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Once when I was a gabbai in a very small jewish community, we had two cohanim: one was our Rabbi and usually I gave him an aliya l'torah -called him up for a torah reading. The other was secular and had several young children and was usually busy with them during services. Because of that I usually tried to avoid giving him mitzvot that restricted his movement for a long time (such as hagba'ah which would require him to sit at the bima), or long p'tichot which would require him to stand at the aron. This was at his request.

I once asked him whether he would be able to do the peticha -open the aron hakodesh at hanoten teshua -a prayer for welfare the state of israel. He told me that I shouldn't ask a cohen, because a cohen is duty-bound to serve and if asked is always required to do what is asked in shul, i.e. forbidden to say no. I never heard of such a mitzva, but given that there are enough mitzvot I've never heard of before I decided not to argue. At the time I decided not to ask the rabbi because if the cohen was wrong I didn't want our rabbi to know automatically who made the original statement, since there were only two cohanim in our community. I left it as it is.

Now several years have passed and I still wonder: Was the cohen right? I've tried searching but found nothing. Is there any source that states that if (specifically) a cohen is asked whether he can be called for a mitzva during service, that he, because he is a cohen, is forbidden to say no?

  • In my shul the Rabbi is also a Kohen but he doesn't always gets the Kohen aliyah, sometimes a different Kohen gets it. He has children over Barmitzvah and sometimes one of them, and sometimes a different Kohen. – CashCow May 21 '15 at 11:16
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    Now you can say that you read it on the internet and were wondering if it applied to any kibud (such as p'ticha) or just to specific mitzvot or kibudim. – sabbahillel May 21 '15 at 12:08
  • @sabbahillel: Since the cohen made it clear that he was obligated to be subservient regarding any questions asked of him I am pondering whether there is truth in this statement regarding any kibud – RonP May 21 '15 at 12:56
  • @CashCow: Our rabbi didn't always get the cohen aliyah, I used to mix it up as often as possible, especially with guest cohanim, his family members, etc. but sometimes the other cohen just wasn't present when torah reading started. – RonP May 21 '15 at 12:57
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    I meant that now you can ask saying that you read it on the internet and the rabbi does not have to know that you spoke to this particular person. – sabbahillel May 21 '15 at 13:05
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According to my Rabbi, there is no obligation on a cohen, or anybody, to subserviently do any kibud (honor) asked of him. The rabbi did say that for the priestly blessing, if the cohanim are called, any cohen present is required to participate.

He continued with stating that saying no at first would actually be proper ettiquete, as not to come of as thinking to highly of oneself, unless the asker was someone in high status.

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