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New American Reform Responsa


23. A Kohen and Torah Honors

QUESTION: What is the position of a kohen among us? As a kohen has priority in the Torah readings, may he agree to accept a Torah honor in another position? (Nora Deutsch, Seattle WA)

ANSWER: Among us as Reform Jews the kohen and the Levite possesses no special status and both the honors as well as the disabilities which remain among Orthodox Jews are disregarded by us. However, your congregation seems to be somewhat more traditional and therefore the question.

All of the kohanim nowadays are, of course, of doubtful status as no strict genealogies have been maintained. When a priest is called to the Torah as the first and receives this honor, it is done as a minhag (custom) and not because the individual is entitled to that honor (Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 457 and commentaries; Ribash Responsa #94). As the matter is only a minhag the kohen may refuse and not ascend to the Torah altogether or take a Torah honor later, but in a traditional congregation he should at least be offered that honor in order to indicate that no doubt has been cast upon his status,and that the congregation thinks him fit for the honor although he may not wish to accept it.

December 1990


If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.