Kohen

Kohen

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A Kohen is the Hebrew word for priest. Jewish Kohens are traditionally believed and halachically required to be of direct patrilineal descent from the Biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 Aaron
Aaron
In the Hebrew Bible and the Qur'an, Aaron : Ααρών ), who is often called "'Aaron the Priest"' and once Aaron the Levite , was the older brother of Moses, and a prophet of God. He represented the priestly functions of his tribe, becoming the first High Priest of the Israelites...

.

The name Kohen is used in the Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 to refer to priest
Priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

s, both Jewish and non-Jewish, such as the priests (Hebrew kohenim) of Baal
Baal
Baʿal is a Northwest Semitic title and honorific meaning "master" or "lord" that is used for various gods who were patrons of cities in the Levant and Asia Minor, cognate to Akkadian Bēlu...

, as well as the Jewish nation as a whole. During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem
Temple in Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple , refers to one of a series of structures which were historically located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the current site of the Dome of the Rock. Historically, these successive temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of...

, Kohanim performed specific duties vis-à-vis the daily and festival sacrificial offerings
Korban
The term offering as found in the Hebrew Bible in relation to the worship of Ancient Israel is mainly represented by the Hebrew noun korban whether for an animal or other offering...

.

Today Kohanim retain a lesser though somewhat distinct status within Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, and are bound by additional restrictions according to Orthodox
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 Judaism.

Etymology


The Hebrew noun kohen is most often translated as "priest", whether Jewish or pagan, such as the priests of Baal
Baal
Baʿal is a Northwest Semitic title and honorific meaning "master" or "lord" that is used for various gods who were patrons of cities in the Levant and Asia Minor, cognate to Akkadian Bēlu...

 or Dagon
Dagon
Dagon was originally an Assyro-Babylonian fertility god who evolved into a major northwest Semitic god, reportedly of grain and fish and/or fishing...

. The word derives from a Semitic root common, at minimum, to the Central Semitic languages
Central Semitic languages
The Central Semitic languages are a proposed intermediate group of Semitic languages, comprising Arabic and the Northwest Semitic languages ....

; the cognate
Cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

 Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 word kāhin means "soothsayer
Soothsayer
Soothsayer may refer to:* One practicing divination, including:** Fortune-teller** Oracle* The Soothsayer, an album by Wayne Shorter* "Soothsayer", a song by Buckethead from Crime Slunk Scene...

, augur
Augur
The augur was a priest and official in the classical world, especially ancient Rome and Etruria. His main role was to interpret the will of the gods by studying the flight of birds: whether they are flying in groups/alone, what noises they make as they fly, direction of flight and what kind of...

, or priest
Priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

".

Translations in the paraphrase of the Aramaic Targum
Targum
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon means "to strike or break with fist"; and do means "way", "method", or "path"...

ic 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
Yitro (parsha)
Yitro, Yithro, or Yisro is the seventeenth weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fifth in the book of Exodus...

 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



The status of priest kohen was conferred on Aaron, the brother of Moses, and his sons as an everlasting covenant
Covenant (biblical)
A biblical covenant is an agreement found in the Bible between God and His people in which God makes specific promises and demands. It is the customary word used to translate the Hebrew word berith. It it is used in the Tanakh 286 times . All Abrahamic religions consider the Biblical covenant...

  During the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and until the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem
Temple in Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple , refers to one of a series of structures which were historically located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the current site of the Dome of the Rock. Historically, these successive temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of...

, the priests performed their priestly service in the portable Tabernacle  Their duties involved offering the daily and Jewish holiday
Jewish holiday
Jewish holidays are days observed by Jews as holy or secular commemorations of important events in Jewish history. In Hebrew, Jewish holidays and festivals, depending on their nature, may be called yom tov or chag or ta'anit...

 sacrifices
Korban
The term offering as found in the Hebrew Bible in relation to the worship of Ancient Israel is mainly represented by the Hebrew noun korban whether for an animal or other offering...

, and blessing the people in a Priestly Blessing
Priestly Blessing
The Priestly Blessing, , also known in Hebrew as Nesiat Kapayim, , or Dukhanen , is a Jewish prayer recited by Kohanim during certain Jewish services...

, later also known as Nesiat Kapayim ("Raising of the hands").

When the First
Solomon's Temple
Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was the main temple in ancient Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount , before its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE....

 and Second
Second Temple
The Jewish Second Temple was an important shrine which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon...

 Temples were built, the priests assumed these same roles in these permanent structures on the Temple Mount
Temple Mount
The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as , and in Arabic as the Haram Ash-Sharif , is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a religious site for thousands of years...

 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
Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

 all six worked in tandem. According to later rabbinical interpretation these 24 groups changed every Sabbath at the completion of the Mussaf
Mussaf
Mussaf is an additional service that is recited on Shabbat, Yom Tov, Chol Hamoed, and Rosh Chodesh. The service, which is traditionally combined with the Shacharit in synagogues, is considered to be additional to the regular services of Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv.During the days of the Holy...

 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
Levite
In Jewish tradition, a Levite is a member of the Hebrew tribe of Levi. When Joshua led the Israelites into the land of Canaan, the Levites were the only Israelite tribe that received cities but were not allowed to be landowners "because the Lord the God of Israel himself is their inheritance"...

, 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
Shechita
Shechita is the ritual slaughter of mammals and birds according to Jewish dietary laws...

, song service by use of voice and musical instruments, and various tasks in assisting the priests in performing their service.

Lineage of priests in the Law


King Melchizedek
Melchizedek
Melchizedek or Malki Tzedek translated as "my king righteous") is a king and priest mentioned during the Abram narrative in the 14th chapter of the Book of Genesis....

 of Salem, identified by Rashi
Rashi
Shlomo Yitzhaki , or in Latin Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi , was a medieval French rabbi famed as the author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh...

 as being Shem
Shem
Shem was one of the sons of Noah in the Hebrew Bible as well as in Islamic literature. He is most popularly regarded as the eldest son, though some traditions regard him as the second son. Genesis 10:21 refers to relative ages of Shem and his brother Japheth, but with sufficient ambiguity in each...

 the son of Noah
Noah
Noah was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the tenth and last of the antediluvian Patriarchs. The biblical story of Noah is contained in chapters 6–9 of the book of Genesis, where he saves his family and representatives of all animals from the flood by constructing an ark...

 by another name, is the first person in the Hebrew Bible to be called a "priest" kohen. . The second is Potiphera, priest of Heliopolis, then Jethro, priest of Midian.

When Esau
Esau
Esau , in the Hebrew Bible, is the oldest son of Isaac. He is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, and by the minor prophets, Obadiah and Malachi. The New Testament later references him in the Book of Romans and the Book of Hebrews....

 sold the birthright of the first born to Jacob
Jacob
Jacob "heel" or "leg-puller"), also later known as Israel , as described in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the New Testament and the Qur'an was the third patriarch of the Hebrew people with whom God made a covenant, and ancestor of the tribes of Israel, which were named after his descendants.In the...

, 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
Golden calf
According to the Hebrew Bible, the golden calf was an idol made by Aaron to satisfy the Israelites during Moses' absence, when he went up to Mount Sinai...

, 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 Phinehas
Phinehas
-Biblical figures:*Phinehas, son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the High Priest*Phinehas, son of the High Priest Eli. He was a priest at Shiloh, and died when the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant-Other :*Pinchas, the 41st weekly Torah portion....

 had already been born, and did not receive the priesthood until he killed the prince of the Tribe of Simeon
Tribe of Simeon
According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Simeon was one of the Tribes of Israel.Following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes after about 1200 BC, Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes...

 and the princess of the Midianites . Thereafter, the priesthood has remained with the descendants of Aaron. Some Haredi groups believe that when the Messiah comes, there is a tradition that it will revert back to the first born.

The High Priest



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
Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur , also known as Day of Atonement, is the holiest and most solemn day of the year for the Jews. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jews traditionally observe this holy day with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue...

 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
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

 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 priestly divisions



King David assigned each of the 24 priestly clans to a weekly watch (Hebrew mishmeret משמרת) during which its members were responsible for maintaining the schedule of offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem
Temple in Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple , refers to one of a series of structures which were historically located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the current site of the Dome of the Rock. Historically, these successive temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of...

 . This instated a cycle of 'priestly courses' or 'priestly divisions
Priestly divisions
The priestly divisions or sacerdotal courses are ritual work groups in Judaism originally formed during the reign of King David in the 10th century BCE as documented in the biblical passage of 1 Chronicles 24. These priests were all descendants of Aaron, known also as Aaronites. Aaron had four...

' which repeated itself roughly twice each year.

King David, along with Samuel divided the then existing priestly groups, since at the time preceding David and Samuel the priestly courses numbered a mere eight, into 24 priestly divisions
Priestly divisions
The priestly divisions or sacerdotal courses are ritual work groups in Judaism originally formed during the reign of King David in the 10th century BCE as documented in the biblical passage of 1 Chronicles 24. These priests were all descendants of Aaron, known also as Aaronites. Aaron had four...

 (Mishmarot, משמרות). Each group's members were responsible for maintaining the schedule of offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem
Temple in Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple , refers to one of a series of structures which were historically located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the current site of the Dome of the Rock. Historically, these successive temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of...

 . When the First
Solomon's Temple
Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was the main temple in ancient Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount , before its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE....

 and Second
Second Temple
The Jewish Second Temple was an important shrine which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon...

 Temples were built, the Kohanim assumed these roles in the permanent temple on the Temple Mount
Temple Mount
The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as , and in Arabic as the Haram Ash-Sharif , is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a religious site for thousands of years...

 in Jerusalem. Each of the 24 groups consisted of six priestly families, with each of the six serving one day of the week. On the Shabbat all six worked in tandem. These 24 groups changed every Sabbath
Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

 at the completion of the service. However, On the biblical festivals all 24 were present in the Temple for duty. The cycle of the 24 priestly courses repeated itself roughly twice each year.

Destruction of the Second Temple


Following the Temple's destruction at the end of the First Jewish Revolt and the displacement to the Galilee
Galilee
Galilee , is a large region in northern Israel which overlaps with much of the administrative North District of the country. Traditionally divided into Upper Galilee , Lower Galilee , and Western Galilee , extending from Dan to the north, at the base of Mount Hermon, along Mount Lebanon to the...

 of the bulk of the remaining Jewish population in Judea
Judea
Judea or Judæa was the name of the mountainous southern part of the historic Land of Israel from the 8th century BCE to the 2nd century CE, when Roman Judea was renamed Syria Palaestina following the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt.-Etymology:The...

 at the end of the Bar Kochva Revolt, Jewish tradition in the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 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
Beit Netofa Valley
The Beit Netofa Valley is a valley in the Lower Galilee region of Israel, midway between Tiberias and Haifa. Covering 46 km2, it is the largest valley in the Galilee and one of the largest in the southern Levant...

, through the Nazareth
Nazareth
Nazareth is the largest city in the North District of Israel. Known as "the Arab capital of Israel," the population is made up predominantly of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel...

 region to Arbel
Arbel
Arbel is a moshav in northern Israel. Located on Mount Arbel next to the Sea of Galilee near Tiberias, it falls under the jurisdiction of Lower Galilee Regional Council. In 2006 it had a population of 364....

 and the vicinity of Tiberias.

Qualifications and 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, some opinions state that this age was thirty. There was no mandatory retirement age. Only when a Kohen became physically infirm could he no longer serve.
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 24 priestly gifts
The twenty-four Kohanic gifts
The twenty four priestly gifts, are a description in the Gemara tradition of offerings given to the Jewish priests. The adjective "kohanic" means "of a kohen", relating to a Jewish priest....

. 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 coins of the Pidyon HaBen
Pidyon HaBen
The Pidyon HaBen, or Redemption of the first born son, is a mitzvah in Judaism whereby a Jewish firstborn son is redeemed by use of silver coins from his birth-state of sanctity....

 ceremony, and the Giving of the foreleg, cheeks and abomasum
Giving of the foreleg, cheeks and abomasum
The gift of the shoulder, cheeks and maw of an animal sacrifice to the priesthood in Ancient Israel was commanded in the Hebrew Bible.After the destruction of the Second Temple at the Siege of Jerusalem animal sacrifices ceased. However in rabbinical interpretation a continuing application of the...

 from each Kosher-slaughtered animal.

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 knowleadgable 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.

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..." ). Kohanim also have a limited number of other special duties/privileges in Jewish religious practice. These special roles have been maintained in Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

, and sometimes in Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism,...

. Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

 does not afford any special status or recognition to Kohanim.

Synagogue aliyah


Every Monday, Thursday and Shabbat
Shabbat
Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after when one would expect to be able to see three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from...

 in Orthodox synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

s (and many Conservative ones as well), a portion from the Torah is read aloud in the original Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 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
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

 (Jewish religious law), however, and Israelites may be called up for all aliyot.

The late 12th and early 13th century Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg
Meir of Rothenburg
Meir of Rothenburg was a German Rabbi and poet, a major author of the tosafot on Rashi's commentary on the Talmud...

 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. Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky
Joel B. Wolowelsky
Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky is on the Faculty at the Yeshiva of Flatbush, and an author on topics pertaining to the role of women in Judaism and Jewish medical ethics. He is the Associate Editor of Tradition, the Journal of Jewish Thought and of the Toras HoRav Foundation, which is bringing to print the...

, an author on the topic of the role of women in Judaism
Role of women in Judaism
The role of women in Judaism is determined by the Hebrew Bible, the Oral Law , by custom, and by non-religious cultural factors...

, has recently endorsed relying on this authority to permit the deliberate creation of minyanim composed entirely of Kohanim for the express purpose of giving women an opportunity to have an aliyah to the Torah in an Orthodox setting.

The Conservative
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical Judaism,...

 Rabbinical Assembly
Rabbinical Assembly
The Rabbinical Assembly is the international association of Conservative rabbis. The RA was founded in 1901 to shape the ideology, programs, and practices of the Conservative movement. It publishes prayerbooks and books of Jewish interest, and oversees the work of the Committee on Jewish Law and...

's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
Committee on Jewish Law and Standards
The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards is the central authority on halakha within Conservative Judaism; it is one of the most active and widely known committees on the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly. Within the movement it is known as the CJLS...

 (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




The Kohanim participating in an Orthodox prayer service also deliver the Priestly Blessing, during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei. 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. 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.

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."

Effects on marital status


Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 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.

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
Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism is a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s.Conservative Judaism has its roots in the school of thought known as Positive-Historical 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 in its community 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.

The 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
Levi
Levi/Levy was, according to the Book of Genesis, the third son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Levi ; however Peake's commentary suggests this as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite...

, the daughter of any Levi
Levi
Levi/Levy was, according to the Book of Genesis, the third son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Levi ; however Peake's commentary suggests this as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite...

 did not require the ritual of Pidyon HaBen
Pidyon HaBen
The Pidyon HaBen, or Redemption of the first born son, is a mitzvah in Judaism whereby a Jewish firstborn son is redeemed by use of silver coins from his birth-state of sanctity....

.


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 men 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
Reform
Reform means to put or change into an improved form or condition; to amend or improve by change of color or removal of faults or abuses, beneficial change, more specifically, reversion to a pure original state, to repair, restore or to correct....

 and Reconstructionist
Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern American-based Jewish movement based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan . The movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. It originated as a branch of Conservative Judaism, before it splintered...

 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
Priestly Blessing
The Priestly Blessing, , also known in Hebrew as Nesiat Kapayim, , or Dukhanen , is a Jewish prayer recited by Kohanim during certain Jewish services...

 and receive the first aliyah during the public Torah reading, and women are generally not permitted to officiate in a Pidyon HaBen
Pidyon HaBen
The Pidyon HaBen, or Redemption of the first born son, is a mitzvah in Judaism whereby a Jewish firstborn son is redeemed by use of silver coins from his birth-state of sanctity....

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.

Some women's prayer groups which practice under the halakhic guidance of Modern 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.

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
Egalitarianism
Egalitarianism is a trend of thought that favors equality of some sort among moral agents, whether persons or animals. Emphasis is placed upon the fact that equality contains the idea of equity of quality...

, 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 therefore have the authority to permit the practice to evolve from its Temple-based roots). 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
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

 committee of the Masorti
Masorti
The Masorti Movement is the name given to Conservative Judaism in Israel and other countries outside Canada and U.S. Masorti means "traditional" in Hebrew...

 movement (the equivalent of Conservative Judaism) in Israel has ruled that women do not receive such aliyot and cannot perform such functions as a valid position (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-oriented Conservative synagogues have retained traditional gender roles and do not permit women to perform these roles at all.

Because most Reform
Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism refers to various beliefs, practices and organizations associated with the Reform Jewish movement in North America, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In general, it maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and should be compatible with participation in the...

 and Reconstructionist
Reconstructionist Judaism
Reconstructionist Judaism is a modern American-based Jewish movement based on the ideas of Mordecai Kaplan . The movement views Judaism as a progressively evolving civilization. It originated as a branch of Conservative Judaism, before it splintered...

 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



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
Haplotype
A haplotype in genetics is a combination of alleles at adjacent locations on the chromosome that are transmitted together...

. Therefore, testing was done across sectors of the Jewish and non-Jewish population to see if there was any commonality among their Y chromosome
Chromosome
A chromosome is an organized structure of DNA and protein found in cells. It is a single piece of coiled DNA containing many genes, regulatory elements and other nucleotide sequences. Chromosomes also contain DNA-bound proteins, which serve to package the DNA and control its functions.Chromosomes...

s. 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 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). This set of markers is found in the Y chromosome of 79% of those who have a family tradition of Priestly descent and only in 5% of Jews who have no family tradition of being Kohanim. The CMH is found in fewer than 5% of non-Jews The scientific findings show a statistical likelihood of less than 1 in 10,000 that the results could have been a chance event (P<.0001) Thus, peer-reviewed studies in the scientific literature document certain distinctions among the Y chromosomes of Kohanim, implying that nearly 80% 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 5% of non-Kohen Jews who demonstrate the CMH markers on the Y chromosome.

Cohen (and its variations) as a 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
Transliteration
Transliteration is a subset of the science of hermeneutics. It is a form of translation, and is the practice of converting a text from one script into another...

 into or from other languages, as exemplified below (not a complete list).
  • Basque
    Basque language
    Basque is the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. It is spoken by 25.7% of Basques in all territories...

    : Apeztegui "priestly house", in basque
    Basque language
    Basque is the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. It is spoken by 25.7% of Basques in all territories...

     "apaiz" (priestly) and "tegi"(house). Also Apéstegui, Apesteguia, Apaestegui and Aphesteguy.
  • Ancient/Modern Hebrew
    Hebrew language
    Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

    : Kohen, HaKohen, ben-Kohen, bar-Kohen
  • Others: Maze/Mazo (acronym of mi zerat 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
    Rappaport
    Rapaport, Rapoport or Rapa Porto is a family name from an Italian Kohenitic pedigree. It takes its origins in the Rapa family of Porto located in Province of Mantua, Italy.- Earliest history :...

    , 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.

Seder



According to the Jewish Virtual Library
Jewish Virtual Library
Jewish Virtual Library is an online encyclopedia published by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise . Established in 1993, it is a comprehensive website covering Israel, the Jewish people, and Jewish culture.-History:...

, 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).

Outside Judaism


According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, only "literal descendants of Aaron" have the legal right to constitute the Presiding Bishop
Presiding Bishop (LDS Church)
The Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a priesthood calling with church-wide authority. The Presiding Bishop is the highest leadership position within the church's Aaronic priesthood.-Presiding Bishopric:...

ric under the authority of the First Presidency
First Presidency
In the Latter Day Saint movement, the First Presidency was the highest governing body in the Latter Day Saint church established by Joseph Smith, Jr. in 1832, and is the highest governing body of several modern Latter Day Saint denominations...

 . When and where no Latter-day Saint descendants of Aaron are available, Melchizedek Priesthood
Melchizedek priesthood
The Melchizedek priesthood is the greater of the two orders of priesthood recognized in Mormonism. The others are the Aaronic priesthood and the rarely recognized Patriarchal priesthood...

 holders are permitted to substitute. 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
Mormonism and Judaism
The doctrines of the Latter Day Saint movement, commonly referred to as Mormonism, teach that its adherents, Latter-day Saints, are either direct descendants of the House of Israel, or are adopted into it. As such, Judaism is foundational to the history of Mormonism; Jews are considered a covenant...

.

The Kohen and the Holocaust


In 1938, with the outbreak of violence that would come to be known as Kristallnacht
Kristallnacht
Kristallnacht, also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, and also Reichskristallnacht, Pogromnacht, and Novemberpogrome, was a pogrom or series of attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria on 9–10 November 1938.Jewish homes were ransacked, as were shops, towns and...

, American Orthodox rabbi Mnachem HaKohen Risikoff
Mnachem Risikoff
Mnachem HaKohen Risikoff , was an orthodox rabbi in Russia and the United States, and a prolific author of scholarly works, written in Hebrew. Risikoff used a highly stylized and symbolic pen-name, יאמהדנונחהים, made up of the Hebrew letters of his first name, the Hebrew word for Lord, and the...

 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 Judaism
Repentance in Judaism known as teshuva , is the way of atoning for sin in Judaism.According to Gates of Repentance, a standard work of Jewish ethics written by Rabbenu Yonah of Gerona, if someone commits a sin, a forbidden act, he can be forgiven for that sin if he performs teshuva, which...

, repentance. In הכהנים והלוים HaKohanim vHaLeviim(1940), 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 a bright fire, 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."

See also

  • The status quo Kohen
    The status quo Kohen
    The status quo Kohen is a Rabbinic title which legitimates Kohen status to a Jewish Kohen who—amongst multiple criteria—exhibits conduct exemplary of and is recognized by his peers and community as such....

  • The Mitzvah of sanctifying the Kohen
    The Mitzvah of sanctifying the Kohen
    The commandment to sanctify the priests is a commandment based in the Hebrew Bible, and developed in rabbinical teaching that requires believers in Judaism to sanctify their priests, or kohanim in various ways...

  • The Torah instruction of the Kohanim
    The Torah instruction of the Kohanim
    The Torah instruction of the Kohanim is an expression used to define Torah instruction and its directives as articulated by the Kohanim....

  • Giving of the Foreleg, Cheeks, and Abomasum (as an outside-of-Israel Kohanic gift)
  • Wicked Priest
    Wicked Priest
    Wicked Priest is a sobriquet used in the Dead Sea scrolls pesharim, four times in the Habakkuk Commentary and once in the Commentary on Psalm 37 , to refer to an opponent of the "Teacher of Righteousness." The phrase is generally regarded as a pun on "High Priest" and identified with a Hasmonean...

  • Israelites
  • Jewish view of marriage
    Jewish view of marriage
    In Judaism, marriage is viewed as a contractual bond commanded by God in which a man and a woman come together to create a relationship in which God is directly involved. Though procreation is not the sole purpose, a Jewish marriage is also expected to fulfill the commandment to have children. The...

  • Family history
    Family history
    Family history is the systematic narrative and research of past events relating to a specific family, or specific families.- Introduction :...


External links