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Who decided which Kohen served in the Temple on any given day?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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Moses divided the Kohanic families into eight rotating shifts (“mishmarot”), each shift serving in the Tabernacle for a one-week term every eight weeks.

With the passage of time, the numbers of the Kohanim greatly increased, and it became necessary for King David to further divide them into 24 shifts; each shift serving in the Temple two one-week shifts a year.

Additionally, each of the shifts was divided into seven smaller family groups, each group eligible to serve one day of that week. Every day there were four lotteries to determine the lucky Kohanim who would actually serve that day. 

The first lottery selected the kohein who would remove the ashes from the altar and prepare it for the day’s service. The second determined the thirteen Kohanim who would participate in the daily service of claring the Menorah, claring the golden altar, preparing, slaughtering, and transporting the morning and afternoon public sacrifices to the ramp of the altar. The third chose the Kohen who would offer the incense. The final lottery picked the Kohen who would take the limbs of the abovementioned sacrifices and put them onto the actual altar.1

During the festivals, when Jerusalem was flooded with pilgrims and their sacrifices, all the Kohanim served together.

Any Kohen who wished to offer his own sacrifice on the altar was permitted to do so any day of the year.

Footnotes

  • 1. Mishnah tractate Yuma 2:2-4

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RELATED CATEGORIES

History » The Holy Temples » Holy Temple Mitzvot
Jewish Identity » Kohains and Levites » The Holy Tribe

Kohanim
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Menorah
Candelabra. Usually a reference to the nine-branched candelabra kindled on the holiday of Chanukah.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
David
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
Tabernacle
Mobile sanctuary which traveled with the Jews in the desert, containing the Ark with the Tablets, and the sacrificial altars. When the Jews entered Israel, it was erected in the city of Shiloh where it remained for more than 300 years. It was buried when the permanent Holy Temple was erected in Jerusalem.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.