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Jewish priesthood

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Jewish priesthood

For other meanings, see Cohen (disambiguation)
For the Hawai'ian religious practitioner, see Kahuna.

Kohen or Cohen (or Kohain; Hebrew: כֹּהֵן, "priest", pl. כֹּהֲנִים Kohanim) is the Hebrew word for priest. Jewish Kohanim are traditionally believed and halachically required to be of direct patrilineal descent from the Biblical Aaron.

During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, Kohanim performed the daily and holiday (Yom Tov) duties of sacrificial offerings. Today kohanim retain a lesser though distinct status within Judaism, and are bound by additional restrictions according to Orthodox Judaism.


The noun kohen is used in the Torah to refer to priests, both Jewish and non-Jewish, such as the Jewish nation as a whole,[1] as well as the priests (Hebrew kohanim) of Baal (2Kings 10:19).

The Hebrew noun kohen is most often translated as "priest", whether Jewish or pagan, such as the priests of Baal or Dagon, though Christian priests are referred to in Hebrew by the term komer (Hebrew כומר). The word derives from a Semitic root common, at minimum, to the Central Semitic languages; the cognate Arabic word كاهن kāhin means "soothsayer, augur, or priest".

Translations in the paraphrase of the Aramaic Targumic interpretations include "friend" in Targum Yonathan to 2 Kings 10:11, "master" in Targum to Amos 7:10, and "minister" in Mechilta to Parshah Jethro, Exodus 18:1–20:23 1:1. As a starkly different translation the title "worker", Rashi on Exodus 29:30 and "servant" Targum to Jeremiah 48:7, have been offered as a translation as well. Some have attempted to resolve this translation contradiction by suggesting that although the priest does enjoy specific privileges, a primary component of priesthood in Judaism is servitude.

Biblical origins

Main article: Priesthood (Ancient Israel)

The status of priest kohen was conferred on Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his sons as an everlasting Priestly Blessing, later also known as Nesiat Kapayim ("Raising of the hands").

When the First and Second Temples were built, the priests assumed these same roles in these permanent structures on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They were divided into 24 groups, each group consisting of six priestly families. Each of the 24 served for one complete week, with each of the six serving one day per week, on the Sabbath all six worked in tandem. According to later rabbinical interpretation these 24 groups changed every Sabbath at the completion of the Mussaf service. On the biblical festivals all 24 were present in the Temple for duty.

In a broader sense, since Aaron was a descendant of the Tribe of Levi, priests are sometimes included in the term Levites, by direct patrilineal descent. However, not all Levites are priests.

When the Temple existed, most sacrifices and offerings could only be conducted by priests. Non-priest Levites (i.e. all those who descended from Levi, the son of Jacob, but not from Aaron) performed a variety of other Temple roles, including ritual slaughter of animals, song service by use of voice and musical instruments, and various tasks in assisting the priests in performing their service.

In Torah law

Main article: Torah Laws

The Torah mentions

When Esau sold the birthright of the first born to Jacob, Rashi explains that the priesthood was sold along with it, because by right the priesthood belongs to the first-born. Only when the first-born (along with the rest of Israel) sinned in the incident of the golden calf, the priesthood was given to the Tribe of Levi, which had not been tainted by this incident.

Moses was supposed to receive the priesthood along with the leadership of the Jewish people, but when he argued with God that he should not be the leader, it was given to Aaron.

Aaron received the priesthood along with his children and any descendants that would be born subsequently. However, his grandson Jewish priesthood in the Third Temple).

The High Priest

Main article: High Priest (Judaism)

In every generation when the Temple was standing, one Kohen would be singled out to perform the functions of the High Priest (Hebrew kohen gadol). His primary task was the Day of Atonement service. Other unique tasks of the high priest included the offering of a daily meal sacrifice, and the prerogative to supersede any priest and offer any offering he chose. Although the Torah retains a procedure to select a High Priest when needed, in the absence of the Temple in Jerusalem, there is no High Priest in Judaism today.

