Levite

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Levites
לויים
Moses Pleading with Israel (crop).jpg DD Frauenkirche Aaron.jpg InfantSamuel.jpg
The High Priest of the Samaritans with the Codex Nablus c. 192.jpg Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz Lecturing at Smithsonian.jpg Ken Levine at E3 2011.jpg
Total population
Around 1-1.1 million worldwide[a]
Regions with significant populations
 Israel 360,000
 United States 300,000
 France 38,000
 Canada 25,000
Languages
Vernacular:
Hebrew, English
Historical:
Ancient Hebrew, Aramaic
Religion
Judaism, Samaritanism
Related ethnic groups
Jews, Samaritans
Footnotes
Levites (priests) also include the Kohens (high priests) and are closely affiliated with Jewish or Samaritan communities

In Jewish tradition, a Levite (/ˈlvt/, Hebrew: לֵוִי, Modern Levi Tiberian Lēwî ; "Attached") is a member of the Hebrew tribe of Levi. When Joshua led the Israelites into the land of Canaan (Joshua 13:33), the Levites were the only Israelite tribe that received cities but were not allowed to be landowners "because the Lord the God of Israel Himself is their inheritance" (Deuteronomy 18:2).[1][2] The Tribe of Levi served particular religious duties for the Israelites and had political responsibilities as well. In return, the landed tribes were expected to give tithe to the Levites, particularly the tithe known as the Maaser Rishon, or Levite Tithe. Historically they were the priestly classes in Judaism who had exclusive rights to learn and teach Torah to others. In current Jewish practice, dating from the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the communal privileges and responsibilities of Levites are mainly limited to the synagogue Torah reading and the ritual of pidyon haben.

Moses and his brother, Aaron, were both Levites. Notable descendants of the Levite dynasty according to the Bible include Miriam, Samuel, Ezekiel, Ezra, and Malachi. The descendants of Aaron, who was the first kohen gadol, high priest, of Israel, were designated as the priestly class, the Kohanim. As such, kohanim comprise a family dynasty (although people claiming to be kohanim have many haplogroups) within the tribe of Levi, and thus all kohanim are traditionally considered to be Levites, but not all Levites are kohanim.

In the Bible[edit]

The tribe is named after Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob (also called Israel). Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (Genesis 46:11).


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Levi
 
 
 
Melcha
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gershon
 
Kohath
 
Merari
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Jochebed
 
 
 
Amram
 
Izhar
 
Hebron
 
Uzziel
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Miriam
 
Aaron
 
Moses
 
 
 

Kohath's son Amram was the father of Miriam, Aaron and Moses. The descendants of Aaron: the Kohanim ("Priests"), had the special role as priests in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and also in the Temple in Jerusalem. The remaining Levites (Levi'yim in Hebrew), divided into three groups (the descendants of Gershon, or Gershonites, the descendants of Kohath, or Kohathites, and the descendants of Merari, or Merarites) each filled different roles in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple services.

Levites' principal roles in the Temple included singing Psalms during Temple services, performing construction and maintenance for the Temple, serving as guards, and performing other services. Levites also served as teachers and judges, maintaining cities of refuge in Biblical times. The Book of Ezra reports that the Levites were responsible for the construction of the Second Temple and also translated and explained the Torah when it was publicly read.

In Egypt the Levites were the only tribe that remained committed to God. During the Exodus the Levite tribe were particularly zealous in protecting the Mosaic law in the face of those worshipping the Golden Calf, which may have been a reason for their priestly status.[3]

In the Torah[edit]

In the Book of Numbers the Levites were charged with ministering to the Kohanim (priests) and keeping watch over the Tabernacle:

2 And with you bring your brother also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony.3 They shall keep guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die.4 They shall join you and keep guard over the tent of meeting for all the service of the tent, and no outsider shall come near you.5 And you shall keep guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel.6 And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the Lord, to do the service of the tent of meeting. Numbers 18:2-6 (ESV)

In the Prophets[edit]

The Book of Jeremiah speaks of a covenant with the Kohanim (priests) and Levites, connecting it with the covenant with the seed of King David:

As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured; so will I multiply the seed of David My servant, and the Levites that minister unto Me.
And the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying:
'Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying: The two families which the LORD did choose, He hath cast them off? Jeremiah 33:22-24

The prophet Malachi also spoke of a covenant with Levi:

