The Mitzvah of sanctifying the Kohen

The Mitzvah of sanctifying the Kohen

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The commandment to sanctify the priests (Hebrew "מצוות קידוש זרעו של אהרן") 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. These include assisting him to abstain from any prohibitions in the Law that apply to him, and by affording him first rights in areas relating to holiness and the service of God. In the enumeration of Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

 this is the 32nd positive commandment of the Law.

In Hebrew the commandment is literally known as the mitzvah of sanctifying the "seed of Aaron" (Hebrew מצוות קידוש זרעו של אהרן).

Hebrew Bible

At the time of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, the sacrificial activity of the Jewish nation was conducted by the firstborn of Israel. After the sin 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...

, God recounted the privilege of priesthood from the firstborn and gave it to 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...

, and his sons, as an everlasting priestly covenant.

Generally, the duties of Kehuna are not restricted to sacrificial offerings alone but include various other forms of service to the nation of Israel. These forms of service include Torah instruction
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....

 (Leviticus 10:10-11, Ezekiel 44:23-24) and managing tzaraath
The Hebrew noun tzaraath describes a disfigurative condition mainly referred to in chapters 13-14 of Leviticus, as well as conditions equivalent to be "mildew" on clothes and houses.Tzaraath affects both animate...

(mildew and skin disease).

Along with the commandment that God commanded Moses to confer the priesthood to Aaron came along the commandment which involves the participation of the nation of Israel in maintaining and creating a state of holiness and sanctification of their priests. Examples of this sanctification include assisting the priest in abstaining from forbidden marriages, to maintain a general state of purity, and to furnish the priest with gifts (later in rabbinical enumeration counted as twenty-four priestly gifts) to carry out his required duties.


The inauguration of Aaron and his sons to perform the holy service in the tabernacle
The Tabernacle , according to the Hebrew Torah/Old Testament, was the portable dwelling place for the divine presence from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan. Built to specifications revealed by God to Moses at Mount Sinai, it accompanied the Israelites...

 is related in Exodus and Leviticus:
And Aaron and his sons I will sanctify to serve me. And I will dwell amidst the children of Israel and I will be to them for a God. And they will know that I am the their God that I took them out from the land of Egypt to dwell amongst them. (Exodus) 29:44-6
And you should sanctify him since the bread of your God he sacrifices. Holy he should be to you since holy I am the God who makes you holy. (Leviticus)

In Rabbinical commentary

According to the Sifsei Kohen to the Chumash since the priest or kohen is chosen by God to perform direct service to God, doing acts of sanctification to and honoring the Kohen demonstrate the sanctification of God himself in a practical setting. In a somewhat radical explanation Abraham ibn Ezra
Abraham ibn Ezra
Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra was born at Tudela, Navarre in 1089, and died c. 1167, apparently in Calahorra....

 contends that the personality traits of the priest, given to him by God, are superior to those of the rest of the nation of Israel. Hence, the power to administer 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 to be successful at prayer rests with the Kohen, thereby justifying preferential treatment from amongst the nation.

Chazalic applications

Chazal or Ḥazal is an acronym for the Hebrew "Ḥakhameinu Zikhronam Liv'rakha",...

, in the attempt to quantify the meaning of "you shall make holy" explained that the requirement of the Mitzvah is to sanctify the Kohen to all matters of Kedushah;
The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught; "you shall make holy" to all matters of Holiness, to open first (at addressing a gathering), to bless first (at Birchat HaMazon), and to take a fine portion first

Addressing a crowd

As part of the school of Rabbi Yismael's explanation, the Mitzvah includes sanctifying the Kohen with the first slot in delivering Torah instruction from amongst other Jews who are on the/a panel of speakers. Rabbinic authorities explain that this sanctification is only applicable in the event where the Kohen is greater or equal in Torah knowledge to the other Jews present. In the event that he is not greater in Torah knowledge, this first slot is afforded the Rabbi who is superior.

The kohen giving grace after meal

The Kohen is given the honor to initiate grace after the meal provided three adult male Jews have dined together. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav
Shulchan Aruch HaRav
The Shulchan Aruch HaRav is a codification of halakha by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known during his lifetime as HaRav...

 points out that the Kohen is entitled to allow a non-Kohen to initiate the blessing but his permission must be explicit (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 167:19) 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...

 interprets the requirement to sanctify the kohen at mealtime as affording him the initiation of making the Bracha of HaMotzi at the start of the meal.

Priority to the choicest portion

With two honors being interpreted by the school of Rabbi Yishmael to mean spiritual forms of honor, the third is interpreted as a physical one; here, the requirement is to give the Kohen the first choice when choosing portions of equal size and value.

The first Aliyah

Every Monday, Thursday, 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...

, Rosh Chodesh
Rosh Chodesh
Rosh Chodesh or Rosh ḥodesh is the name for the first day of every month in the Hebrew calendar, marked by the appearance of the new moon. The new moon is marked by the day and hour that the new crescent is observed...

, and holy day, a pre-specified 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...

 with the congregation present. On weekdays, this reading is divided into three; if a kohen is present, it is customary to honor the kohen for the first reading, a Levite for the second reading, in case no Levite is present, the same kohen who was called up for the first aliyah
Aliyah is the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel . It is a basic tenet of Zionist ideology. The opposite action, emigration from Israel, is referred to as yerida . The return to the Holy Land has been a Jewish aspiration since the Babylonian exile...

repeats the blessings for the second, and a member of any other tribe of Israel to the third reading.

On Shabbat, the reading is divided into seven portions, and the same rules apply for the first three readings, with a "Israelite", non-kohen and non-Levi, called up for the remaining five. If a kohen is not present, any Jew can be called up for any aliyah, but it is the custom in some congregations to then give the first Aliyah to a Levite.

Orthodox Judaism recognizes limited exceptions from the general principle that a Kohen is called first. For example, there are cases where calling a kohen first would prevent individuals celebrating special occasions from each having an aliyah. These include a groom celebrating an ufruf aliyah before a wedding, or a thirteen-year old boy from celebrating his bar mitzvah aliyah. In large synagogues, multiple celebrations at the same time can result in a shortage of aliyot. In these situations, the Kohen is requested to forgo his birthright in respect to the needs of accommodating the occasion, Although halachically, the kohen is entitled to refuse giving up his first aliyah, the kohen will usually agree out of respect for the occasion.

In Conservative Judaism

The Conservative 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...

 has ruled that the practice of calling a kohen to the first aliyah represents a custom rather than a law, and thus, a Conservative rabbi is not obligated to follow it. However, Some Conservative synagogues continue to follow it.

Reform and Reconstructionist views

Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism consider halakhah no longer binding, and believe the entire ancient sacrificial system to be incompatible with modern sensibilities. They also acknowledge that caste or gender-based distinctions such as having a priestly caste with distinct roles and obligations derived from heredity is morally incompatible with the principle of 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...


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....

  • shoulder, cheeks and maw (as an outside-of-Israel priestly gift)

External links