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How was the High Priest chosen, and what was the inaugural process?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » Jewish Identity » Kohains and Levites » The Holy Tribe | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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When there was a vacancy in the position, the 71 member Sanhedrin would appoint a successor. According to the Talmud, the ideal Kohen Gadol (High Priest) differed from his priestly brethren in several ways: in wealth, in physical strength and fitness, in wisdom, and in good looks—no kidding!

But primarily, the Kohen Gadol was chosen by virtue of his spirituality and holiness.

If he was worthy of the mantle, the son of the previous Kohen Gadol inherited his father’s position. Worthiness was determined by piety and fear of G-d, not charisma, scholastics and/or intelligence. If there was no son, or if the Sanhedrin deemed the son unworthy of the high post, the next-in-line heir of the previous Kohen Gadol was considered.

Worthiness was determined by piety and fear of G-d, not charisma, scholastics and/or intelligence
Only if none of the heirs were suitable did the Sanhedrin canvass the general Kohen population to find the most worthy candidate. [These rules of succession also apply to the monarchy, as well as any position of distinction.]

The Kohen Gadol was inducted by being anointed for seven consecutive days with the special anointing oil made by Moses.1 This anointing oil was hidden, along with the Ark, before the destruction of the first Holy Temple.

From that point onwards, and throughout the entire Second Temple era, the high priests’ inauguration consisted of his donning the High Priestly vestments for seven consecutive days.

Footnotes

  • 1. Exodus 30:22-33.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

History » The Holy Temples » Temple Personalities

Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Sanhedrin
The Jewish Supreme Court. The court would convene in a designated chamber in the Holy Temple, and was comprised of 71 of the greatest scholars of the time. Continued after the destruction of the Temples, but was dissolved in the 5th century when due to Roman persecution the seat of Torah scholarship relocated from Israel to Babylon.
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.
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.