Sunday, January 3, 2010

Birkat Kohanim

Most Messianic Jews are familiar with the Birkat Kohanim--the priestly blessing which God commanded Aaron and his sons to bless Israel with. You may have grown up hearing this blessing pronounced by one of the leaders at your synagogue. What you might not know is that Jewish halakha the Torah specifies that only Kohanim should pronounce this blessing:
The LORD said to Moses, "Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
" ' "The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace." '
"So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."
Num 6:22-27
The Wikipedia article on Birkat Kohanim is worth reading. One highlight:
In the case where no Kohanim are present in the synagogue (but there still is a minyan) the hazzan will read the prayer verse by verse, and the congregation will respond after each verse with "kein yehi ratzon, may it be God's Will." This response is used instead of "Amen," because the hazzan is merely "mentioning" the blessing, as it were, and not actually performing the ritual. However, many congregations (including Chabad) do indeed respond "Amen." This response is also employed on days and times when the Amidah is publicly repeated but the Kohanim do not recite the priestly blessing.
(For the holidays, I received Leonard Cohen's Live in London DVD from a good friend.) So, in closing, here's one famous Cohen giving the Birkat Kohanim:

Do you have any Kohanim in your congregation? If so, do they pronounce the Birkat Kohanim?

Post-note: please don't take this post as a criticism of non-Cohen leaders or congregations employing this blessing; I really am grateful when anyone pronounces a blessing over me! By sharing the quotation from the Wikipedia article, I actually wanted to highlight the creative yet simple way that Jewish practice manages to preserve the priestly responsibility to carry out the mitzvah of Num. 6:22-27 without forbidding communities who don't have any Kohanim from employing this wonderful blessing as well.

8 comments: said...

We had Rabbi Michael Schiffman come and speak on a recent Shabbat. It was a rare chance for us to have a male cohen give the blessing.

It seems we have had a hard time in the nine years of our little synagogue's existence getting Jewish men to be involved, much less cohanim.

Thanks for the post and blessings and peace in the new year.

Derek Leman

Judah Gabriel Himango said...

At our congregation, we allow anyone to give the blessing, and we're glad to receive it regardless. I've given it a few times myself, and I'm not a cohen.

A number of Messianic music artists have given it as well: Meha Shamayim, Evan Levine, Ted Pearce, and others.

Anonymous said...

I wish that my shul had ONE person say the blessing, rather than having everyone sing it together. It's especially awkward given that the Torah EXPLICITLY commands Aaron (and, by implication, his descendants) to speak this blessing over the children of Israel. It's not like we can argue with the Torah on this point.

Not to mention it's one of the few remaining spiritual duties of the cohanim in the 21st century. Let's not rob them of the opportunity to make a mitzvah simply because we've always done it in a way that's ill-informed.

Yahnatan Lasko said...

Judah: I regret giving the impression that I was ungrateful if anyone other than a Kohan pronounced this blessing over me (see above notes).

Actually, it wasn't until recently that I correlated the fact that the Torah gives this responsibility to Aaron and his sons with the fact that we still have Kohanim around today (even though at my congregation this is stated each week before administration of the blessing...and no, it's not by a Kohan). This was just ignorance on my part.

When I discovered this, I was also pleased to discover that the halakha surrounding the blessing is designed to maintain awareness of this priestly responsibility without impairing communities without Kohanim.

Yahnatan Lasko said...

As for Messianic music artists giving it: I don't have any problem with this either, as (I believe) the halakhic distinctions only apply in a community setting, and they exist for the purpose of preserving a responsibility, not excluding people from ever reading (or singing!) these verses. :-)

Yahnatan Lasko said...

I do have a problem with this, however:


Yahnatan Lasko said...

Anonymous, you wrote: "Let's not rob them of the opportunity to make a mitzvah..."

I agree...that was definitely the motivation behind my post.

josh said...

there are actually a lot of orthodox rabbis (poskim) who say that Kohanim today are not real Kohanim (with the exception of the Rapaport family) because they have become lost. see