Rabbi Wein.com The Voice of Jewish History

Rabbi Wein’s Weekly Blog
 Printer Friendly


The Torah obviously envisions the creation within Jewish society of a special rite if not even elitist group of people - the kohanim, the priestly descendants of the family of Aharon.   The existence of such a group within the ranks of Israel – a group that has laws exclusive to it alone and extra economic privileges - seems to fly in the face of all our current democratic ideals and societal fairness and equality. All humans are created equal and the same sets of laws should apply to all of them indiscriminately.
This mantra is currently subscribed to or at the very least, paid lip service to by “progressive” sections of human society. So, by current standards and accepted wisdom, the entire concept of kohanim seems to be an anachronistic one at best. And, it is interesting to me that this idea and grouping itself has lost none of its vitality in the Jewish world over the many millennia of our existence.
I knew a Jew who was a high ranking official in a very left-wing party here in Israel. He was not visibly observant of halacha or Jewish tradition and practice. It so happened that we were walking together to attend a funeral service for a mutual acquaintance of ours and as I was about to enter the funeral hall, he held back and refused to enter stating, quite definitively, “I am a kohein.” That vestige of Judaism was simply something that he could not bring himself to discard.  Apparently, once a kohein always a kohhein.
An insight into this matter can be gleaned from the later description of the role of the kohein by the prophets of Israel. The kohein was charged with being the guardian of faith, the teachers of Torah, and the promoters of social peace and harmony. They were to be the good guys in a world where such people were often difficult to find.
It was this challenge that preserved their special identity throughout history. Every society requires people whose goal in life is to do good without harming others in the process. Other faiths have priestly classes that are devoted to seemingly doing good However, almost without exception in history, doing good somehow always involved persecuting and demeaning others. That was and is not the way of the children of Aharon.
The kohein was a role model and an example of what one should be and can be. His mere presence in society serves as a moderating influence on the mood and behavior of the public in general. Societies require people of altruism and permanent goodness.  When one states that one is a kohein it is much more than a declaration of one’s genealogy.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

Subscribe to our blog via email or RSS to get more posts like this one.