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The name Cohen, from which the familynames Cahn, Cahen and Katz are derived, was not originally a family name, but the Hebrew term for priest. The office of priest was bequeathed by Aaron, the brother of Moses, to his descendants, so that a tribe of priests became established in Biblical times. When the Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70 CE, the Tribe of Priests lost their religious role. However, the personal name has survived until the present day, along with certain distinctive practices within orthodox Judaism: descendants of the Tribe of Priests perform special roles during worship in the synagogue the representation of two hands lifted in prayer on gravestones indicates that the deceased belonged to the Tribe of Priests; and Cohens had to observe certain special rules with regard to Jewish marriage laws.
However, descent from the Tribe of Priests is without significance in Jewish communal life, and is not a requirement for becoming a rabbi. As the Cohens are descendants of the Tribe of Priests, so the Levis are the tribal descendants of the Levites.

© Jüd. Museum Frankfurt 1992-2002 /  Sources