Who are the real kohens? Speaking simply and shortly, they are representatives of the priests’ race. In the Torah it was said that after Aaron was made the chief high priest, his sons were honored to become priests. They were descended from the tribe of Levi, but unlike the rest of the Levites, they were engaged in a strictly sacred service. To some extent, this is perhaps the most honorable “branch” of the Levite race.
And, of course, based on such a responsible role, the law attributes special orders to them. For example, the presence of a physical handicap did not allow the kohens to serve in the Temple. And in the regulations are due not only inborn flaws, but even temporary (wounds or injuries). There were 140 such restrictions.
In addition, the kohens were forbidden to touch the dead (except the closest relatives), and also visit the cemeteries. Also serious demands were put forward to the issue of the marriage of priests. For example, it is forbidden to marry a divorced, disgraced, harlot, and even that woman who adopted Judaism by conversion. If such a forbidden marriage did take place, the Jewish religious court soon obtained the divorce of such a priest. All this is due to the fact that from the kohens, as representatives of the priesthood, they expect special ritual purity and holiness. Therefore, even such restrictions can to some extent be called a privilege.
Of course, the life of a cohen does not consist of restrictions alone. On the contrary, in the Jewish people they have always enjoyed special respect. And even the Law assumed for them a number of privileges. For them, a part of the harvest was severed — the “Trumah” and parts of the sacrificial animals. Also, when reading the Torah, they are called first, giving them an advantage.
Now, when the Temple is not there, the kohens do not have so many of their original duties. But one of them is Aaron’s blessing which remains relevant in most Jewish communities. They carry out the blessing with both hands, pushing the fingers apart in a special way. They explain that this gap between the fingers symbolizes the Almighty, who stands behind the kohens and their blessings. It is this symbol of the open palms that most often distinguishes the burials of the kohens.
Modern descendants of kohens often bear surnames, indicating their honorable origin. Variations can be: Kohen, Kohn, Kogan, Kaganovich. But it is worth noting that it is these surnames that are now the most common among the Jews. And therefore quite often they do not have a direct relationship to the origin. Although in this case this surname may well indicate that the kohens were still in this family.