Halacha Date: 20 Av 5782 August 17 2022
Question: Are parents allowed to bless their children using the text of Birkat Kohanim, “Yevarechecha Hashem Ve’Yishmerecha etc.” or is this forbidden since this text belongs to Birkat Kohanim only?
Answer: This question is a quite a legitimate one, for it is problematic to bless using the text of Birkat Kohanim. Let us elaborate:
The Words of the Gemara in Masechet Ketubot
The Gemara (Ketubot 24b) states that a non-Kohen who blesses the Jewish nation with the text of Birkat Kohanim transgresses a Torah prohibition, for the Torah states, “So shall you bless the children of Israel,” and our Sages expound this to mean, you and not non-Kohanim. This means that just like other non-Kohanim may not perform any other services specific to Kohanim in the Bet Hamikdash, non-Kohanim may likewise not use the text of Birkat Kohanim to bless the Jewish nation.
Based on the above, it seems forbidden for anyone other than actual Kohanim to use the text of this blessing.
The Words of the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat
On the other hand, the Gemara (Shabbat 118b) states that Rabbi Yose was sometimes asked by his friend, who was a Kohen, to go up to the podium and recite Birkat Kohanim with him and Rabbi Yose did not refuse. This means that in spite of Rabbi Yose being a non-Kohen, he would recite Birkat Kohanim, a behavior which seems to be contrary to the aforementioned ruling of the Gemara in Masechet Ketubot!
The Answer of the Sefer Ha’Eshkol
This question has already been deliberated by the greatest Poskim. Indeed, the Sefer Ha’Eshkol explains that Rabbi Yose would not recite the Birkat Kohanim text at all. Rather, he would merely accompany his Kohen friend to the podium and would stand there silently while his friend recited the blessing. Therefore, there is no question on Rabbi Yose’s behavior at all and indeed, all opinions agree that it is forbidden for a non-Kohen to bless using the text of Birkat Kohanim.
The Answer of the Ketav Sofer
The Ketav Sofer and Kaf Ha’Chaim offer another answer. They write that the prohibition for a non-Kohen to utilize the Birkat Kohanim blessing only applies when one intends to fulfill the Mitzvah to bless the Jewish nation, as the Kohanim were commanded to do. However, if one does not intend to actually fulfill this Mitzvah and is reciting these words as one merely blessing one’s friend, there is no prohibition whatsoever.
Based on this opinion, the prohibition to recite the words “Yevarechecha Hashem Ve’Yishmerecha etc.” only applies when one intends to fulfill the Mitzvah of Birkat Kohanim that was given specifically to the offspring of Aharon. However, if one merely wishes to bless another and just uses these biblical words to that effect, this is perfectly permissible.
The Bottom Line
Based on the above, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules that there is no concern to bless one’s children using the text of Birkat Kohanim since one does not intend to fulfill the Mitzvah of Birkat Kohanim at all. This was indeed the custom of many luminaries in past generations who would bless others using the text of Birkat Kohanim, without concern for any prohibition. This was likewise the practice of Maran zt”l. Nevertheless, it is certainly forbidden for a non-Kohen to ascend the podium and recite the Birkat Kohanim text along with the other Kohanim during the Chazzan’s repetition of the Amida, for this blessing on the podium is designated for the offspring of Aharon, as opposed the rest of the Jewish nation.