Cohen-Levi: The Tribe, the Family Heritage

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Jewish Genes & Genealogy

Kohen = Cohen are the priestly family of the Jewish people. The Torah (the Bible) describes the annointment of Aharon, the brother of Moses, as the first High Priest (Kohen Gadol). The books of Exodus and Leviticus describe the responsibilities of the Kohanim, which include the Temple service, blessing of the people and spiritual healing. The Kohanim are a family of the Tribe of Levi.

The office of Cohen was granted to Aharon and his sons and to all their male progeny for all generations. The Torah states a number of times that the priesthood is an eternal covenant with the descendants of Aharon, the first Kohen, never to be lost.

Molecular geneticists have recently discovered the “Cohen Modal Haplotype” which is a DNA signature consisting of specific genetic markers on the Y chromosome of the Cohens. This indicates a direct patrilineal descent of present day Kohanim from a single ancient ancestor, precisely as described in the Torah.

Explanations and implications are quoted as follows:

“The simplest, most straightforward explanation is that these men have the Y chromosome of Aharon. The study suggests that a 3,000-year-old tradition is correct, and has a biological counterpart.”

Dr. Karl Skorecki, New York Times, January 7, 1997.

“It’s a beautiful example of how father to son transmission of two things, one genetic, one cultural, gives you the same picture.”

Prof. Michael Hammer, New York Times, January 7, 1997.

“For more than 90 percent of the Cohens to share the same genetic markers after such a period of time is a testament to the devotion of the wives of the Cohens over the years. Even a low rate of infidelity would have dramatically lowered the percentage.”

Dr. David Goldstein, Oxford University, Science News, October 3, 1998.

“Like first experiencing the Western Wall in Jerusalem, it’s to me an extraordinary moving and intense experience of history and sacred history coming together. I think the Y chromosome research does the same thing genetically. It is a tangible embodied moment of connection to our past.”

L. Dorfman, San Francisco State University, Science News, October 3, 1998.

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