rapist with strong evidence? Do we still say nothing happened?

There may be other halachic loopholes of which I'm unaware, but generally speaking yes, this is a really awful tragedy. (Also be aware that the halachic definition of violation here is quite specific; it's certainly possible she was sexually abused in a different way, which would get us out of this problem.)

Years ago there was a nominally-affiliated Jewish man who met a non-Jewish woman interested in spiritual growth; eventually they reached full observance, she was preparing for conversion to Judaism, and plans for marriage were made. Then it was discovered that he was a Kohen (note: the "duchening hands" picture on a tombstone may not establish sufficient proof of Kohen status, that may just have been "stock Hebrew icon #3A" from a catalog that someone selected). Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveichik observed that there is no good way we can try to explain this; we simply say that when the rubber meets the road we are obligated to submit to the will of a G-d whose ways we don't always understand, and each of them will have to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to find someone else. (I've heard others try to say "explain to them about what a precious thing kehuna is to us; I guess if that floats your boat, fine.)

I don't think you can offer a better explanation here. We have a system of laws that we believe were given by G-d, and we abide by them without exception. Generally, doing so can lead to personal fulfilment and wellbeing, but ultimately it is not ourselves -- nor our sense of "fairness" -- that we worship. (Rabbi Soloveichik observed that Father Abraham was prepared to carry out the child sacrifice of his son, though that would have meant his life's mission of spreading ethical monotheism would have been seen as a failure -- because the will of G-d, not our own "personal fulfilment" -- is the be-all, end-all. This is a difficult message for a generation focused on "this is good for me.")

Tragic cases like this one prove that religion is about more than just ourselves; we pray never to be put to the test like that.

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    I think your answer is the best anyone could expect, though I hardly see myself as a self indulgent person if, I would refuse to turn my back on my wife after she suffered such an ordeal. I almost lost her in a car accident a few years ago, stayed up night after night with her. I cannot manage to imagine comparing myself to Avrahom, because I am not a tzadik nor would hashem talk with me or send me a ram. I daven it should nevr happen to anyone. Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 4:25
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    @seekingclarity I think your attitude is a very human one and probably one that most non-tzadikim would adopt. That leads to the question of what status would everyone have if the couple did stay together? Presumably any children born afterwards would be halalim, but could there be a question of mamzerut?
    – Epicentre
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 4:46
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    @SeekingClarity, not at all "self-indulgent." It's certainly understandable for people to say "I am not strong enough to be able to follow the will of G-d in this case." "Self-indulgent" is "oh religion must be wrong if it feels bad to me right now."
    – Shalom
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 13:54
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    @Seekingclarity mamzerut only occurs if we wouldn't recognize any binding marriage between this couple. A kohen who chooses to go marry a zonah can be whipped as punishment, but the marriage is still binding. Same thing here, the children would be chalalim but not mamzerim. (And I presume the kohen would be stripped of any priestly privileges so long as he remains married to her -- yes that can sound harsh.)
    – Shalom
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 14:47
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    Let's say they're able to arrest and convict the rapist with strong evidence? Do we still say nothing happened? That may be a different story. R' Moshe adds that she should be legally believed if 1) the husband has absolute faith in his wife's word because he knows that, in all his experience with her, she has always been 100% honest all the time (or at least 100% honest with him), or 2) there is convincing evidence that supports his wife's claim and gives the husband a firm basis for his belief in her claim ("או מצד איזה רגלים לדבר שמאמין [לה] בשביל זה בעדות זה").
    – Fred
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 5:39

It is important to note that the husband must "believe" his wife in order for them to need a divorce.

There is a very pertinent teshuva from R' Moshe Feinstein (אגרות משה אה"ע א' סימן כ"ד) in which he writes that the criteria for "belief" is different from what one may imagine. In essence, according to him, even if a husband says he believes his wife, we don't accept his belief except under extremely limited circumstances. Essentially we say that since חז"ל said a husband is not obligated to believe his wife, for she may have her eyes on someone else (i.e., she is fabricating the story to get divorced and marry someone else) this person who does believe her is no smarter than חז"ל and his belief is misplaced.

Based on R' Moshe, in almost all cases the husband would not be required to divorce his wife.

Here is a quote:

והנה יש לע"ד עוד דבר חדש שאני סובר שהוא דבר פשוט, דפירוש שהבעל מאמינה שהמחבר בסימן קט"ו סעיף ו' סובר שחייב להוציאה וכן מסיק הרמ"א בסימן קע"ח סעיף ט' שכתב אבל יש חולקין וסבירא להו דאף בזה"ז נאמן, אינו בסתם אמירה מסברתו שלא היתה משקרת לומר דבר גנאי על עצמה וכדומה מטעמים קלושים כגון שיאמר שידוע שהיא רוצה בו ולא באיש אחר או שיודע שהיא אשה צנועה, דהרי דברים אלו ראו חכמים דמשנה אחרונה שאינם טעמים נכונים ואיך שייך שהוא יאמר שחולק על החכמים דמשנה אחרונה מאיזה מהטעמים קלושים שמחזיק שאומרת אמת דודאי הוא הבל דהם יודעים יותר מכל העולם שיש לחשוד אף להצנועה ואף להמסורה לבעלה ולא היה שום קטטא בינייהו והיו שרויין כל העת בשלום ובאהבה, שאולי משקרת מחמת שנתנה עיניה באחר ואף באשה שקיימה בנפשה כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה ולא היה לה שום מגע ומשא עם אנשים אחרים נמי אמרו שיש לחוש שרוצה לצאת מבעלה ולהנשא לאחר מאיזה טעם, ולכן אמירתו שמאמין לה אינו כלום וצריכין לומר להבעל שמה שאתה אומר שאתה מאמין לה מאחד מהטעמים אמרו חכמים שהוא טעות בידך ומוכרח לבטל דעתו.

  • -does this have a translation? Commented May 1, 2013 at 0:51
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    @nagah, You havent provided a link. And it will take me time to find it. Maybe afterwards I will delete this comment. As far as I know, if the woman says this happened to her she also is not allowed to live with her husband. Just because her husband may not believe her is no heter for her. The only difference is that she recieves a get but no Kesuba. It is called she made herself 'chatichah d'isura'.
    – user2709
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 14:12
  • @nagah, it does not 'need' a translation -at risk of "having my card pulled" I'll admit I cannot translate it or understand it as such. I would benefit me more if it was translated. Commented May 1, 2013 at 14:38
  • @shulem, Sorry, I haven't provided a link because I could not seem to get that volume opened on Hebrewbooks. I did provide the exact location, you can reference it.
    – nagah
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 21:51
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    @seekingclarity, I'm sorry, I did not have time to translate. I will try to do it later or tomorrow, be"h.
    – nagah
    Commented May 1, 2013 at 21:53

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