Cohen (COH-hen) listen
Cohen (coh-HAIN) listen
Cohen (KOY-en) listen


  • n. A descendant of the Jewish priestly caste, with the tradition of descent from the biblical Aaron. Descendants play special roles in religious services and are subject to certain restrictions.

Example Sentences

  • "He can't go into the cemetery, can he, if he's a Kohen?" (Glinert)

  • "Is anyone in the room a Kohen for Rishon [first aliyah to the Torah reading]?"

Languages of Origin

  • Textual Hebrew
  • Yiddish


  • Hebrew כהן kohen, Yiddish כּהן koyen.

    • Who Uses This

      • Jews: Jews of diverse religious backgrounds and organizational involvements


      • North America
      • Great Britain
      • South Africa
      • Australia / New Zealand


      • The New Joys of Yiddish, by Leo Rosten and Lawrence Bush (New York, 2003[1968]).
      • The JPS Dictionary of Jewish Words, by Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic, (Philadelphia, 2001).
      • The Joys of Hebrew, by Lewis Glinert (New York, 1992).
      • Dictionary of Jewish Usage: A Popular Guide to the Use of Jewish Terms, by Sol Steinmetz (Lanham, MD, 2005).

      Alternative Spellings

      Koyhayn, Coyhayn, Koyheyn, Coyheyn, Coyhein, Koyhein, Koyhen, Coyhen, Koyayn, Coyayn, Koyeyn, Coyeyn, Coyein, Koyein, Koyen, Coyen, Kohayn, Cohayn, Koheyn, Coheyn, Cohein, Kohein, Kohen, Kohanim


  • "A male descendent of the family of Aaron, of the tribe of Levi...Aaron and his descendants were consecrated to the service of God... in the Tabernacle... in the desert and later the Holy Temple" (Steinmetz). Often poorly translated as "priest," though the term "Levite" or "Aaronite" is more accurate, especially due to Christian usage (Steinmetz).

    The term kehuna / kahuna is the form of the word that means that someone is a kohen, used in the form of "they have kehuna," they have 'Levitehood.' The plural is kohanim (Hebrew), or Koyanim/Kehanim (Yiddish).

    Today, the functions of a Kohen are mostly merely hereditary (Steinmetz), though a Kohen is preferred for the first aliyah of a Torah reading, traditionally should not enter a cemetery (unless for the funeral of an immediate family member) or marry a divorcée (Rosten), and they can perform the Priestly Blessing (Cf. duchen). "The Reform movement does not make distinctions as to heritage when it calls congregants for an aliyah" (Eisenberg).

    The phrase "big kahuna" comes from Hawaiian, not Hebrew or Aramaic.

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