We have already learned the concept of havhana – the requirement that a woman whose marriage ends must wait at least three months before marrying another man. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that, if the woman becomes pregnant during this period, we know who the father of the child is.
What if the woman does not wait the required period, and is pregnant with a child whose father is one of two people? The Mishna on our daf relates to this question in a number of different settings, e.g. with regards to questions of yibum (levirate marriage), if one was a kohen and the other an ordinary Jew, and if they were both kohanim.
In the Gemara, Shmuel is quoted as teaching that in another case where there is lack of clarity with regard to the identity of the father, i.e. when we know that one man stepped out from among a group of kohanim and engaged in relations with a woman, we consider the child a shetuki (a “silenced one,” of unknown fatherhood). The Gemara explains that we do not consider him a kohen – even though we are certain that his father was a kohen. The source presented by the Gemara for this is the passage in Bamidbar (25:13) which teaches that the covenant of priesthood goes from father to son. When we do not know who the father is, the son cannot claim that family heritage.
In truth, the child only loses the benefits of being a kohen; he will still be obligated to keep all of the restrictions of the priesthood, for in essence this is a knas – a penalty imposed by the Sages to discourage sexual relationships outside the framework of marriage.
The term shetuki in the Gemara is ordinarily used to refer to a child whose parentage is unclear, even to his mother. In such cases he is treated as a safek (possible) mamzer and thus not allowed to marry ordinary Jews. Our case is unique in that even as we are unsure about who the child’s father is, we are certain that he is a kohen.