The twenty-four kohanic divisions

Main article: Priestly divisions

King David assigned each of the twenty-four priestly clans to a weekly watch (Heb. “mishmeret” = משמרת) during which its members were responsible for maintaining the schedule of offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem, in accordance with (priestly divisions, which repeated itself roughly twice each year.

When the First and Second Temples were built, the priests of Aaron’s lineage assumed these roles in the Temple in Jerusalem. Each of the twenty-four groups consisted of six priestly families, with each of the six serving one day of the week. On the Sabbath day, all six worked in tandem. These twenty-four groups changed every Sabbath at the completion of the service. However, on the biblical festivals all twenty-four were present in the Temple for duty. The first of these wards, or divisions, was the priestly clan known as Jehoiariv (Yehoyariv). Members of this family are said to have gone to Yemen, and are now called by the name Maghori Kohen.[4] According to Dr. Aviva Klein Franke,[5] the name Jehoiariv (Yehoyariv) is derived from two words, YehoYariv, meaning "to contend with God," or "to contend for God." Ya‘akov Sapir, who visited Yemen in 1859 CE, conducted a little research into the background of this family and concluded that the name Maghari, or Maghori, is an epithet given to the family, and that the name is a translation from Arabic having the same meaning as their original name, YehoYariv, or "one who contends."[6]

According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Ta‘anith 4:2 / 20a): “Four wards came up out of exile: Yedaiah, Harim, Pašḥūr and Immer. The prophets among them had made a stipulation with them, namely, that even if Jehoiariv should come up out of exile, the officiating ward that serves in the Temple at that time should not be rejected on his account, but rather, he is to become secondary unto them.”

Destruction of the Second Temple

Following the Temple's destruction at the end of the First Jewish Revolt and the displacement to the Galilee of the bulk of the remaining Jewish population in Judea at the end of the Bar Kochva Revolt, Jewish tradition in the Talmud and poems from the period records that the descendants of each priestly watch established a separate residential seat in towns and villages of the Galilee, and maintained this residential pattern for at least several centuries in anticipation of the reconstruction of the Temple and reinstitution of the cycle of priestly courses. Specifically, this kohanic settlement region stretched from the Beit Netofa Valley, through the Nazareth region to Arbel and the vicinity of Tiberias.

Professor Yosef Tobi, describing a stone inscription found in Yemen and which contains a partial list of the names (in Hebrew) of the priestly wards and their places of residence, writes:[7] “As for the probable strong spiritual attachment held by the Jews of Ḥimyar for the Land of Israel, this is also attested to by an inscription bearing the names of the miśmarōṯ (priestly wards), which was initially discovered in September 1970 by W. Müller and then, independently, by P. Grjaznevitch within a mosque in Bayt al-Ḥāḍir, a village situated near Tan‘im, east of Ṣanʻā’. This inscription has been published by several European scholars, but the seminal study was carried out by A.A. Urbach (1973), one of the most important scholars of rabbinic literature in the previous generation. It should be noted that the priestly wards were seen as one of the most distinctive elements in the collective memory of the Jewish people as a nation during the period of Roman and Byzantine rule in the Land of Israel following the destruction of the Second Temple, insofar as they came to symbolize Jewish worship within the Land.”

It is now uncertain when this stone inscription was first engraved, but certainly it dates back to a time near the Second Temple’s destruction, if not earlier. The complete list of sacerdotal names would normally have included twenty-four priestly wards. However, today, the stone inscription contains only a partial list of their names, with their former places of residence – beginning from the fourth ward, and ending with the fourteenth ward. This was because the stone had been partially broken away, as also part of which was hidden underground. This is the longest roster of names of this sort ever discovered unto this day:[8]

