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.

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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