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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi | 5769

Giving Second Aliya to One With Doubtful Levi Status

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Question: We have at our minyan a 27 year-old Russian immigrant (=Reuven) who has become religious. He has been assuming that he is a levi, as his late father, a non-observant Jew, once claimed in passing. However, Reuven’s only known living relative, an uncle, is confident that he/they are not leviim. His father’s grave also makes no mention of his being a levi. Reuven and I (the gabbai) would like to know whether he should continue getting aliyot as a levi.


Answer: Investigative work might uncover how likely it is that Reuven is a levi. The information you provided (which does not even include the slightly helpful family name) does not enable such a determination. Based on the information you provided, it does not appear likely that he is a levi. The passing statement of a non-observant Jew, who might not even have known what a levi is, which was firmly contradicted by someone who is likely to know as well as he, carries little weight. Thus, Reuven cannot assume that his lineage would exempt his firstborn son from pidyon haben. The question is whether, to make Reuven feel more settled by not dismissing his previous assumption, we can allow him to continue getting the second aliya reserved for leviim when he probably does not “deserve it.”

The gemara (Ketubot 25b) discusses one who was assumed to be a levi due to the fact that his community regularly gave him the second aliya. The Ran (Ketubot 10b in the Rif’s pages) learns from here that someone who claims without proof that he is a levi should not receive the second aliya, as this could later be used as proof regarding other matters (e.g., receiving ma’aser rishon). The Ran, though, says that the prevalent practice is to believe people without proof. He suggests that since terumot and ma’asrot are now rabbinic and uncommon, we are not so strict as to refuse giving the special aliyot. However, he accepts the Rambam’s (Isurei Bi’ah 20:13) opinion (regarding a possible kohen) that we do not give the person the special aliya without proof.

Are the stakes as high for a Levi as they are for a kohen that we should withhold the aliya? (The matter of washing a kohen’s hands before duchenen is a minhag without severe halachic implications (see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 128; Mishna Berura 128:21).  The Yam Shel Shlomo (Ketubot 2:42), in rejecting the lenient minhag, says that even when there is no teruma, nesi’at kapayim (duchenen) is from the Torah and we must also consider the hopefully imminent rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash. The first issue does not apply to levi’im, but the Beit Hamikdash is relevant. Indeed, a non-levi who does a levi’s work violates a serious prohibition (see Rambam, Klei Hamikdash 3:9 and Kesef Mishneh ad loc.). The Chazon Ish (Shvi’it 5:12) says that nowadays no one really deserves to be called up as levi, as people do not have proof, and our doubts on the matter explain why we do not give them ma’aser. According to him, one could say that it is not a big deal that Reuven also takes the title of levi. However, pidyon haben seems to be an issue and, in any case, when even the subject does not really claim that he is a levi, he should not get that aliya.

If we would incorrectly treat Reuven as a levi, would we violate the takana that the kohen’s aliya should be followed by a levi’s, lest we think the kohen is not valid (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 135:8)? Logic dictates that if all presume Reuven to be a levi, this would not be a concern. To the contrary, one could claim that if we change his presumed status and give him a yisrael’s aliya, then the previous levi may look like he was not a levi (see this concern in Shulchan Aruch, ibid.:9). Therefore, we suggest that until people get used to the fact that Reuven is a yisrael, he should not get the aliya directly after levi (i.e., he should receive aliyot only on Shabbat, from revi’i on).

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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of Shirley, Sara Rivka bat Yaakov Tzvi HaCohen z”L
as well as

R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga      Brachfeld


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Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker

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