English Translation Original Hebrew
[Se‘orim ‘Ayṯoh-lo], fourth ward שְׂעוֹרִים עיתהלו משמר הרביעי
[Malkiah, Beṯ]-Lehem, the fif[th] ward מַלְכִּיָּה בית לחם משמר החמשי
Miyamin, Yudfaṯ (Jotapata), the sixth ward מִיָמִין יודפת משמר הששי
[Haqo]ṣ, ‘Ailebu, the seventh ward הַקּוֹץ עילבו משמר השביעי
Aviah ‘Iddo, Kefar ‘Uzziel, the (eighth) ward אֲבִיָּה עדו כפר עוזיאל משמר
the eighth (ward). Yešūa‘, Nišdaf-arbel השמיני יֵשׁוּעַ נשדפארבל
the ninth ward משמר התשיעי
Šekhaniyahu, ‘Avurah Cabūl, the t[enth] ward שְׁכַנְיָה עבורה כבול משמר העשירי
Eliašīv, Cohen Qanah, the elev[enth] ward אֶלְיָשִׁיב כהן קנה משמר אחד עשר
Yaqīm Pašḥūr, Ṣefaṯ (Safed), the twelf[th] ward יָקִים פַּשְׁחוּר צפת משמר שנים עשר
[Ḥū]ppah, Beṯ-Ma‘on, the (thirteenth) ward חוּפָּה בית מעון משמר שלשה
the thirteenth (ward). Yešav’av, Ḥuṣpiṯ Šuḥīn עשר יֶשֶׁבְאָב חוצפית שוחין
the fourteenth wa[rd] משמר ארבע עשר

In the Mishnah and Talmud

Qualifications and disqualifications

Main article: Kohanic disqualifications

Although Kohanim may assume their duties once they reached physical maturity, the fraternity of Kohanim generally would not allow young Kohanim to begin service until they reached the age of twenty,[9] some opinions state that this age was thirty.[10] There was no mandatory retirement age. Only when a Kohen became physically infirm could he no longer serve.[11] A Kohen may become disqualified from performing his service for a host of reasons, including,but not limited to, Tumah, marital defilements, and physical blemishes. Of importance is that the Kohen is never permanently disqualified from service but is permitted to return to his normal duties once the disqualification ceases.

The twenty-four kohanic gifts

The Kohanim were compensated for their service to the nation and in the Temple through the twenty-four kohanic gifts.[12] Of these 24 gifts, 10 are listed as to be given even outside the land of Israel. An example of the gifts given to the Kohen in the Diaspora are most notably the five shekels of the Pidyon haben ceremony, and the Giving of the foreleg, cheeks and abomasum from each Kosher-slaughtered animal.[13]

The Kohen and Torah instruction

Torah verses and Rabbinical commentary to the Tanach imply that the Kohen has a unique leadership role amongst the nation of Israel -in addition to the common knowledge that the Kohen is to officiate the sacrificial activity in the Temple (the Korbanot), the Kohen is assumed responsibility of being knowledgeable in the laws and nuances of the Torah and accurately instructing those laws to the Jewish people.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains this responsibility as not being the exclusive Torah instructors, but working in tandem with the Rabbinic leaders of the era.[14]

Modern application

After the destruction of the Second Temple and the suspension of sacrificial offerings, the formal role of priests in sacrificial services came to an end, whether temporary or permanent. However, Kohanim retain a formal and public ceremonial role in synagogue prayer services, which were established as a substitute for or reminder of the sacrifices themselves ("Take with you words, and return unto the LORD; say unto Him: "Forgive all iniquity, and accept that which is good; so will we render for bullocks the offering of our lips..." (Reform Judaism does not afford any special status or recognition to Kohanim.

Synagogue aliyah

Every Monday, Thursday and Shabbat in Orthodox synagogues (and many Conservative ones as well), a portion from the Torah is read aloud in the original Hebrew in front of the congregation. On weekdays, this reading is divided into three; it is customary to call a Kohen for the first reading (aliyah), a Levite for the second reading, and a member of any other Tribe of Israel to the third reading. On Shabbat, the reading is divided into seven portions; a Kohen is called for the first aliyah and a Levite to the second, and a member of another tribe for the rest.

If a kohen is not present, it is customary in many communities for a levite to take the first aliyah "bimkom Kohen" (in the place of a Kohen) and an Israelite the second and succeeding ones. This custom is not required by Halakha (Jewish law), however, and Israelites may be called up for all aliyot.

