The Mishna on our daf delineates the rules of a kohen gadol – the High Priest – who is limited by the Torah (see Vayikra 21:10-15) with regard to who he can marry, even more so than an ordinary kohen. While an ordinary kohen cannot marry a gerusha (divorcee), zona (harlot) or halala (woman who was defiled by a forbidden sexual encounter), the kohen gadol also cannot marry an almana (widow) and may only marry a betula (virgin).
The Gemara discusses the technical definition of these terms in some detail in order to clarify the rules of marriage for both an ordinary kohen and a kohen gadol. One ruling presented by Rav Shimi bar Hiyya is that a woman who has had relations with an animal does not fall into any of the forbidden categories and a kohen would be permitted to marry her, even though she is liable to receive a death penalty for her actions (if she did it on purpose). The Gemara then goes on to relate that such a story actually took place. In the town of Hitlu, a young woman was innocently cleaning the house when she was raped by a dog (some manuscripts say it was a kof – a monkey). The case was brought before Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who ruled that she could marry a kohen. According to the Gemara, Shmuel added that she could even marry a kohen gadol.
In answer to the Gemara’s question “was there even a kohen gadol during that period?” the explanation is given that the ruling stated there was no question about her status, so theoretically she could even have married the kohen gadol.
The Arukh LaNer points out that this question could be asked on many of the discussions in the Gemara, but it is not, for we are well aware that many Talmudic arguments are based on theoretical questions. Since in this instance the Gemara related a ruling that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi gave in a specific case, the assumption was that it must be a practical statement rather than a theoretical one.
Based on manuscripts, it appears that Hitlu, where the aforementioned incident took place, can be identified with the village of Ayatlu, about five kilometers west of Nazareth in the Galilee. Ayatlu was known as a village of kohanim, which helps to explain why it was so important to establish whether the young woman was still permitted to marry a kohen.