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Grave of Kohen and chief rabbi Meschullam Kohn (1739–1819) in Fürth . The hands show the blessing of the Kohanim when speaking the Aaronic blessing , the crown symbolizes above all the "good name" and the dignity of the buried.
Gravestone ( Mazewa ) in Bonn-Schwarzrheindorf

The Kohanim ([ kohaˈnɪm ], Hebrew כהנים, Plural of Kohen [ koˈhɛn ], HebrewכהןAccording to tradition, they were a subgroup of the Levites , the temple-service tribe among the twelve tribes of Israel . They are considered to be the direct descendants of Aaron , who was a brother of Moses .

The Kohanim served at the altar in the Jerusalem Temple . The Kohen Gadol 'Great Kohen' , that is, the high priest , was the highest religious authority in Judaism . However, the differences between the Kohanim and the rest of the Levites in terms of their roles and powers had been partially eliminated since the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. Some special rules and purity laws apply to Kohanim. On certain occasions ( Yom tov or only on Yom Kippur ), the Aaronic Blessing is spoken of by them, in which, among other things, a certain position of the hands and fingers is prescribed (which then became a kind of Kohen symbol, which one particularly emphasizes finds their gravestones ). The gesture is interpreted as a replica of the letter Shin of the Hebrew alphabet, which is supposed to represent the first letter of the word (El) Shaddai (the Almighty).

Temple office in the Bible

At the time of the first and second temples

The beginnings of the temple office are expressed in various forms in the biblical narratives. Temple service functions such as the building of the altar and sacrifice are initially performed by the fathers of the family such as Noah and Abraham . According to the Book of Exodus, an institutionalization takes place during the Israelites' stay at Sinai. Accordingly, Moses consecrated his older brother Aaron as the first Kohen Gadol (literally "Great Kohen") based on God's commandment (cf. Exodus 28: 3 ). According to tradition, all later Jewish Kohanim descend from this. The descendants of Moses themselves do not belong to the Kohanim. The other descendants of the son of Jacob Levi are considered to be Levites, which especially after the presentation of the Book of Numbers denotes a lower temple office. When they immigrated to Canaan , the Levi tribe was not assigned a tribal area, but special Levite cities. The material supply of the Kohanim and Levites was entrusted to the care of the people. People who were of non-Levitic origin were considered illegitimate Kohanim, like the idolatrous Baals priests of the northern kingdom. Especially the books of the Chronicle include all temple servants, including the singers and threshold guards, in Levitical genealogies. What possible historical processes are behind the disputes that are reflected in the biblical texts remains largely speculation.

According to the Chronicle, David divided the Kohanim into 24 families, which served on a rotating basis. However, this is more likely to reflect the historical conditions in Judah of the Hellenistic period. The names of the 24 classes are also documented from fragments of synagogal inscriptions from the Byzantine period from the land of Israel but also from Yemen. The texts from Qumran differ from this using a system of 26 classes, which is adapted to the needs of the calendar of the Qumran community.

At the time of the Herodian Temple

In the year 70 Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans under Emperor Titus after a long siege . In the process, the last temple building , the magnificent temple of Herod the Great, was completely destroyed according to the Roman philosophy of war ( solo adaequare 'razing to the ground' ). After that, the temple office probably had little practical function. The observance of the Kohanim and other Levites continues, however. Last names like “Kohn” or “Cohan” often indicate members of the Kohanim.

The Kohanim speak the Aaronic blessing in the synagogue , they are called to public reading of the Torah in front of the other Jews , and some specific commandments of the Torah still apply to them today; For example, they are normally not allowed to marry widows, converts or divorced women and non-Jews. They are also not allowed to enter a cemetery or touch the dead. A Kohen is only allowed to attend funerals of his closest relatives (parents, children, siblings). Proximity to a deceased is considered impure and is forbidden to a kohen.

Consecration and Investiture

Traditional costumes and cult items

The Kohen had to show full life in his person and keep away everything that reminded of death, physical or moral weakness. So one who had a physical infirmity could not exercise the office of Kohen ( Lev 21.17  EU ) At any time the Kohen had to be able to appear before the deity in a pure state , otherwise he would be guilty of death ( Lev 22.3  EU ). He had to bathe and wash himself before the holy act ( Ex 30.19  EU ) and to abstain from wine and intoxicating drinks during the service time ( Lev 10.9  EU ).

A solemn consecration stood at the beginning of the entry of a member of the Kohanim family into active service ( Ex 29  EU ; LevEU ). After the kohen was washed with water and thereby freed from everything impure and worldly, he was invested , provided with the kohen's garment and then anointed with oil. Through the anointing with the holy oil, the preparation of which was precisely prescribed in the Torah and which no one was allowed to imitate ( Ex 30.22  EU ), the Kohen was made holy and equipped for service. This was followed by a threefold act of sacrifice, the atonement of an ox (bullock), the burnt offering of a ram, and the institution offering of a ram. The blood of the ram smeared the ear, hand and foot of the right side, and the cohen's clothes. The purpose of the blood smear was similar to that of the anointing; she wanted to endow the Kohanim with divine life. The blood represents the power of life. Finally certain pieces of the ram of institution were placed on the hands of the Kohen and so his hands were filled ( 1 Kings 13,33  EU ). That had a twofold symbolism. On the one hand it was stated that the Kohen took the offerings of the people in his hands and offered them to God, on the other hand it was explained that YHWH assigns the offerings to him and thus he has his livelihood.

The actual Kohani office

Smoke offering

The main office of the Kohanim was the service at the altar and inside the sanctuary behind the curtain ( Num 18.7  EU ) to offer the daily smoke offering ( Num 17.5  EU , Ex 30.7f.  EU , Lk 1.8ff.  EU ), trim the candlestick ( Ex 27,21  EU ) and every week the show bread hang ( Lev 24.8  EU ). At the altar of burnt offerings, they did the blasting of the blood ( Lev 1.5–8  EU ), the cremation of the victim ( Lev 1.9  EU ), the pouring out of the donations ( Num 6.17  EU ), the weaving of the sacrificial pieces ( Lev 14, 24  EU ). After the service, the Kohen on duty gave the blessing ( Num 6.23  EU , Lev 9.22  EU ). On the feast days Kohanim led the course of the celebration with trumpet signals ( Num 10,10  EU ). Some Kohanim mixed precious ointments ( 1 ChrEU ).

Supervision of the temple and temple square

The temple was also a treasury. Large sums of cash, votive gifts, valuable implements and robes, stores of sacrificial supplies were kept in his cells and sacred rooms. The supervision of the temple and the temple square was carried out by Kohanim with the help of Levites. Three respected threshold guardians ( 2 Kings 25.18  EU ) had to ensure that no unauthorized person entered the temple square and that nothing improper happened in the holy courtyard. The overseer was able to put the troublemakers in blocks and neck irons ( Jer 29.26  EU ). If someone was excluded from worship, for example due to the impurity of the leprosy, he had to face the Kohen in order to be admitted to the temple area again ( Lev 13  EU , Mt 8.4  EU ). Thus the Kohanim also became a kind of medical expert, as was often the case in ancient times with medicine and the temple office.


The Temple Mount must not be desecrated by the dead. However, when two Israeli police officers were killed on the Temple Mount in July 2017, they had to be transported away. Jews are prohibited from entering the Temple Mount. This is reserved for the Kohanim. These, in turn, are not allowed to touch the dead, or even approach them. The ZAKA Rabbinical Council ( Hebrew זיהוי קרבנות אסון; Zihuy Korbanot Ason'un , German for 'identification of accident victims' , abbreviatedזק״א), an Orthodox organization for the identification of accident victims, decided in this religious conflict that the restoration of the sanctity of the Temple Mount was a priority and a special group of Kohanim should be allowed to enter the Temple Mount and remove the bodies. This was connected with conditions, so the Kohanim shouldn't wear shoes, shouldn't have long hair and they had to go to a mikveh , the ritual immersion bath, beforehand .

Outside the sanctuary

The Kohanim also had their duties outside of the sanctuary, in public and private life. They taught the people the liturgical customs, secreted between the holy and profane, unclean and the clean ( Ezekiel 22,26  EU ; 44.23 EU ) and other intricate ritual questions ( Hag 2.11  EU , tangible 7.3  EU ). They were in charge of the holy scriptures ( Dtn 17.18  EU ) and were important legal authorities in public disputes and in private conscience ( Ezek 44.21  EU ). The punishments they imposed were mostly cultic in the form of offerings or fines for the temple.

Official costume

The Kohen entered the sanctuary without footwear but not bareheaded. In Israel, as in Egypt and Babylonia, only linen was used for the Kohen's official clothing . Wool was forbidden and frowned upon because of the development of sweat ( Hes 44.17  EU ).

The Kohen's dress has changed over the centuries. In ancient times, the Kohen employed at the shrine wore nothing but a linen apron ( 1 Sam 2.18  EU ; 22.18 EU ). King David was only dressed in an efod (linen apron) when the ark was hauled in and otherwise naked ( 2 Sam 6,14–20  EU ). Outside of the service, the priests wore an upper garment over the efod ( 1 Sam 21.9  EU ).

The official dress of the later period was more varied. It consisted of two pieces, the short lower leg dress, which was worn on the naked body and long, to the feet reaching unsewn sleeves Rock ( Kuttonet ) from the finest linen woven ( Ex 28,40  EU ; 39.27 EU ). The high, cone-shaped hat made of linen, which was not removed on duty, and a brightly knitted belt made of the four holy fabrics, twisted linen, blue and red purple and crimson thread, completed and enlivened the white clothing.

Income of the Kohanim

The income of the Kohanim was regulated by custom, later by the Torah. At the public sanctuaries, the Kohanim lived from sacrificial service. Certain penalties and fines also fell to the Kohanim ( 2 Kings 12.17  EU ).

The main income was a three-year tithe , part of which went to the entire cult staff ( Dtn 14.28  EU ). The Kohan received the forefoot, jawbones and stomach of each sacrifice, and they were also entitled to the best of the crops (grain, must and oil) and a fee from sheep shearing ( Dtn 18.3  EU ). With the enlargement of the Jerusalem temple offices and the rise of the rank, the income of the Kohanim increased. Sacred law now assigned them more income ( Num 18.8  EU ; Neh 10.36–40  EU ). The Kohanim got their part from the meat of the substitute and atonement offerings, insofar as it could be consumed by humans at all ( Lev 6,19  EU ; 7,6 EU ), also from the food offerings, the showbread and the fat of the burnt offerings, as well as from the right breast and leg including the sacrificial cake for each stool victim.

The sacrificial pieces were used for maintenance by the incumbent Kohanim and their families. The most holy pieces (atonement, substitute, meal offerings and showbread) were only allowed to be consumed by the male Kohanim ( Lev 21,22  EU ) in the inner courtyard. The rest also from family members and outside the sanctuary, but only in a state of Levitic purity and in a clean place.

In the state of Israel

Since 1970 the Aaronic blessing from 4 Mos 6,24  EU has been spoken on the holidays of Passover and Sukkot by hundreds of Kohanim and transmitted to the Western Wall via loudspeakers .

Kohen as a modern family name

The spelling of the name varies in the various national languages, cf. Coh (e) n , Kahane , Kagan , Kaner , Kohn , Kohne , Kuhn , Cahn and Kahn , but also Katz etc. Well-known namesake include Ethan and Joel Coen , Albert Cohen , Hermann Cohen , Leonard Cohen , Meir Cohen , Sacha Baron Cohen , Arthur Cohn , Falk Cohn , Oskar Cohn , Daniel Cohn-Bendit , Elena Kagan , Oleg Kagan , Meir Kahane , Herman Kahn , Leonid Kogan , Béla Kun , Fritz Kortner (actually: Fritz Kohn), Dominique Strauss-Kahn .

See also




  1. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot and Shmini Atzeret
  2. According to Salomon Ganzfried's Kizzur Schulchan Aruch , Vol. II., Chapter 100 (in the translation of Selig Bamberger):

    "You raise your hands [...], stretch them out and divide your fingers so that there are five spaces between them, that is a space between each two fingers and a space between two fingers and the thumb, and also on the other hand, there are four spaces between them, and between one thumb and the other there is also a space between them, that is, five spaces […] you have to be very careful that the tips of the thumbs do not touch each other so that the space between them is not destroyed; they have to hold the right hand a little higher than the left, and the right thumb is above the left thumb […] and they spread their hands so that the inside of their hands is turned to the earth and the back of their hands to the sky. "

Individual evidence

  1. Joel S. Kaminsky, Joel N. Lohr: The Torah: A Beginner's Guide . Oneworld Publications, 2011, ISBN 978-1-78074-094-2 (English, limited preview in Google Book Search [accessed May 27, 2016]).
  2. German Djanatliev, reviewed and confirmed by Rabbi Shimon Grossberg: Burial and mourning time - The funeral . From ikg-nuernberg.de, accessed on August 16, 2017
  3. Paul Volz: The biblical antiquities . Edition Komet, Cologne 2004, ISBN 3-89836-316-3 . P. 65
  4. Two police officers die in an attack on the Temple Mount. In: Tagesspiegel . July 14, 2017. Retrieved July 18, 2017 .
  5. Ayala Goldmann: Corpses are not allowed to stay on the Temple Mount. In: Jüdische Allgemeine . August 10, 2017. Retrieved August 16, 2017 .
  6. Aaronic blessing on the western wall. In: Israelnetz .de. October 16, 2019, accessed October 22, 2019 .