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What were the duties of the Kohen Gadol?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » History » The Holy Temples » Temple Personalities | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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The Kohen Gadol was required to bring a special bread sacrifice every day, and only the Kohen Gadol was allowed to perform the sacred Yom Kippur service. Additionally, the Kohen Gadol had first rights to the daily lighting of the Menorah, and the daily burning of the incense; if he wished to do these services, or any other service, his wish was respected.

He would wear four “royal” garments in addition to the standard four which were worn by all Kohanim. The Kohen Gadol would also hand a Torah scroll to the king to read at the octennial rally known as Hakhel (pronounced HAK-hel).

The Kohen Gadol was also commanded to wed a virgin, unlike his priestly brothers who are allowed to marry widows.

The only time a Kohen Gadol may be involved with a corpse, is if he encounters a Mes Mitzvah (a corpse that is strewn on the road, and no one else is in the vicinity to give it a proper burial). This is because the dignity of the Jewish body supercedes all other considerations
Because of his heightened status, the Kohen Gadol dedicated his life to the service of G-d. He was to spend his days on the Temple grounds, where he was provided with private chambers, serving as a living symbol of total dedication to the most spiritual things in life. He lived in Jerusalem and would go home every night.


Due to the special holiness which the Kohanim possess, they are forbidden from coming in contact with a corpse or grave. One who comes in contact with a corpse or grave contracts a spiritual impurity which lasts for at least seven days, and can only be removed through the ashes of the Red Heifer. The exception to this rule is if a member of the Kohen's immediate family passes away. In this case, out of respect for the family-member, the Kohen is obligated to attend the funeral and pay his final respects - despite the impurity which this entails.

The Kohen Gadol, who is even holier than the average Kohen, can't attend a funeral, even if it is his own next of kin.

The only time a Kohen Gadol may be involved with a corpse, is if he encounters a Mes Mitzvah (a corpse that is strewn on the road, and no one else is in the vicinity to give it a proper burial). This is because the dignity of the Jewish body supercedes all other considerations.


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RELATED CATEGORIES

Jewish Identity » Kohains and Levites » The Holy Tribe

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Yom Kippur
Day of Atonement. This late-autumn high-holiday is the holiest day of the year. We devote this day to repentance and all healthy adults are required to fast.
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.
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.
Red Heifer
A cow that was completely red. This cow was burned together with several ingredients, and its ash, mixed with water, was sprayed upon certain impure people in order to purify them.
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.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.