The first mishna of Yoma1 explains that before Yom Kippur, a substitute wife is prepared for the kohein gadol lest his wife die -- because the torah says he makes atonement for himself and "his house", and "his house" means his wife. But he has to be married to exactly one woman on that day because it says "house", not "houses".

The g'mara on 13a-b describes a system of conditional gittim (bills of divorce), but I'm having trouble understanding how this actually works. Do I understand correctly that he takes an additional wife before Yom Kippur, with gittim written such that he will be married to exactly one woman when he performs the avodah? If so, does it have to be a different wife each year because of the laws of divorce and kohanim?

Since he could (in an unfortunate turn of events) end up married to the substitute, it seems like everyone involved would want to take as much care with this match as with any other. Yet, finding a good (and different) shidduch every year seems challenging, perhaps burdensome, especially as each must be a betulah. Is that just part of the cost of being kohein gadol, or am I misunderstanding this g'mara?

1 in the Bavli. The Yerushalmi understands this as a conditional marriage to the second woman rather than a conditional divorce (h/t Fred), which would reduce but not eliminate the problem.

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    Incidentally, while this follows the Bavli's interpretation of Rabbi Yehuda's opinion (the rabbis do not agree that a substitute wife should be prepared for the kohein gadol), the Yerushalmi explains Rabbi Yehuda's opinion as requiring a conditional marriage for the second woman, not a conditional divorce (Yoma 1:1, מקדשין לו אשה אחרת על תנאי שמא יארע דבר באשתו שנאמר וכפר בעדו ובעד ביתו ביתו זו אשתו דברי ר' יהודה ). I presume that this would allow the same woman to conditionally marry on an annual basis.
    – Fred
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 3:22
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    @Fred How many years would she hang around as a Betulah for? There was probably a very high turnover.
    – Double AA
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 3:30
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    @DoubleAA If they actually ever used substitute wives, and did so according the Yerushalmi, then probably yes. But perhaps every 3 or 4 years rather than annually.
    – Fred
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 3:43
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    The cynic's answer: this sounds like a second Temple innovation, so practically speaking, it could have been every year, since the Kehunah Gedolah was sold.
    – Seth J
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 4:00
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    (Side point, I'm not convinced that as much care was taken with matches back then as it was nowadays. For the high priest, it could have been as simple as 1. She's from a good family lineage-wise, 2. She's a virgin, 3. There is a mutual attraction, and 4. Make it work.)
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


It's only a precautionary marriage which is unlikely to actually continue and, in the unlikely event it did continue but didn't work out, they could always get a divorce. They also likely had a very different cultural expectation from marriage back then that didn't require the same level of agonizing. Finally, it sounds a lot like the gemara a few dapim later (Yoma 18b; see also Yevamot 37b) where a temporary, formal marriage was created for a compelling need, without an extensive preliminary courtship.

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    The problem in the question was not just the conditional wife, but with the "conditional gittin" from Yoma 13a-b; namely, that the KG's wife may become forbidden to him because of ריח הגט (+), and then he'll have to find a new wife every year. Your point of "very different cultural expectation from marriage" might help this question anyway, though.
    – MTL
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 17:00
  • @Shokhet Did not notice the reyach haget concern in the OP's question (though did wonder about it myself). Nonetheless, if the marriage was in line with what seems to be the final understanding of the marriage on 18b, that shouldn't be a problem since it's in name only and could indeed be repeated with someone new (and willing) annually.
    – Loewian
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 17:59
  • @Shokhet I suppose your question does stand regarding his real wife if she also required a conditional get that triggers the psul kehuna... Is it clear Rabbi Yehudah holds of reyach haget in such a case?
    – Loewian
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 18:03
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    @Shokhet On second thought the Mishan in Gittin (81a) is pretty explicit: "ובית הלל אומרים: אף על פי שנתנו לה על תנאי ולא נעשה התנאי - לא פסלה מן הכהונה"
    – Loewian
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 21:09

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