Know then that I have sent this commandment unto you, that My covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.
My covenant was with him of life and peace, and I gave them to him, and of fear, and he feared Me, and was afraid of My name.
The law of truth was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found in his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and did turn many away from iniquity. Malachi 2:4-6

Malachi connected a purification of the "sons of Levi" with the coming of God's messenger:

Behold, I send My messenger, and he shall clear the way before Me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, will suddenly come to His temple, and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, behold, he cometh, saith the LORD of hosts.
But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap;
And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver; and there shall be they that shall offer unto the LORD offerings in righteousness. Malachi 3:1-3

In Biblical criticism[edit]

The parts of the Torah attributed by advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis to the Elohist, seem to treat Levite as a descriptive attribute for someone particularly suited to the priesthood, rather than as the designator of a tribe and feel that Moses and Aaron are being portrayed as part of the Joseph group rather than being part of a tribe called Levi.[4] The Levites are not mentioned by the Song of Deborah considered one of the oldest passages of the Bible. Jahwist passages have more ambiguous language; traditionally interpreted as referring to a person named Levi they could also be interpreted as just referring to a social position titled levi.[5] In the Blessing of Jacob (later than the Song of Deborah), Levi is treated as a tribe, cursing them to become scattered; critics regard this as an aetiological postdiction to explain how a tribe could be so scattered, the simpler solution being that the priesthood was originally open to any tribe, but gradually became seen as a distinct tribe to themselves.[5][6] In the Priestly Source and Blessing of Moses, which critical scholars view as originating centuries later, the Levites are firmly established as a tribe, and the only tribe with the right to be priests.

In contemporary Jewish practice[edit]

Today, Levites in Orthodox Judaism continue to have additional rights and obligations compared to lay people, although these responsibilities have diminished with the destruction of the Temple. For instance, Kohanim are eligible to be called to the Torah first, followed by the Levites. Levites also provide assistance to the Kohanim, particularly washing their hands, before the Kohanim recite the Priestly Blessing. They also do not participate in the Pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn) ceremony, because they are traditionally pledged to Divine service. Conservative Judaism recognizes Levites as having special status, but not all Conservative congregations call Kohanim and Levites to the first and second reading of the Torah, and many no longer perform rituals such as the Priestly Blessing and Pidyon Haben in which Kohanim and Levites have a special role. Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism do not observe the distinctions between Kohanim, Levites, and other Jews.

Orthodox Judaism believes in the eventual rebuilding of a Temple in Jerusalem and a resumption of the Levitical role. There is a small number of schools, primarily in Israel, to train priests and Levites in their respective roles. Conservative Judaism believes in a restoration of the Temple as a house of worship and in some special role for Levites, although not the ancient sacrificial system as previously practiced.

Kohens[edit]

The Kohanim are traditionally believed and halachically required to be of direct patrilineal descent from the Biblical Aaron of the Levi tribe.

The noun kohen is used in the Torah to refer to priests, both Israelite and non-Israelite, such as the Israelite nation as a whole, as well as the priests (Hebrew kohanim) of Baal. During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, Kohanim performed the daily and holiday (Yom Tov) duties of sacrificial offerings.

Today kohanim retain a lesser though somewhat distinct status within Judaism, and are bound by additional restrictions according to Orthodox Judaism.

Bat Levi[edit]

A Bat Levi (daughter of a Levite) is no longer recognized by many rishonim as having lineal sanctity in both Orthodox and Conservative Judaism,[7] stemming from her traditional eligibility to receive proceeds of the Levitical tithe (Maaser Rishon). In both Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism, children of a Bat Levi, regardless of her marital status or husband's tribe, retain the traditional exemption for their children from the requirement of being redeemed through the Pidyon HaBen. Contrary to popular belief, this is not due to any sort of lineal sanctity,[8] but rather, it is a mitzvah similar to all other mitzvahs.

