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The Mordechai (Gittin 461) relates that Rabbeinu Tam once instructed a Kohen to pour him some water. This caused one of his students to inquire as to how he could allow a Kohen to serve him, being that the Yerushalmi states that whoever uses a Kohen for his own needs is in violation of the prohibition of me’ilah (since the Kohen is sacred). Rabbeinu Tam’s response was that the Kohen who served him in 12th century France was without the clothing of the Kohen and, therefore, not a Kohen (based upon the Gemora Sanhedrin 83b). The student persisted that if so, we shouldn’t give a Kohen the first aliyah. Rabbeinu Tam remained quiet. Rabbeinu Peter then suggested that a Kohen can voluntarily forfeit the respect due to him as a Kohen and, therefore, there was no problem with Rabbeinu Tam’s use of him.
The Ta”z asks that the Kohen is not permitted to forfeit his kedushah and marry a divorcee!? What is the difference between the two?
He answers that it is only permitted for the Kohen to forfeit the respect due to him with respect to something that he will be deriving benefit from – e.g. to be an attendant for Rabbeinu Tam. However, something that the Torah explicitly prohibits, such as – marrying a divorcee, there is no option to forfeit that kedushah.
The Ta”z adds that the reason Rabbeinu Tam was quiet was not because he did not know what to answer; but rather, it was because he did not want to be considered a Torah scholar, for that would be the only reason that it would have been permitted. He cites our Gemora and Tosfos as a proof to this. The Gemora stated: Rav Kahana, Rav Pappa and Rav Ashi did not eat the produce from a pledged field even with a deduction. Ravina, however, did. Tosfos asks: How could Ravina eat the produce from a pledged field even with a deduction? Didn’t the Gemora say above that a Rabbinical scholar would not take produce in such an arrangement?
Tosfos answers that Ravina, due to his great humility, did not want to be regarded as a Rabbinical scholar. Ravina did not want people to be aware of his spiritual importance. The prohibition, which applied to other Torah scholars, did not apply to Ravina, for since he was not known as a Torah scholar, his conduct would not necessarily serve as an example to others.