The late 12th and early 13th century Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg ruled that in a community consisting entirely of Kohanim, the prohibition on calling Kohanim for anything but the first two and maftir aliyot creates a deadlock situation which should be resolved by calling women to the Torah for all the intermediate aliyot.

The Conservative Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), consistent with the Conservative movement's general view of the role of Kohanim, has ruled that the practice of calling a Kohen to the first aliyah represents a custom rather than a law, and that accordingly, a Conservative rabbi is not obligated to follow it. As such, in some Conservative synagogues, this practice is not followed.

Priestly blessing

Main article: Priestly Blessing

The Kohanim participating in an Orthodox prayer service also deliver the Priestly Blessing,[15] during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei.[16] They perform this service by standing and facing the crowd in the front of the congregation, with their arms held outwards and their hands and fingers in a specific formation.[17] Kohanim living in Israel and many Sephardic Jews living in areas outside of Israel deliver the Priestly Blessing daily; Ashkenazi Jews living outside of Israel deliver it only on Jewish holidays.[18]

Pidyon Haben (Redemption of the firstborn)

Main article: Pidyon haben

Outside the synagogue, the Kohen leads the Pidyon Haben ceremony. This symbolic Redemption of the first-born son is based on the Torah commandment, "and you shall redeem all the firstborn of man among your sons."[19]

Effects on marital status

Orthodox Judaism recognizes the rules as being in full force, but in practice seeks leniency with respect to some of the rules' strictures, and tends to resolve at least some doubts in favor of permitting a questionable marriage. Areas where Orthodox approaches may create different results include situations where a woman has been raped, kidnapped or held hostage, descendants of converts whose Judaism status turned out to be subject to doubt, ambiguous prior dating histories, and other potentially ambiguous or difficult situations.

Rape poses an especially poignant problem. The pain experienced by the families of Kohanim who were required to divorce their wives as the result of the rapes accompanying the capture of Jerusalem is alluded to in this Mishnah:

If a woman were imprisoned by non-Jews concerning money affairs, she is permitted to her husband, but if for some capital offense, she is forbidden to her husband. If a town were overcome by besieging troops, all women of priestly stock found in it are ineligible [to be married to priests or to remain married to priests], but if they had witnesses, even a slave, or even a bondswoman, these may be believed. But no man may be believed for himself. Rabbi Zechariah ben Hakatsab said, "By this Temple, her hand did not stir from my hand from the time the non-Jews entered Jerusalem until they went out." They said to him: No man may give evidence of himself.[20]

In Israel

The Israeli rabbinate will not perform a marriage Halachically forbidden to a Kohen. For example, a Kohen cannot legally marry a divorced or converted woman in the State of Israel, although a foreign marriage would be recognized.

Conservative Jewish view

Conservative Judaism has issued an emergency takanah (rabbinical edict) temporarily suspending the application of the rules in their entirety, on the grounds that the high intermarriage rate threatens the survival of Judaism, and hence that any marriage between Jews is welcomed. The takanah declares that the offspring of such marriages are to be regarded as Kohanim. The movement allows a kohen to marry a convert or divorcee for these reasons:

  • Since the Temple in Jerusalem is no longer extant and korbanot should not be restored, Kohanim are no longer able to perform Temple services in a state of ritual purity.
  • Because the intermarriage crisis among American Jewry is an extreme situation, the Conservative movement feels it must support the decision of two Jews to marry.[21][22]

The Bat-Kohen

Main article: Bat-Kohen

Kohen was a status that traditionally referred to men, passed from father to son, although there were situations where a bat kohen, daughter of a kohen, enjoyed some special status. For example, the first-born son of a bat kohen, or the first-born son of a bat levi (the daughter of any Levite) did not require the ritual of Pidyon HaBen.

In addition, females, although they did not serve in the Tabernacle or the Temple, were permitted to eat or benefit from some of the 24 kohanic gifts. However, if a kohen's daughter married a man from outside the kohanic line, she was no longer permitted to benefit from the kohanic gifts. Conversely, the daughter of a non-kohen who married a kohen took on the same rights as an unmarried daughter of a kohen.

