Hebrew Bible

Who Were the Temple Priests?

temple closeup
Modern model of the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem

Who were the priests of ancient Israel and why were they so important? What did they do in the Holy Temple, and how do their descendants carry on the tradition today? Read on to learn more!

Biblical origins and roles

Jewish priests, also known in Hebrew as kohanim, are direct patrilineal descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. This special priestly role was given to Aaron and his sons in an eternal covenant directly by God in the Torah.

During Biblical times, according to the Book of Numbers the priests had ritual duties in the Tabernacle, the portable dwelling of the Divine presence that preceded the Temple.

The priests had a key role in the Israelites’ worship and relationship with God, and their main duties included offering the daily and holiday sacrifices, and conducting the Priestly Blessing to bless the nation.

The Priestly Blessing is still conducted by kohanim today, using the same exact words from the Book of Numbers – making it one of the oldest and most meaningful Jewish traditions!

Model of the Biblical Tabernacle
priestly blessing
The ancient Priestly Blessing engraved on a pendant
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The Priestly Blessing is not just recited by kohanim, but also adorns special Jewish jewelry pieces as a protective amulet that can be worn by anyone. Learn more and check out the most meaningful pieces from Israeli artists!

Model of the Second Temple

Holy Temple

Once the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem, it became the center of Jewish ritual life as well that of the priests and their functions. (Check out our other blog posts for the history of the First Temple and the magnificent Second Temple.)

The kohanim continued their role in conducting the most important aspects of Jewish ritual life and connecting the entire nation of Israel to God, and became important leaders in Jerusalem and in Israel, often holding a political role in addition to their religious functions.

With the help of Levites (members of the Tribe of Levi who weren’t priests themselves), rabbis, and learned elders, the priests led religious services, sacrifices, and all aspects of Temple life.

Till this day, kohanim are associated with the Holy Temple despite the fact that it no longer stands today, along with some of the special holy items used for worship such as the Hoshen Priestly Breastplate, the shofarincense, and the seven-branched menorah.

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Representation of the Hoshen Priestly Breastplate

Connect with the ancient priestly tradition and the Holy Temple with amazing Temple-themed gifts from the Land of Israel!

Descendants of Priests today

The priestly lineage still continues in Judaism today, passed on from father to son.

With the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, sacrifices and many other traditional Jewish rituals have been abolished or changed, and hence the roles of kohanim have become much more limited. However, there are a few priestly functions and communal honors that remain today, including:

>>Conducting the Priestly Blessing at services (every day in Israel, and during holidays in the diaspora)

>>Leading the pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn) ceremony for firstborn sons in the community

>>An opportunity to receive the first aliyah honors to the Torah during services, and to lead communal grace after meals prayers

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A necklace with the words of the Priestly Blessing
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The Priestly Blessing depicted along with its traditional hand sign

Kohanim are an important part of not just Jewish history and heritage, but also the Jewish people and our customs today! Their status reminds us that God ordained Israel to be a “nation of priests,” with deeply meaningful opportunities for connecting with the Divine.

If you’re inspired by the priestly tradition, or know a kohen who’d love a special gift honoring their status,  check out our beautiful Priestly Blessing jewelry from Israel – and we have a top 10 list too!

Browse beautiful and meaningful jewelry pieces adorned with the ancient words of the Priestly Blessing, lovingly crafted by Israel’s best artisans.

Blog Topics

/jewish jewelry/verses & blessing jewelry/priestly blessing jewelry

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