Conservative Judaism permits a Bat Levi to perform essentially all the rituals a male Levi would perform, including being called to the Torah for the Levite aliyah in those Conservative synagogues which have both retained traditional tribal roles and modified traditional gender roles.[9] In Israel, Conservative/Masorti Judaism has not extended Torah honors to either a bat Kohen or a bat Levi (see Robert A. (Rafael) Harris, Rabbinical Assembly of Israel's Law Committee Teshuvah: “The First Two Aliyot for a Bat Kohen and a Bat Levi.” Pages 31–33 in Responsa of the Va’ad Halacha of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel 5748–5749 (1989). Volume 3. Jerusalem: The Rabbinical Assembly of Israel and the Masorti Movement (Hebrew; English Summary, vii–viii). http://www.responsafortoday.com/vol3/3.pdf

The Levite and the Holocaust[edit]

In 1938, with the outbreak of violence that would come to be known as Kristallnacht, American Orthodox rabbi Menachem HaKohen Risikoff wrote about the central role he saw for Priests and Levites in terms of Jewish and world responses, in worship, liturgy, and teshuva, repentance. In הכהנים והלוים HaKohanim vHaLeviim(1940), The Priests and the Levites, he stressed that members of these groups exist in the realm between history (below) and redemption (above), and must act in a unique way to help move others to prayer and action, and help bring an end to suffering. He wrote, "Today, we also are living through a time of flood, Not of water, but of a bright fire, which burns and turns Jewish life into ruin. We are now drowning in a flood of blood...Through the Kohanim and Levi'im help will come to all Israel."[10]

Levite population[edit]

Levite Y-chromosome studies[edit]

A 2003 study of the Y-chromosome by Behar et al. points to multiple origins for Ashkenazi Levites, a priestly class who comprise approximately 4% of Ashkenazi Jews. It found that Haplogroup R1a1a (R-M17), uncommon in the Middle East or among Sephardi Jews, originating in South or Central Asia and dominant in Eastern Europe and Indian subcontinent at 30-65%, is present in over 50% of Ashkenazi Levites, while the rest of Ashkenazi Levites' paternal lineage is of Middle Eastern origin. Behar suggests a founding event, probably involving one or very few European men, occurring at a time close to the initial formation and settlement of the Ashkenazi community as a possible explanation.[11] As Nebel, Behar and Goldstein speculate, "although neither the NRY haplogroup composition of the majority of Ashkenazi Jews nor the microsatellite haplotype composition of the R1a1 haplogroup within Ashkenazi Levites is consistent with a major Khazar or other European origin, as has been speculated by some authors (Baron 1957; Dunlop 1967; Ben-Sasson 1976; Keys 1999), one cannot rule out the important contribution of a single or a few founders among contemporary Ashkenazi Levites."[12]

Lineage[edit]

Having a last name of Levi or a related term does not necessarily mean a person is a Levite, and many Levites do not have such last names. Levitical status is passed down in families from parent to child, as part of a family's genealogical tradition. Tribal status is determined by patrilineal descent, so a child whose biological father is a Levite (in cases of adoption or artificial insemination, status is determined by the genetic father), is also considered a Levite. Jewish status is determined by matrilineal descent, thus conferring levitical status onto children requires both biological parents to be Jews and the biological father to be a Levite.

Currently the only branches of Judaism which regard Jewish status as being conferable by both parents have also abolished tribal statuses and distinctions, due to a view in both cases that egalitarian principles override halakha (traditional Jewish law). Accordingly, there is currently no branch of Judaism that regards levitical status as conferable by matrilineal descent. It is either conferable patrilineally, in the traditional manner, or it does not exist and is not conferred at all.

Notable descendants[edit]

In tradition[edit]

Levite surnames[edit]

Some Levites have adopted a related last name to signify their priestly status. Not necessarily all carriers of the downlisted surnames are descended from Levite tribe, but it is usually considered a good indication of genuine Levite ancestry through the ages. Because of diverse geographical locations, the names have several variations:

  • "Alouwi", Arabic variant, of Sephardic origin
  • Aguiló - surname to the Jews from Mallorca (Xuetes).
  • "Bazes"—a Levite Surname.
  • Benveniste - a Sephardic Levite surname.
  • Epstein - one of the European lineages descended from Zerahiah Ha-Levi of Sepharad
  • Horowitz HaLevi, or simply Horowitz/Hurwitz/Gurvich/Gurevich - a European Levite surname of Sephardic origin.
  • Levi, Lévy - Hebrew for "Levite", equally common in Ashkenasic and Sephardic groups.
  • HaLevi, Halevi and Halevy - Hebrew language and all translate to "the Levi" or "the Levite".
  • Levin - Russian variation, also Levine, Lavin or Lavine (/ləˈvn/, rhyming with "ravine", or in some cases further anglicised to /ləˈvn/, rhyming with "divine") and Lewin a Polish variation. Sometimes supplemented with German "thal" (valley) to Levinthal or Leventhal and -sohn and -son to Levinson or Levinsohn as a patronymic, and with Slavic -ski and -sky suffixes Levinski, Levinsky, Lewinski and Lewinsky (the "e" often replaced with "a" in German areas).
  • Lev - simplified Russian variation.
  • Levi or Levy - a common Levite surname
  • Levai and Levay - a Levitic surname, originally meaning "a person from Levice" but today it's used by Jews who were forced to change their name during the Holocaust.
  • Leviyev - the Russified surname (adding the yev/ev) that many Bukharian Jews of Central Asia have. Sometimes spelled Leviev or even Levaev.
  • Levita - Elia Levita, an ancestor of David Cameron[13]
  • Lewicki - Polish "of the Levites", also Lewicka, Lewycka, Lewycki, Lewycky, Lewicky, Levicki, Levicky (can also originate from placenames in Poland).
  • Lević, - also Levinić, Prelević, Croatian or Serbian variations.
  • Levit, - also Levitt, typically from the Bessarabia region of Romania, Moldova and southern Ukraine.
  • Lewita: - Polish Levite or Levita Latinized, with Slavic suffix -an/in Lewitan, Levitan, Levitin, Lewitin, Lewitinn, and with additional suffix -ski/sky Levitanski, Lewitanski, Levitansky, also Lewitas, Levitas, Lithuanian, Belorussian, also but rare Lefite, Lafite, Lafitte, of French Sephardic origin.
  • Variants from Yiddish Leyvik, a pet form of Leyvi: Levitch Ukrainian variant, also Levicz, Levis, Levitz, Lewicz, Lewitz, Lewis, and with -ski and -sky suffixes Leviczky, Levitski, Levitsky, Lewitski and Lewitsky ("e" and "s" often replaced with "a" and "z" in German areas).
  • Loewy, Löwi, Löwy and Loewe German or Swiss variations (although the usual origin for these names is Löwe, the German word for "lion").
  • Leevi - Finnish variation.
  • Leven - Swedish variation.
  • Levian/Livian/Benlevi/Liviem - Persian-Jewish variations.
  • Segal - shortened "Segen Levi" (secondary Levite)
  • Urfali or Levi Urfali (also Levi Abud, Levi Aslan, Levi Hamami - an Urfalim community surname, which was mostly Levite in origin
  • Zemmel - shortened "Zecher mi-Shevet Levi" (descendant of the Levite tribe)

Modern Levites[edit]

The following is a list of Levites in the modern times:

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

^ Levites comprise a subgroup of about 4% of world Jewry.[14] Combined with Kohanim, who are also Levites, the subgroup forms roughly 8% of the Jewish population worldwide,[14] or about 1–1.1 million.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joshua 13:33, cited in Wikisource-logo.svg "Levites". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  2. ^ Deuteronomy 18:2
  3. ^ From Wikisource-logo.svg "Levites". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.  quoting Exodus 32:25-32:29
  4. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906. 
  5. ^ a b Jewish Encyclopedia
  6. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible
  7. ^ Rivash" 15; "Divrei Yatziv" by R' Y. Halberstam, E.H. 6; "Yechaveh Da'at" by R' O. Yosef, V 61)
  8. ^ "Rivash" 15; "Divrei Yatziv" by R' Y. Halberstam
  9. ^ Joel Roth, The Status of Daughters of Kohanim and Leviyim for Aliyot, Rabbinical Assembly
  10. ^ Gershon Greenberg, “Kristallnacht: The American Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Theology of Response,” in Maria Mazzenga (editor), American Religious Responses to Kristallnacht, Palgrave MacMillan:2009, pp158-172.
  11. ^ Behar DM, Thomas MG, Skorecki K, et al. (October 2003). "Multiple origins of Ashkenazi Levites: Y chromosome evidence for both Near Eastern and European ancestries". American Journal of Human Genetics 73 (4): 768–779. doi:10.1086/378506. PMC 1180600. PMID 13680527. 
  12. ^ Goldstein, David B. (2008). "3". Jacob's legacy: A genetic view of Jewish history. Yale University Press. pp. location 873 (Kindle for PC). ISBN 978-0-300-12583-2. 
  13. ^ "David Cameron 'may be directly descended from Moses'". Mail Online. 20 July 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Bradman et al. 1999.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Grena, G.M. (2004). LMLK: A Mystery Belonging to the King vol. 1. Redondo Beach, California: 4000 Years of Writing History. ISBN 0-9748786-0-X. 

External links[edit]