Cohen (surname)

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For a list of persons with the surname Cohen, see List of people with surname Cohen.

Cohen (Hebrew: כֹּהֵן, kōhēn, "priest") is a Jewish surname[1] of biblical origins (see: Kohen). It is a very common Jewish surname, and the following information discusses only that origin.

The Suleiman ben Pinhas Cohen family of Sana'a, circa 1944

Bearing the surname indicates that one's patrilineal ancestors were priests in the Temple of Jerusalem. A single such priest was known as a Kohen, and the hereditary caste descending from these priests is collectively known as the Kohanim.[2] As multiple languages were acquired through the Jewish diaspora, the surname acquired dozens of variants.

Being a Kohen imposes some limitations: by Jewish law a Kohen may not marry a divorced woman, and may not marry a proselyte (someone who converted to Judaism).[3] Nor should an observant Kohen come into contact with the dead.[4]

An effort to trace whether or not people named 'Cohen' actually have a common genetic origin has been undertaken in the specific DNA signature associated with the name known as the Cohen Modal Haplotype.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schreiber, Mordecai (2011). The Shengold Jewish Encyclopedia. Taylor Trade Publications. 
  2. ^ Donin, Rabbi Haim Halevy (1972). To Be A Jew. A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life. Basic Books. p. 198. 
  3. ^ Donin p.291
  4. ^ Donin p.304
  5. ^ Sources for the genetic studies are given in the article Y-chromosomal Aaron.

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