In modern times

Today, Orthodox and many Conservative rabbis maintain the position that only a man can act as a kohen, and that a daughter of a kohen is recognized as a bat kohen only in those very limited ways that have been identified in the past. Other Conservative rabbis, along with some Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, are prepared to give equal kohen status to the daughter of a kohen.

Orthodox Judaism maintains that the privileges and status of kohanim stem primarily from their offerings and activities in the Temple. Accordingly, in Orthodox Judaism only men can perform the Priestly Blessing and receive the first aliyah during the public Torah reading, and women are generally not permitted to officiate in a Pidyon HaBen ceremony. However, the question of what acts (if any) a bat kohen can perform in an Orthodox context is a subject of current discussion and debate in some Orthodox circles.[23]

Some women's prayer groups which practice under the halakhic guidance of Non-Orthodox Rabbis, and which conduct Torah readings for women only, have adapted a custom of calling a bat-kohen for the first aliyah and a bat levi for the second.[24]

Conservative Judaism, consistent with its view that sacrifices in the Temple will not be restored and in light of many congregations' commitment to gender (but not tribal) egalitarianism, interprets the Talmudic relevant passages to permit elimination of most distinctions between male and female kohanim in congregations that retain traditional tribal roles while modifying traditional gender roles. The Conservative movement bases this leniency on the view that the privileges of the kohen come not from offering Temple offerings but solely from lineal sanctity, and that ceremonies like the Priestly Blessing should evolve from their Temple-based origins. (The argument for women's involvement in the Priestly Blessing acknowledges that only male kohanim could perform this ritual in the days of the Temple, but that the ceremony is no longer rooted in Temple practice; its association with the Temple was by rabbinic decree; and rabbis therefor; e have the authority to permit the practice to evolve from its Temple-based roots).[25] As a result, some Conservative synagogues permit a bat kohen to perform the Priestly Blessing and the Pidyon HaBen ceremony, and to receive the first aliyah during the Torah reading.

The Halakha committee of the Masorti movement (the equivalent of Conservative Judaism) in Israel has ruled that women do not receive such aliyot and cannot validly perform such functions (Rabbi Robert Harris, 5748). Therefore, not all Conservative congregations or rabbis permit these roles for bnot Kohanim (daughters of priests). Moreover, many egalitarian-oriented Conservative synagogues have abolished traditional tribal roles and do not perform ceremonies involving kohanim (such as the Priestly Blessing or calling a kohen to the first aliyah), and many traditionalist Conservative synagogues have retained traditional gender roles and do not permit women to perform these roles at all.[26]

Because most Reform and Reconstructionist temples have abolished traditional tribal distinctions, roles, and identities on grounds of egalitarianism, a special status for a bat kohen has very little significance in these movements.

Kohen genetic testing

Main article: Y-chromosomal Aaron

Recently the tradition that many Kohanim are descended from a common male ancestor has gained support from genetic testing. Since the Y chromosome is inherited only from one's father (women have no Y chromosome), all direct male lineages share a common haplotype. Therefore, testing was done across sectors of the Jewish and non-Jewish population to see if there was any commonality among their Y chromosomes. The initial research by Hammer, Skorecki, et al. was based on a limited study of 188 subjects, which identified a narrow set of genetic markers found in slightly more than 50% of Jews with a tradition of priestly descent and approximately 5% of Jews who did not believe themselves to be Kohanim.[27] Over the succeeding decade, Hammer, Skorecki, and other researchers continued to collect genetic material from Jewish and non-Jewish populations around the world. This led to the classification of a broader set of genetic markers, now termed the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH). The most recent results suggest that 46% of those who have a family tradition of Priestly descent belong to the Y-DNA haplogroup identified as J-P58, and that at least two-thirds of that 46% have very similar Y-DNA sequences indicating comparatively recent common ancestry.[28] A further 14% of Kohanim were found to belong to another lineage, in haplogroup J2a-M410.[28] In contrast, the original CMH is found in as much as 5% to 8% of Jews who have no family tradition of being Kohanim, and only 1.5% were found to have the closest match to the most detailed sequence.[28] Amongst non-Jews the CMH can be found among non-Jewish Yemenites (13%) and Jordanians (~7%), but none were found to most closely match the most detailed sequence.[28] Thus, peer-reviewed studies in the scientific literature document certain distinctions among the Y chromosomes of Kohanim, implying that a substantial proportion of Kohanim share some common male ancestry. Since the religious status of a Kohen is contingent upon being the male biological descendant of Aaron in conjunction with numerous other variables that are not subject to genetic testing (the wife of a kohen cannot have had relations with a non-Jew, be a divorcee etc.) the possession of a common haplotype does not provide sufficient evidence to confer or maintain the religious status of a Kohen, which depends on more than simple heredity. This loss of priestly status over time may account for the 1.5% of non-Kohen Jews who very closely match the Y chromosome sequence that is most common amongst Kohanim.

Cohen (and its variations) as a surname

Main article: Cohen (surname)

The status of kohen in Judaism has no necessary relationship to a person's surname. Though it is true that descendants of Kohanim often bear surnames that reflect their genealogy, there are many families with the surname Cohen (or any number of variations) who are not Kohanim nor even Jewish. Conversely, there are many Kohanim who do not have Cohen as a surname.

There are numerous variations to the spelling of the surname Cohen. These are often corrupted by translation or transliteration into or from other languages, as exemplified below (not a complete list).

As used by the Pashtuns, the name Khan is claimed to be related to the Hebrew name Kohen.

  • English: Cohen, Cowen, Cahn, Cahan, Carne, Cohn, Cone, Conn, Conway, Cohan, Cohaner, Cahanman, Chaplan,Keohan Kaplan (Cohan is also an Irish surname and Conway is also a surname of Welsh origin; Cowen is often a variant of the Scottish surname Cowan.)
  • German: Kohn, Cohn, Kogen, Korn, Kuhn, Kahn, Konel, Cön/Coen, Katz (a Hebrew abbreviation for Kohen Zedek (כהן צדק) i.e. "righteous priest"), Jachmann, Jachmann-Kohn, Jachkone, Kogenmann, Kogenman, Kogner, Kogener, Kagen, Cohner, Kohner, Kahnmann, Kahaneman, Cahnmann
  • Dutch: Cohen, Käin, Kohn, Kon, Cogen
  • French: Cahen, Cohen, Caen, Cahun, Kahane
  • Greek: Kots, Kotais, Kotatis, Kothanis
  • Hungarian: Kohen, Kovacs, Káhán, Konel
  • Russian: Kogan, Kogen, Kokhen (Kochen), Pop (Priest) Brevda, Kagedan/Kagidan (in Hebrew, this name is spelled "kaf-shin-daled-nun" and is an acronym for "Kohanei Shluchei DeShmaya Ninhu," which is Aramaic for "priests are the messengers of heaven"). Kazhdan/Kazdan/Kasdan/Kasdin/Kasden/Kogan/Kogon/Kogensohn/Kagan/Kaganovich/Kaganovsky are also possible variations of this name
  • Georgian: Kotais, Kotatis, Kutatisi, Kutaïssi
  • Serbian: Koen, Kon, Kojen
  • Polish: Kon, Kochan, Jach, Kaplan, Caplan, Kaplin, Kaplon, Kaç
  • Italian: Coen, Cohen, Prohen, Sacerdote (Italian for "priest"), Sacerdoti, Sacerdoti Coen
  • Spanish: Coen, Cohen, Koen, Cannoh, Canno, Canoh, Cano, Cao,Correa
  • Basque: Apeztegui "priestly house", in basque "apaiz" (priestly) and "tegi" (house). Also Apéstegui, Apesteguia, Apaestegui, Aphesteguy
  • Portuguese: Cão, Cunha, Correia, Kac
  • Persian: 'Kohan,', Kâhen, Kohanzâd, Kohanci, Kohani, Kohanqâdoš
  • Turkish: Kohen
  • Arabic: al-Kohen, al-Kahen, al-Kahin
  • Ancient/Modern Hebrew: Kohen, HaKohen, ben-Kohen, bar-Kohen, Koheni, Kahana, Kohanim, Kohen-Tzedek/Kohen-Tzadik (Katz)
  • Others: Maze/Mazo, Mazer (acronym of mi zera Aharon, i.e. "from the seed of Aaron"), Azoulai (acronym from ishah zonah ve'challelah lo yikachu, meaning "a foreign or divorced woman he shall not take": prohibition binding on Kohanim), Rappaport, Kahane

However, by no means are all Jews with these surnames Kohanim. Additionally, some "Cohen"-type surnames are considered stronger indications of the status than others. "Cohen" is one of the hardest to substantiate due to its sheer commonality.

In contemporary Israel, "Moshe Cohen" is the equivalent of "John Smith" in English-speaking countries - i.e., proverbially the most common of names.


Main article: Passover Seder Plate

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, one common interpretation of the practice of having three pieces of matzah on a Seder plate is that they represent "Kohen, Levi and Yisrael" (i.e., the priests, the tribe of Levi, and all other Jewish people).[29]

Outside Judaism

According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, either "literal descendants of Aaron", or worthy Melchizedek priesthood holders have the legal right to constitute the Presiding Bishopric under the authority of the First Presidency (Section 68:16-20). To date, all men who have served on the Presiding Bishopric have been Melchizedek priesthood holders, and none have been publicly identified as descendants of Aaron. See also Mormonism and Judaism.

References in popular culture

The positioning of the kohen's hands during the Priestly Blessing was Leonard Nimoy's inspiration for Mr. Spock's Vulcan salute in the original Star Trek television series. Nimoy, raised an Orthodox Jew (but not a kohen), used the salute when saying "Live long and prosper."

The Priestly Blessing is used by Leonard Cohen in his farewell blessing during "Whither Thou Goest", the closing song on his concerts. Leonard Cohen himself is from a kohen family. He also uses the drawing of the Priestly Blessing as one of his logos.

The Kohen and the Holocaust

Main article: Holocaust theology

In 1938, with the outbreak of violence that would come to be known as Kristallnacht, American Orthodox rabbi Mnachem HaKohen Risikoff wrote about the central role he saw for Priests and Levites in terms of Jewish and world responses, in worship, liturgy, and teshuva, repentance. In הכהנים והלוים HaKohanim vHaLeviim (1940)[30] The Priests and the Levites, he stressed that members of these groups exist in the realm between history (below) and redemption (above), and must act in a unique way to help move others to prayer and action, and help bring an end to suffering. He wrote, "Today, we also are living through a time of flood, Not of water, but of blood, which burns and turns Jewish life into ruin. We are now drowning in a flood of blood...Through the Kohanim and Levi'im help will come to all Israel."[31]

See also



  • Isaac Klein A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 387-388. (Conservative view prior to takkanah on Kohen marriages.)
  • Isaac Klein Responsa and Halakhic Studies, p. 22-26. (Conservative view prior to takkanah on Kohen marriages.)
  • K. Skorecki, S. Selig, S. Blazer, R. Bradman, N. Bradman, P. J. Waburton, M. Ismajlowicz, M. F. Hammer (1997). Y Chromosomes of Jewish Priests. Nature 385, 32. (Available online: Full text (PDF))
  • Proceedings of the CJLS: 1927-1970, volume III, United Synagogue Book Service. (Conservative)
  • Mishnayoth:Seder Nashim. Translated and Annotated by Philip Blackman. Judaica Press Ltd., 2000. pp. 134–135

External links

  •, the kohen's online resource
  • Genetic Genealogy: Aaron and the Cohen Model Haplotype
  • Holy Matrimony? All about the Kohen or Jewish priest's prohibitions in marriage.
  • The Cohen-Levi Family Heritage
  • High priest's official apparel depicted
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