The concept of Kohanim is an important aspect of Judaism. Today, there is much confusion regarding who is a kohen. In particular, there is a misconception by most people that someone who claims to be a kohen today is a direct decedent from Aahron HaKohen. This is not true. Not even hundreds of years ago when the yichus (pedigree) of klal yisroel was well protected was this true; all the more so in our modern times is this not true.
The most simple proof of this is the fact that a kohen cannot marry a woman who is a divorcee or had relations with a non-Jew prior to marriage. If a kohen does marry such a woman, his offspring would not only be non-kohanim but they would be known as "challalim"; not only do such people loose the benefits of the kehuna, but they are considered to be on a lower level than a yisroel (i.e. a yisroel takes precedence to a challal when saving a life). Not only would such people be challalim, but every maternal generation until the end of days would be challalim as well. This begs the question, where are these thousands of challalim hiding? Additionally, Rov Moshe Feinstein held that one cannot rely on a tombstones nor non-religious relatives when claiming to be a kohen. Additionally, even if the formerly non-religious wife of a kohen claims to have only had relations in the past with Jewish men, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell if all of these men are considered Jewish in the eyes of halacha (i.e. only his father was Jewish). Furthermore, there is no way to tell if she is fully aware or if she it telling the truth.
Example: David Kahn claims to be a kohen. Every shabbos he gets the first alliya in shule, he goes up to do birchas kohanim, he benches first at meals, etc. He later falls in love with a woman and it turns out she admitted to having relations with her first boyfriend while in college. She at first thought he was Jewish but it turns out only his father was Jewish. If David insists on marrying her, behind the scenes, a Rabbi will "find a way" to suddenly passul his kehuna (i.e. say he is "really not a kohen anyway"). The Rabbi will ask him, was any direct ancestor of yours non-religious? David will then say his grandfather was not really religious (i.e. he had to fight in WW2 and was never was really interested in the Torah). The Rabbi will then declare him a non-Kohen and allow him to marry the woman he wants.
The problem is: If David is truly a kohen then his children would be challalim for eternity. If David is not a kohen, he was never a kohen. If David was never a kohen, then why had he always been treated as a kohen in the past?
There is thus a double standard that people who claim to be kohanim are allowed to do so when it benefits them, but not when it doesn't. Other times, this dichotomy will exist and the person will still call himself a kohen when infact he is a challal or non-kohen. There are several other such circumstances; one of them being a person will find an old document in his attic or visit a tombstone saying his father or paternal grandfather was a kohen and then claim to be a kohen himself when in fact such evidence is invalid.
To summarize: The concept of kehuna is a Torah mitzvah and is important together with all mitzvos, yet we must not delude ourselves into believing it is something it clearly is not. If this was true hundreds of years ago, it is all the more true today- a hundred times over. Please listen to the shiurim below:R" Moshe Feinstein on Kohanim
R" Taubes on Kohanim
Why is a Kohen not give priority status in our times? Mishna Berura & Shulchan Aruch
You can download or read the full sforim below in pdf format by clicking on their respective images.
Source 1: Medicine and Jewish Law, Volume 1 chapter 5, 1993) (Author: Fred Rosner, Talmid of Rav Moshe Feinstein). Nishmat Avraham, Volume 2, Yoreh Deah 252:2.
Why make this website?
For a long time there has been confusion regarding Hilchos Kohanim, particularly regarding the issue of Honoring Kohanim and marriage and divorce. When do we honor a Kohen and when do we not? Why do we not give a Kohen priority when giving tzedaka or when saving a life in a hospital yet we do give him priority in the receiving the first alliya? We see as far back to the 1600s in the Magen Avraham and later in the Mishna Berura that the Minhag HaOlam was that people were not granting Kohanim precedence for nearly all things due to a lack of yichos (pedigree) of modern-day Kohanim. Is there a difference between what one is obligated to do on an halachic level and what is voluntary to do regarding people who claim to be Kohanim today? Why is there so often a different answer when asking a Rabbi a theoretical question about Kohanim apposed to real-life cases? To answer these questions: after much thorough and objective research, this website has been created.
Sources: "Magen Avroham סי"רא ס"ק ד מובא גם במ"ב שם ס"ק יג", "Nishmat Avraham, Yoreh Deah 252:2, The Yavetz, מגדל עוז, אבן בוחן, פנה א ס"ק פט, Yaakov Eden, Op. cit., part 1:89. “Tiferet Yisreol - Yevukash Da’at” 39. “Rivosh 94", “Mahrashdam E.H. 235, "Rambam’s Commentary to Mishna” Horiyos 3:8, "Beis Ephraim 6". "Halacha Hotline of 5 Towns", Rav Binyomin Forst Shlita of the 5 Towns and Far Rockaway (says not to give Kohen preference for charity or first portion at a meal etc).
Sources: "Magen Avraham סי"רא ס"ק ד מובא גם במ"ב שם ס"ק יג", "Nishmat Avraham, Yoreh Deah 252:2, The Yavetz, מגדל עוז, אבן בוחן, פנה א ס"ק פט, Yaakov Eden, Op. cit., part 1:89. “Tiferet Yisreol - Yevukash Da’at” 39. “Rivosh 94", “Mahrashdam E.H. 235, "Rambam’s Commentary to Mishna” Horiyos 3:8, "Beis Ephraim 6". "Halacha Hotline of 5 Towns", Rav Binyomin Forst Shlita of the 5 Towns and Far Rockaway (says not to give Kohen preference for charity or first portion at a meal etc). Rabbi Yaakov Klass- Jewish Press
It is highly recommended that you listen to or download the shiur above
"Kohanim today do not have the yichos which they had during the days of the Beit Hamikdash. Nor do Kohanim have today the yichos which they had after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash during the times of the Tannaim and Amoraim. Due to our long exile, the Kohanim and Leviem have without a doubt become mixed up amongst the people. Our divorce'es have become mixed up amongst the people- and it should only be that the seed of the holy should not become mixed up with the seed of the secular. However, the seed of the Kohanim and Leviem- if not all of them have become mixed up then most of them have become mixed up. If not most of them have become mixed up then half of them have become mixed up." "We do not give challa to a even a child Kohein, let alone an adult Kohein, because they do not have yichos and we do not know if they are true Kohanim."