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PRIESTHOOD (KAHUNA)

As I am a kohen (priest), I thought it would be nice to provide a resource for information about kohanim including links to books on the laws of being a kohen.

What is a kohen?

Kahuna is usually translated as priesthood.  A person who is part of the kahuna is called a kohen. In the times of the Mishkan and the two Temples in Jerusalem, the kohanim (priests) would perform the temple service including sacrificing animals, offering incense, meal offerings, etc. and blessing the people with a special prayer. The kohanim would also receive gifts from the rest of the Jews called terumah (a small portion of one's produce) and challah (a piece of dough taken off before baking a loaf of bread).

In order for a Jew to be a Kohen, he must be a direct descendant of Aaron (Moses’s brother). In addition to being a descendant, one's family line must be free of Challalim which is the offspring between a kohen and a woman he is forbidden to marry (see laws below). This priesthood has been past down father to son for over 3000 years.

Laws

The laws pertaining to a kohen are too numerous and intricate to fully describe here, but here is a very basic summary:

Today, since it is impossible to be 100% certian that a self-identifying kohen is a real kohen (a true descendant whose family line is free of chalalim), kohanim today do not eat (true) challah or terumah. This is because if a non-kohen would knowingly eat such food, he would be liable to a very serious spiritual punishment (keres). Therefore to be on the safe side, no kohanim today eat such foods.

There is an important concept in Judaism called chazakah. The concept has many applications, but in the context of kohanim, it means that if a kohen today has a family tradition that he is indeed a kohen, he is treated as such for all kohen-related things (excluding terumah and challah as described above). Therefore, kohanim today still perform the rest of the commandments and customs of kohanim such as blessing the Jews in a service called Birchas Kohanim. Additionally, all the prohibitive laws still apply to a kohen today. Very briefly, these laws include the prohibition of a kohen to come into contact with a dead body, limb of a dead body, or even to be in the same building as a dead body. Further laws include being forbidden to marry a woman who is a divorcee, a chalal, oor a zonah (a women who has had relations with a man she is forbidden to marry). Another law practiced today is for non-kohen Jews to honor the kohanim with preference in religious duties.

DNA Evidence

Recently, using DNA statistical tests, researchers have found a gene which is shown to be much higher in kohanim then in other Jews. More on this can be read in the the book DNA & the Bible: The Genetic Link linked below.

Links

The Tribe: The Cohen-Levi Family Heritage
The Temple Institute

Books

Bircas Kohanim
The Kohen's Handbook
A Guide to Birchas Kohanim
DNA & the Bible: The Genetic Link