Religion & Beliefs

Jewish Priests: Live Long and Prosper

Apparently we just missed a conference of Cohanim and Levites in Jerusalem, who gathered to brush up on the procedures they’ll be in charge of when the third temple is built. This week's conference, sponsored by the Jerusalem-based Center for … Read More

By / July 19, 2007

Apparently we just missed a conference of Cohanim and Levites in Jerusalem, who gathered to brush up on the procedures they’ll be in charge of when the third temple is built.

This week's conference, sponsored by the Jerusalem-based Center for Kohanim, was billed as the first reunion of the priestly family since the days of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. More than 100 people — including a handful from abroad — participated in the conference, which was conducted in English.

In addition to seminars about purity laws for priests and the correct way to offer the blessing of the Kohanim, experts talked about recent DNA testing that validates the belief that today's Kohanim descend from one man who lived about 3,000 years ago, at the time of the Exodus — namely, Aaron. Most Ashkenazi and Sephardi Kohanim around the world have a common set of genetic markers indicating their common origin.

Professor Karl Skorecki of the Rambam Medical Center, who discovered the "Kohen genetic signature," once compared the findings to discovering a piece of clothing used in Aaron's ritual anointment ceremony.

"This is really the longest male dynasty that's still continuing in the world — longer than the Chinese, Indian or any African groups," said Rabbi Yaakov Kleiman, director of the Center for Kohanim and author of "DNA & Tradition: The Genetic Link to the Ancient Hebrews." "Now it can be solidified by genetics; I think that's pretty powerful.

Later on is my favorite part:

Kleiman, who bills himself as a "laboratory-tested Kohen," believes that like the biblical Aaron, he must transmit the blessings of God and perhaps even promote peace among Jews.

(Emphasis mine). Full story

So Kleinman has no problem billing himself as a "laboratory-tested Kohen," which is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard, but he’s not totally sure he should be promoting peace among Jews? I mean, PERHAPS promote peace? I don’t get it. What’s the risk in being pro-peace? Anyway. A couple of years ago I had a really combative meal with an Orthodox rabbi, and when he found out I was a member of an Egalitarian Minyan he nearly hit the roof—after he asked me for the definition of egalitarian. He asked if we were fully egalitarian and I said no, we still held by Cohanim and Levites, a concept that is anything but egalitarian. This only made him think I was more of a whackjob. The idea that I considered Cohanim to be some kind of potentially unfair and unegalitarian entity was so bizarre to him that he forgot for a minute or two to tell me how much of an idiot I was. Fun. I’m not really opposed to the way Cohanim get preference, and I don’t think it’s a horrendous injustice that Jewish priests and Levites are on considered to be on a different level than us plain ‘ol Israelites, but neither do I think it lends Judaism some extra bit of historical credibility that our Cohanim are all related. And I’m not worried about the Cohanim needing to know all kinds of fancy procedures and whatnot for the days when the Temple is rebuilt. For one thing, what with the big mosque in the way, I don’t see reconstruction happening anytime soon. And when it does, I imagine it will take long enough that the Cohanim can take a couple of crash courses. In the meantime, we could really use some of those crack peace-pursuing skills that got Aaron so much acclaim.