Shmuel said: If ten priests were standing in one place, and one of them (we don’t know which) left the group and engaged in intercourse with a woman, the child of their union is a shtuki.
In this scenario, the paternity of the child is uncertain. However, we do know that the child’s father is a priest. The Gemara finds it obvious that, because we cannot precisely identify the father, this child has no claim to a physical inheritance. This is why he is called a shtuki, a “silenced one,” because, as the Gemara puts it:
He is silenced from any claim to his father’s property.
But can this particular child, who is the child of one of ten possible priests, at least claim priestly lineage?
Surprisingly, the Gemara answers no, and cites the Torah by way of explanation:
“And it shall be to him and to his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood” (Numbers 25:13). We require a priest’s descendants to be attributed to his lineage, and here that is not the case, as there is no certain father.
A priest’s status is transferred from him directly to his offspring, “his seed after him.” In this case, since the father is unknown, that lineage cannot be passed along.
Further on, the Gemara reminds us of a beraita (an early teaching) that does allow priestly status to be passed to a person of uncertain lineage. The beraita considers another very specific case, that of a priest who performed levirate marriage immediately (less than three months) after his brother’s death. Since both the levir and his deceased brother were priests, the child conceived from this union, like the one in the first example, is of unknown paternity (because the widow might have been pregnant when her first husband died) but is known to be the child of a priest. And of him the beraita asserts:
This first son born after the levirate marriage is fit even to be a high priest.
In this scenario, the widow’s son can claim priestly lineage of the highest caliber, even though his father’s identity is uncertain.
So how is this case different from the case in which one of a cluster of ten priests sneaks off with the woman who ultimately becomes pregnant and does not know which of those ten is the father? Why is one fit to become high priest and the other a shtuki who cannot consider himself a priest at all?
The difference, the Gemara concludes, is the relationship between the parents. The first child is born of a one-night tryst. The second, from a marriage. This gives the second child, who is genetically either the child of the woman’s first husband or the child of his brother, and who legally is the child of that first husband either way, more legitimacy and the ability to claim his priestly heritage. The child’s status, therefore, stems both from his parentage and from his parents’ relationship.
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