267. Don’t Call Her – Wait, What?: The prohibition against a kohein marrying a “chalalah”
…or a chalalah they shall not marry… (Leviticus 21:7)
If many people mistakenly think they know what a zonah is, they have no idea at all what a chalalah is.
A zonah (in the previous mitzvah) is a woman who had sexual relations with a person she would not be permitted to marry. A chalalah (in this mitzvah) is a woman who has some aspect of Priestly affiliation to her but also some disqualifying aspect. The easiest scenario to describe is a woman who is the offspring of a kohein and a forbidden relationship, for example, if her father is a kohein and her mother is a divorcee. Since a kohein is not permitted to marry a divorcee, the daughter is a chalalah. Another scenario is if the kohein had relations with a woman he personally would not be permitted to marry. If the Kohein Gadol married a widow (which he is not allowed to do), he would make her a chalalah.
If a kohein marries or otherwise has relations with a chalalah, he is not disqualified from serving in the Temple, but his son from such a union is a chalal – a “defrocked priest,” as it were – and may not serve. (Of course, the daughter of a kohein and a chalalah is another chalalah.) The daughter of a kohein may marry a chalal.
The reason for this mitzvah is the same as for the previous one: the kohein serves in the Temple and has an enhanced level of personal sanctity. Because of this, there are certain things that other Jews may do but from which he must distance himself.
The prohibition against a kohein marrying a chalalah applies to male kohanim in all times and places. It is discussed in the Talmud in the tractate of Yevamos (59a-60a, 84a-85a, et al.) and codified in the Shulchan Aruch in Even Ha’ezer 6. It is #159 of the 365 negative mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and #139 of the 194 negative mitzvos that can be observed today in the Chofetz Chaim’s Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar.