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Encyclopedia > Kohen Gadol
Even in death, many Kohanim choose to have this symbol, the special positioning of their fingers and hands during the Priestly Blessing, placed as a crest or symbol on their gravestones to indicate their status.
Even in death, many Kohanim choose to have this symbol, the special positioning of their fingers and hands during the Priestly Blessing, placed as a crest or symbol on their gravestones to indicate their status.

A Kohen (or Cohen, Hebrew כהן, "priest", pl. כהנים, Kohanim or Cohanim), is assumed to be a direct male descendant of the Biblical Aaron, brother of Moses. Free Publicly open sketch of the traditional mystical position of the hands of Jewish Kohanim priests when they bless the congregation This engraving is taken from the tombstone of a deceased Kohen (or Cohen) as its commonly used as their unique identifying symbol when they are laid to eternal... The Priestly Blessing, (in Hebrew: Birkat Kohanim, ברכת כהנים) is a Jewish ceremony and prayer recited during services. ... Headstones in the Japanese Cemetry in Broome, Western Australia A cemetery in rural Spain A typical late 20th century headstone in the United States A headstone, tombstone or gravestone is a marker, normally carved from stone, placed over or next to the site of a burial. ... The Bible (Hebrew תנ״ך tanakh, Greek η Βίβλος [hÄ“ biblos] ) (sometimes The Holy Bible, The Book, Good Book, Word of God, The Word Scripture), from Greek (τα) βίβλια, (ta) biblia, (the) books, is the classical name for the Hebrew Bible of Judaism or the combination of the Old Testament and New Testament of Christianity (The... Aaron (אַהֲרֹן, a word meaning bearer of martyrs in Hebrew (perhaps also, or instead, related to the Egyptian Aha Rw, Warrior Lion), Standard Hebrew Aharon, Tiberian Hebrew ʾAhărōn), was one of two brothers who play a unique part in the history of the Hebrew people. ... Moses or Móshe (מֹשֶׁה, Standard Hebrew Móše, Tiberian Hebrew Mōšeh, Arabic موسى Musa, Spanish Moisés, Ethiopic ሙሴ Musse), son of Amram and his wife, Jochebed, a Levite. ...

During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, Kohanim performed specific duties vis-à-vis the daily and festival sacrificial offerings. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) played a special role during the service of Yom Kippur. Today, Kohanim retain a distinct personal status within Judaism and are still bound by special laws in Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities. The Temple in Jerusalem or the Holy Temple (Hebrew: בית המקדש, transliterated Bet HaMikdash) was built in ancient Jerusalem in c. ... Sacrifice (from a Middle English verb meaning to make sacred, from Old Marcus Aurelius and members of the Imperial family offer sacrifice in gratitude for success against Germanic tribes: contemporary bas-relief, Capitoline Museum, Rome French, from Latin sacrificium : sacer, sacred; sacred + facere, to make) is commonly known as the... Yom Kippur (יום כיפור yom kippÅ«r) is the Jewish holiday of the Day of Atonement. ... Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people, with around 14 million followers (as of 2005 [1]). It is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. ... Orthodox Judaism is the stream of Judaism which adheres to a relatively strict interpretation and application of the laws and ethics first canonized in the Talmud (The Oral Law) and later codified in the Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). It is governed by these works and the Rabbinical commentary... Conservative Judaism, also known as Masorti Judaism, is a modern denomination of Judaism that arose in United States in the early 1900s. ...


Biblical origins

The status of kohen was first conferred on Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his direct male descendants, by God (Exodus 28:1, 2–4) as an "everlasting office". During the 40 years in which the Jews wandered in the wilderness and until the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem, kohanim performed their service in the portable Tabernacle (Numbers 1:47–54; 3:5–13,44–51; 8:5–26). Their duties involved offering the daily and Jewish holiday sacrifices, collectively known as the korbanot in Hebrew. The Temple in Jerusalem or the Holy Temple (Hebrew: בית המקדש, transliterated Bet HaMikdash) was built in ancient Jerusalem in c. ... The Tabernacle is known in Hebrew as the Mishkan (Place of [Divine] dwelling). It was to be a portable central place of worship for the Hebrews from the time they left ancient Egypt following the Exodus, through the time of the Book of Judges when they were engaged in conquering... A Jewish holiday or Jewish Festival is a day or series of days observed by Jews as holy or secular commemorations of important events in Jewish history. ... Hebrew (עִבְרִית ‘Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken by more than seven million people in Israel, the West Bank, the United States, and by Jewish communities around the world. ...

When the First and Second Temples were built, the kohanim assumed these same roles in these permanent structures, located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel. They were divided into 24 work groups of seven to nine priests each. Those who served changed every Shabbat (Sabbath), but on the Biblical festivals all twenty-four were present in the Temple.

Because Aaron was a member of the Tribe of Levi, all kohanim are levites, as tribal membership passes via patrilineal descent. However, not all levites are kohanim. Most of the Temple service (i.e. the korbanot) could be conducted only by kohanim. Non-kohen levites (all those who descend from Levi the son of Jacob yet not Aaron) assisted the kohanim by washing the latters' hands and feet before services and providing music and song to accompany the Temple ceremonies. During the era of the portable Tabernacle, the levites were employed in caring for and transporting the Tabernacle between travel destinations. An Israelite is a member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, descended from the twelve sons of the Biblical patriarch Jacob who was renamed Israel by God in the book of Genesis, 32:28 The Israelites were a group of Hebrews, as described in the Bible. ...

Kohanim are also charged with reciting the Priestly Blessings during the daily prayer service. Thise blessing can be found in Numbers 6:23-27. They do so from the front of the synagogue while facing the congregation with their arms held outwards to the front and their hands meeting together, the fingers of which are held in a specific formation. Those familiar with the original Star Trek will recall this formation from Dr. Spock's hand signal when he stated, "Live long and prosper." Nemoy, a non-observant kohen, deceided to integrate this hand signal into the show because of its novelty effect. In modern times, the Priestly Blessing is still recited daily within the confines of Israel, but is only recited in the Diaspora on Jewish holidays of Biblical origin.

Male kohanim are prohibited from marrying a divorcee. They are also forbidden from become defiled by the dead. They therefor do not attend funerals or visit cemetaries. They are commanded, however, to become defiled for their 7 closest relatives: parents, siblings children and wife. One may only become defiled for a sister who is unmarried. The exact rules and regulations of defilement are quite complex, but a cursory rule of thumb is that they may not enter a room with a dead person or come within a few feet. The practical applications of these rules result prohibitions of being within the same building as a dead person as well and even being under the same canopy as a dead person (i.e. walking or driving on the street over which hangs a tree that also overhangs a cemetary adjacent to the road). Defilement by non-Jews is less serious and may only be an issue if actual contact is established. A competant Orthodox halachik authority should be consulted for each and every situation.

Qualifications and disqualifications

According to the Torah, eligibility for kohanim began at 30 days of age and ended at age 60, but this merely refers to those eligible for the national headcount. They assumed their duties at the age of 20 and retired from active duty at the age of 60.

Certain imperfections could disqualify a kohen from serving in the Temple. Since the Temple was a place of beauty and the services that were held in it were designed to inspire visitors to thoughts of repentance and closeness to God, a less than physically perfect kohen would mar the atmosphere. These blemishes include: blindness, lameness, an excessively low nasal bridge (such that a straight brush can apply ointment to both eyes simultaneously), one with disproportionate limbs, a crippled foot or hand, eyebrows which grow profusely, cataracts, possessing a white streak which transverses the junction between sclera (white part of they eyeball) and iris, certain types of boils, and crushed testicles. This, however, is not a comprehensive list (Lev. 21:18-20, and Rashi, ibid.) A kohen who was afflicted with one of these imperfections was held unfit for service, however, should it be a correctable imperfection, the kohen would become eligible for service should the defect be corrected; however, he was permitted to eat of the holy food (same source as above, including adjacent verses and commentaries). Females were never allowed to serve in the Tabernacle or the Temple, however they were permitted to consume/derive benefit from some of the 24 priestly gifts. However, daughters marrying men from outside the kohanic line were no longer permitted to consume these priestly gifts.

The Kohanim were rewarded for their role in the Temple and their special status through 24 special "priestly gifts," which were taken from the sacrificial offerings. These were: (source).

Kohen Gadol

(See main article: Kohen Gadol)

In every generation, one Kohen would be singled out to perform the functions of Kohen Gadol (High Priest). His main job was the Yom Kippur service, but he did offer a daily meal sacrifice, and he had the perogative to supercede any kohen and offer any offering he chose. Yom Kippur (יום כיפור yom kippūr) is the Jewish holiday of the Day of Atonement. ...

The Kohen Gadol must marry a virgin.

Ritual purity

The Kohanim formed a holy order. For the purpose of protecting them against ritual defilement, the Torah imposed on the following rules for ritual purity. (According to Orthodox Jewish law, these rules are still in force today.)

  • Kohanim are forbidden to come in contact with dead bodies, except in the case of their nearest kin, nor are they permitted to perform the customary mourning rites. A Kohen is forbidden to enter any house or enclosure, or approach any spot, in which a dead body, or part of a dead body, may be found. (Lev. 10:6, 21:1–5; Ezek. 44:20, 25). Practical examples of these prohibitions include: not entering a cemetery; not being under the same roof (i.e. in a home or hospital) as a dead body.
  • Kohanim are forbidden to touch anyone or anything that has been made ritually unclean through contact with the dead.
  • Kohanim are not allowed to marry a prostitute, nor dishonored or divorced women (Lev. 21:7).
  • During the period of the Holy Temple, Kohanim were required to abstain from wine and all strong drink while performing their priestly duties (Lev. 10:9; Ezek. 44:21).

Prostitution is the sale of sexual services (typically manual stimulation, oral sex, sexual intercourse, or anal sex) for cash or other kind of return, generally indiscriminately with many persons. ...

Exceptions to rules for contact with the dead

A kohen must defile himself for his parents, siblings (only an unmarried sister), wife and children. A Kohen Gadol may not defile himself even for any of these family members, and he practices no bereavement rituals.

The Talmud prescribes that if any Kohen—even the Kohen Gadol—finds a corpse by the wayside, and there is no one else in the area who can be called upon to bury it, then the Kohen himself must perform the burial (meis mitzvah).

The Talmud orders the Kohen to defile himself in the case of the death of a nasi (rabbinic leader of a religious academy). The Talmud relates that when Judah haNasi died, the priestly laws concerning defilement through contact with the dead were suspended for the day of his death. Judah haNasi, or more accurately in Hebrew, Yehudah HaNasi, was a key leader of the Jewish community of Judea under the Roman empire, toward the end of the 2nd century CE. He was reputedly from the Davidic line of the royal line from King David, hence his title Prince (Nasi...

Kohanim today

Today, the status of Kohen is assumed by anyone who has a family tradition to that effect. Until the eighteenth century in Europe (nineteenth century in Yemen) many Kohanim could accurately trace their lineage back to a verifiable Kohen such as Ezra. Today, families may verify their priestly lineage via the tombstones of deceased ancestors, as the universal symbol of the hands arranged for the Priestly Blessing is a time-honored engraving for the tombstones of Kohanim. Simply having the family name of "Cohen" or "Kahanowitz" ("son of Cohen") is not proof enough, as emigration, assimilation and intermarriage have deferred the name on non-priestly individuals as well. (17th century - 18th century - 19th century - more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 18th century refers to the century that lasted from 1701 through 1800. ... Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ... Ezra (עֶזְרָא, Standard Hebrew Ê¿Ezra, Tiberian Hebrew Ê¿Ezrâ: short for עַזְרִיאֵל My help/court is God, Standard Hebrew Ê¿Azriʾel, Tiberian Hebrew Ê¿Azrîʾēl) was the scribe who led the second body of exiled Israelites that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem in 459 BCE, and is probably the author of the Book... The Priestly Blessing, (in Hebrew: Birkat Kohanim, ברכת כהנים) is a Jewish ceremony and prayer recited during services. ...

Kohanim maintain their special status in the following areas of modern life:

Synagogue services

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. However, Kohanim retain a formal and public ceremonial role in synagogue prayer services, which were established as a reminder of the sacrifices themselves ("In the place of bullocks, offer Me the prayers of your lips" SOURCE).

Orthodox Jewish view

Every Monday, Thursday and Shabbat, a portion from the Torah is read aloud in front of the congregation, in the original Hebrew. 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. If a Kohen is not present, the Levite takes the first aliyah and an Israelite the second and succeeding ones. It is considered beneath the Kohen's dignity to call him up for any of the other aliyot, although he may be called for maftir, which is not technically one of the seven aliyot. In Orthodox Jewish circles, this custom has the status of law. Shabbat (שבת shabbāt, rest Hebrew, or Shabbos in Ashkenazic pronunciation), is the weekly day of rest in Judaism. ... Maftir is the final section of the weekly parsha read on Shabbat and holiday mornings in synagogue from a Torah scroll. ...

All of the Kohanim participating in the prayer service must also deliver the Priestly Blessing during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei. In Israel, they perform this task daily; outside of Israel, they perform this duty only on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. (See article: Priestly Blessing). The Priestly Blessing, (in Hebrew: Birkat Kohanim, ברכת כהנים) is a Jewish ceremony and prayer recited during services. ... The Priestly Blessing, (in Hebrew: Birkat Kohanim, ברכת כהנים) is a Jewish ceremony and prayer recited during services. ...

As Orthodox Judaism does not allow women to read publicly from the Torah during formal prayer services, a bat Kohen (daughter of a Kohen) or bat Levi (daughter of a Levite) has no role in this area. Regarding the ritual of the Priestly Blessing, a bat Kohen is not permitted to participate in Nesiat Kapayim because as a continuation of a Temple ritual, the Priestly Blessing should be performed by those who were authentically eligible to do so in the Temple.

Conservative Jewish view

The custom of calling a Kohen for the first aliyah is generally followed in the Conservative Jewish community, although it does not have the status of law. The Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) has ruled that a rabbi is not obligated to follow this custom. As such, in some Conservative synagogues, this custom is not followed.

The CJLS has also issued differing positions on whether a bat Kohen (daughter of a Kohen) may claim the Kohen's honorary role in synagogue prayer services. According to one position, a bat Kohen or bat Levi can be accorded the honor of reading publicly from the Torah, whether they are single or married. Moreover, their status should not be determined by the lineage of their husbands, but by their own paternal lineage (Rabbi Joel Roth "The status of daughters of Kohanim and Leviyim for aliyot" 11/15/89). Another position is that women do not receive such aliyot. The law committee of the Masorti movement (Conservative Judaism in Israel) has also ruled that women do not receive such aliyot (Rabbi Robert Harris, 5748).

The CJLS teaches that where the law committee has validated more than one possible position, a congregation must follow the ruling of its own rabbi.

Regarding the ritual of the Priestly Blessing, the CJLS has also approved two positions. One view holds that a bat Kohen may participate in Nesiat Kapayim; another view holds that a bat Kohen is not permitted to participate in Nesiat Kapayim because it is a continuation of a Temple ritual which women were not eligible to perform (Rabbis Stanley Bramnick and Judah Kagen, 1994; and a responsa by the Va'ad Halakha of the Masorti movement, Rabbi Reuven Hammer, 5748) The Priestly Blessing, (in Hebrew: Birkat Kohanim, ברכת כהנים) is a Jewish ceremony and prayer recited during services. ...

Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish views

The majority of Reform Jews and Reconstructionist Jews consider all rules and ceremonies regarding the priesthood to be outdated. Many consider it to be anti-egalitarian, and thus discriminatory against Jews who are not Kohanim. Thus the above laws and customs are no longer observed in Reform or Reconstructionist Jewish communities. Many Reform and Reconstructionist Temples effectively forbid the practice of these laws and customs. Both Orthodox and Conservative Jews strenuously disagree with this latter view. Reform Judaism can refer to (1) the largest denomination of Judaism in America and its sibling movements in other countries, (2) a branch of Judaism in the United Kingdom, and (3) the historical predecessor of the American movement that originated in 19th Century Germany. ... Reconstructionist Judaism is a movement of Judaism with a relatively liberal set of beliefs: an individuals personal autonomy should generally override traditional Jewish law and custom, yet also take into account communal consensus, modern culture is accepted, traditional rabbinic modes of study, as well as modern scholarship and critical... Orthodox Judaism is the stream of Judaism which adheres to a relatively strict interpretation and application of the laws and ethics first canonized in the Talmud (The Oral Law) and later codified in the Shulkhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law). It is governed by these works and the Rabbinical commentary... Conservative Judaism, also known as Masorti Judaism, is a modern denomination of Judaism that arose in United States in the early 1900s. ...

Pidyon Haben

Outside the synagogue, Kohanim serve the unique distinction of leading the Pidyon Haben, the symbolic Redemption of the First-born ceremony for first-born male sons. This mitzvah is based on the Torah commandment, ___. Redemption of First-born (pidyon ha-ben in Hebrew), is an important ritual in Judaism. ...

The ceremony is conducted as part of a festive meal. The Kohen first washes his hands and breaks bread, then calls for the father and the baby. The baby is typically brought in dressed in white and bedecked with gold jewelry, which the women in attendance contribute to beautify this mitzvah. The Kohen then engages the father in a formal dialogue, asking him whether he prefers to keep his money or his son. At the end of this exchange, the father hands over five silver coins (equivalent to about $___), and the Kohen blesses him and his son. Though this ceremony should be conducted when the child is 31 days old, a first-born male who was never redeemed via Pidyon Haben may redeem himself later in life through a similar interaction with a Kohen. Mitzvah (Hebrew: מצווה, commandment; plural, mitzvot; from צוה, tzavah, command) is a word is used in Judaism to refer to (a) the commandments, of which there are believed to be 613, given in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) or (b) any Jewish law at all. ...

Orthodox rabbis note that there are some rabbinic sources that allow women to perform this ritual. In practice, however, the custom is to use only male Kohanim.

According to the Conservative Jewish view, a bat Kohen (daughter of a Kohen) may perform the ceremony for a newborn son. However, it is forbidden to perform this ceremony on a first-born daughter.

Personal Status

Orthodox Jewish view

According to Orthodox Jewish practice, modern-day Kohanim are obligated to retain their ritual purity as prescribed by the Torah. For that reason, they are not allowed to defile themselves by coming into contact or proximity to the dead. For this reason, Orthodox cemeteries traditionally designate a burial ground for Kohanim which is at a distance from the general burial ground so that the sons of deceased Kohanim can visit their fathers' graves without entering the cemetery. They are also careful not to be in a hospital, airplane, or any enclosed space where dead bodies are also present.

Modern-day Kohanim are also prohibited from marrying a divorcee (even their own divorced wife), a "defiled" woman, or a "harlot". According to the Torah, any Kohen who enters into such a marriage loses his priestly status while in that marriage. The Kohen is not allowed to "choose to forgo his status" and marry a woman prohibted to him. [Lev. 21:6–7].

The Talmudic understanding of the word "harlot" refers to a woman who has violated a certain category of Jewish sexual prohibitions. These include adultery, incest, and being with a gentile. The rabbis of the Talmud prohibited Kohanim from marrying a female convert as well, out of concern for what may have occurred to her while she was a gentile. Thus, in Orthodox Judaism today, female converts to Judaism may not marry a Kohen. A born-Jewish woman who has had premarital sex may marry a Kohen if and only if all of her partners were Jewish.

The child of two converts is considered "born Jewish" and thus may marry a Kohen. It is preferred, but not required, however, that a ohen marry a woman who has some "mainstream Jewish" lineage, i.e. at least one ancestor who was not a convert.

A child of a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father, while halakhically Jewish, is also prohibited from marrying a Kohen, by rabbinic law.

According to the Talmud, if a Kohen marries in disregard of the above prohibitions, his marriage is still effective. Any children born of the union are legitimate and not mamzer. However, these children are termed chalal ("defiled") and lose their Kohen status permanently.

Conservative Jewish view

Conservative Judaism holds that, in general, Jewish law is still binding, but that the restrictions against whom a Kohen can marry are no longer applicable today. The movement allows a Kohen to marry a convert or divorcee for these reasons:

  • Since the Temple in Jerusalem is no longer extant, Kohanim are no longer needed to perform Temple services in a state of ritual purity.
  • The priestly status of most modern-day Kohanim is doubtful at best. The frequent persecutions and expulsions of Jews throughout history have caused Kohanim to lose track of their genealogy.
  • 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.

Reform Jewish view

Reform Judaism sees ritual halakhah as no longer having any legal status, and thus allows such marriages. Halakha (הלכה in Hebrew or Halakhah, Halacha, Halachah) is the collective corpus of Jewish law, custom and tradition regulating all aspects of behavior. ...

See also Jewish view of marriage Judaism considers marriage to be the ideal state of existence; a man without a wife, or a woman without a husband, are considered incomplete. ...

Lineage of priests in the Torah

King Melchizedek of Salem, identified by Rashi as being Shem the son of Noah by another name, is the first person in the Torah to be called a Kohen (Genesis 14:18). This article is about the biblical figure. ... Rashi Rashi רשי, an acronym for Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (Hebrew: רבי שלמה בן יצחק) or Shlomo Yitzchaki, (February 22, 1040 – July 17, 1105) is one of Judaisms classic meforshim (Bible and Talmud commentators), and wrote the first comprehensive commentaries on the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) and Talmud. ... Shem (שֵׁם renown; prosperity; name, Standard Hebrew Šem, Tiberian Hebrew Šēm; Greek Σημ, Sēm) was one of the sons of Noah in the Bible. ... Noahs Ark, Französischer Meister (The French Master), Magyar Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest. ... Torah () is a Hebrew word meaning teaching, instruction, or law. ... This article is about Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). ...

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 at the Golden calf, the priesthood was given to the Tribe of Levi, which had not been tainted by this incident. Esau (Hebrew עֵשָׂו, Standard Hebrew ʿEsav, Tiberian Hebrew ʿĒśāw) is the son of Isaac and Rebekah and the older twin brother of Jacob in the biblical Book of Genesis, who, in the Torah, was tricked by Jacob into giving up his birthright (leadership of Israel) for a mess of pottage (meal... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ... Adoration of the Golden Calf by Nicolas Poussin: imagery influenced by the Greco-Roman bacchanal In the Hebrew Bible the golden calf was an idol made by Aaron for the Israelites during Mosess unexpectedly long absence. ...

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 (אַהֲרֹן, a word meaning bearer of martyrs in Hebrew (perhaps also, or instead, related to the Egyptian Aha Rw, Warrior Lion), Standard Hebrew Aharon, Tiberian Hebrew ʾAhărōn), was one of two brothers who play a unique part in the history of the Hebrew people. ...

Aaron received the priesthood along with his children and any descendants that would be born subsequently. However, his grandson Pinchas (Phineas) had already been born, and did not receive the priesthood until he killed the prince of the tribe of Simon and the princess of the Midianites (Numbers 31:11–12). The Book of Numbers is the fourth of the books of the Pentateuch, called in the Hebrew ba-midbar במדבר, i. ...

Thereafter, the priesthood has remained with the descendants of Aaron. However, when the Messiah comes, there is a tradition that it will revert back to the first born.

The Kohen gene

Recently the tradition that Kohanim are descended from Aaron was supported by genetic testing (Skorecki et al., 1997). Since all direct male lineage shares a common Y chromosome, testing was done across sectors of the Jewish population to see if there was any commonality between their Y chromosomes. There was proven to be certain distinctions among the Y chromosomes of Kohanim, implying that the Kohanim do share some common ancestry. This information was used to support the claim of the Lemba (a sub-Saharan tribe) that they were in fact, a tribe of Jews. See also Y-chromosomal Aaron. The Lemba or Lembaa are a group of people in southern Africa. ... Y-chromosomal Aaron is the name given to the hypothesised ancestor of the Kohanim (singular Kohen or Kohane), a patrilineal priestly caste in Judaism. ...

Cohen as a surname

Descendants of Kohanim often bear surnames that reflect their genealogy, often corrupted by translation and/or transliteration into other languages, as examplified below (not a complete list). Transliteration in a narrow sense is a mapping from one system of writing into another. ...

  • English: Conn, Conway, Cohan (Cohan is also an Irish surname)
  • Slavic: Kogan, Kagan, Kahn
  • Polish: Kaplan (Polish for "priest")
  • German: Kohn, Coen, Katz (short for Kohen Tzedek, i.e. "authentic Kohen")
  • Dutch: Katten (translated as "Kohen")
  • French: Cahen
  • Arabic: al-Kohen
  • Ancient/Modern Hebrew: Kohen, Hakohen, ben-Kohen, bar-Kohen
  • Others: Maze (acronym of mi zerat Aharon, i.e. "from the seed of Aaron"), Azoulai (acronym meaning "a foreign or divorced woman he shall not take;" prohibition binding on Kohanim), Rappaport, Shapiro, Kahane.

However, by no means are all Jews with these surnames Kohanim. Additionally, some "Kohen"-type surnames are considered stronger indications of the status than others. "Cohen" is one of the hardest to substantiate due to its sheer commonality. Katz may refer to: Katz, a common Jewish surname generally believed to be a derivation of Cohen. ...

Outside Judaism

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives legal right of Kohanim to constitute the Presiding Bishopric under the authority of the First Presidency (D&C 68; see v. 16-20). When and where Church Kohanim are not available, Melchizedek Priesthood holders substitute. To date, all men who have served as the Presiding Bishop have been Melchizedek Priesthood holders, and none have been publically identified as Kohanim. See also Mormonism and Judaism. The Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the largest attraction in the citys Temple Square. ... The Presiding Bishop is an ecclesiastical position in some denominations of Christianity. ... In Mormonism, the First Presidency (or the Quorum of the Presidency of the Church) is one of the governing bodies in the church hierarchy of several Latter Day Saint denominations. ... The Melchizedek Priesthood, to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the authority and power to act in the name of God including the authority to perform ordinances and to preside over and direct the affairs of his Church and Kingdom. ... Mormonism and Judaism share significant differences and similarities. ...


The positioning of the Kohen's hands during the Priestly Blessing was Leonard Nimoy's inspiration for the Vulcan salute. The Priestly Blessing, (in Hebrew: Birkat Kohanim, ברכת כהנים) is a Jewish ceremony and prayer recited during services. ... Nimoy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). ... Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played the half-Vulcan Spock on Star Trek, devised the Vulcan Salute, consisting of a raised hand, palm forward with the fingers parted between the middle and ring finger. ...


  • Isaac Klein A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p.387-388.
  • Isaac Klein Responsa and Halakhic Studies, p.22-26.
  • 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: DOI | Full text (HTML) | Full text (PDF))
  • Proceedings of the CJLS: 1927-1970, volume III, United Synagogue Book Service.

Isaac Klein (1905-1979). ... Isaac Klein (1905-1979). ...

External links

See also

Kohn(Cohn), Kuhn(Cuhn), Kahn(Cahn), Kogan(Kohan, Kogan), Kagan(Cahan, Kahan), and Schiff
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.



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