A Kohen Who Killed

Question: It says in Shulchan Aruch that a Kohen who has killed may not duchen. Would a Cohen who served in the army and killed in the line of duty be disqualified from Birkas Kohanim? And what if he mistakenly killed another Jew in a tragic case of friendly fire? And a doctor who errs?

Answer: The Shulchan Aruch 128:35 writes that a Kohen who killed, even by mistake, may not duchen; and even if he did teshuva. The Rema, however, writes that some say if he did teshuva he may duchen, and this is our minhag. The Mishna Berura explains the reason for the disqualification is because “ain kateigor na’aseh saneigor“, it would be inappropriate for the hands that have taken a life to give a beracha. This explains why according to the Mechaber we are so strict, because this is not a punishment but a loss of the sanctity of the Cohen’s hands.

However, there are numerous exceptions to this rule. The Shulchan Aruch himself in 128:36 writes that a mohel who accidentally causes the death of the child may still say Birkas Kohanim, as may someone who is rumored to have killed but without solid evidence. The Mishna Berura explains the first exception is based on a number of considerations: the mohel intended to perform a mitzvah, the child may have been premature and it was not the mohel who caused his death, and also the child may have died from an infection and not as a direct result of the mohel’s actions. Furthermore, the Mishna Berura brings two additional circumstances where the Kohen is not disqualified, first if he was forced into the murder even though he should have given up his life rather than kill. Second, if someone struck a pregnant woman and accidentally caused her to miscarry, since it is not a capital offence. However, a doctor who intentionally performs an abortion certainly is disqualified.

Based on these sources, Yalkut Yosef writes that if a Kohen caused a fatal car accident due to reckless driving he may not duchen, but if he was driving carefully and he did teshuva even a Sefaradi may duchen. Poskim say that the same would apply to a doctor who caused a Jewish patients death by mistake, that teshuva helps even according to the Mechaber.

If a Kohen murdered a goy there is a machlokes, and most Poskim hold he may recite Birkas Kohanim, and if he killed in battle everyone agrees he is not disqualified, as we find the Chashmonaim even did the Avodah in the Beis HaMikdash after defeating the Greeks. Most Poskim permit even if one killed a Jew in battle, because it is considered an ones, beyond ones control. This applies whether the victim was a soldier on the opposing side and even if he was a comrade-in-arms killed by friendly fire.

10 thoughts on “A Kohen Who Killed

  1. What are the essential differences between killing a Jew by friendly fire and driving a car in a way which causes the unintended (but foreseeable by some) death of a Jew?

    • Friendly fire is not considered a negligent act; it is an unfortunate consequence of a very legitimate attempt at self-defense. On the other hand, driving a car recklessly is behaving irresponsibly; and while the death was not intentional, it is certainly his fault.

      • Shalom Aleychem.

        Are there not cases where, although mistakenly firing on one’s comrade was well-intentioned, it was reckless as well?

        Even in the case of the mohel, what if he was negligent, for instance — to use a contemporary and controversial example — if he knew that he had a an active sore in his mouth and did the milah despite this?

  2. Shalom,
    1 – See Sefer Techumin vol. 3 (pp. 250 ff.), an article by HaRav Ezra Botzri about a cohen who killed someone in a car accident. Here are the section headings:

    הצגת השאלה
    א. כהן שהרג נפש בשוגג
    ב. שוגג הקרוב לאונס
    ג. כהן שחזר בתשובה
    ד. פסק השו”ע והרמ”א
    ה. כשיצא זכאי במשפט אם נחשב כקרוב לאונס
    ו. סוף דבר; הרגשתו הסוביקטיבית של הכהן

    2 – And see Sefer Techumin vol. 6 (pp. 31 ff.), an article by HaRav She’ar Yashuv Cohen, about a cohen who killed in war. Here are the section headings:

    א. הקדמה: שאלה בתנאי קרב
    ב. כהן שהרג את הנפש לא ישא את כפיו – פסול או חומרא
    ג. האם הפסול הוא גם בשוגג ולאחר שעשה תשובה
    1. דעת הרמב”ם
    2. דעת הראבי”ה
    3. ההורג באונס
    4. כשעשה תשובה
    5. סיכום הדעות
    ד. כשרות כהן שהמית אדם לעבודה במקדש
    ה. הרג נפש – גם גוי במשמע
    ו. כהן שהרג במלחמה
    1. הכהן אנוס
    2. הכהן מצווה
    3. תשובת הגר”ע יוסף שליט”א
    ז. מלחמת שלום הגליל – מלחמת מצוה
    1. דברי הרבנים הראשיים: הגראי.ה קוק והגריא”ה הרצוג זצ”ל
    2. דעת הרב הראשי הגר”ש גורן שליט”א
    ח. הסיכום להלכה

    3 – See the following, in Chevel Nachalato:

    4 – See simanim 120, 121, 122 in שו”ת דבר חברון – אורח חיים, available from

    5 – See the following, by Rav Yehuda Zoldan:

    6 – Please let me know if this was not enough.

    Ketivah va’chatimah tovah,

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