What is the difference between a Kohen Gadol and a Kohen Rosh?

Both titles are used in Tanakh, sometimes even to refer to the same person. For example: Kohen HaRosh is mentioned in Ezra 7:5, Chron. I 27:5, Chron. II 19:11, 24:11, 26:20, 31:10. Kohen Gadol is mentioned in Lev. 21:10, Num. 35:25, 35:28, Josh. 20:6, Kgs. II 12:11, 22:4, 22:8, 23:4, Hag. 1:1, 1:12, 1:14, 2:1, 2:2, 2:4, Zech. 3:1, 3:8, 6:11, Neh. 3:1, 13:28, Chron. II 34:9.

So what is the difference between these two titles?

  • By the way, I asked this question when researching about whether or not Ezra was a Kohen Gadol. I published a paper on that topic in the Jewish Bible Quarterly and discuss many of the sources given in the answers here. See scholar.google.co.il/… Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 11:24

3 Answers 3


It's possible - although I don't have a source for this - that these two titles reflect the two different roles held by their bearer.

  • He is the kohen gadol, "great kohen." Like any other kohen, he performs the sacrificial services in the Beis Hamikdash, but he has certain privileges in that regard: certain avodos are reserved exclusively for him (his daily minchah offering, the Yom Kippur service); he is entitled to perform the avodah for any sacrifice that he wants, even if it's not his mishmar's turn (Rambam, Hil. Klei Hamikdash 5:12); and he receives half of the lechem hapanim (ibid., Hil. Temidin Umussafin 4:14). In other words, this refers primarily to his spiritual role.

  • He is also the kohen harosh, "head kohen," the top of a hierarchy of officials who manage the assets and physical plant of the Beis Hamikdash (Yerushalmi, Shekalim 5:2). In this sense he is more of an executive leader, and indeed during the era of the second Beis Hamikdash the kohen gadol often filled the role of political leader of the nation. [It's also been argued (Hyman, Toldos Tannaim V'Amoraim 2:688, citing Doros Harishonim) that indeed during most of that era these two roles were usually held by different people.]


According to Malbim (I Chronicles 27:5 and II Chronicles 31:10), "Kohen Rosh" means not the position of Kohen Gadol that was held by Aharon, Elazar, etc., but rather the kohen who was appointed head of the Bais HaMikdash, which I assume means that he was in charge of all issues related to the building itself as well as the functioning of the daily routine. Also, his job included being in charge of the כרתי ופלתי, which were a specific group of David's devoted servants. (This is implied by I Chronicles 18:17 along with 27:5.)

However, in Ezra 7:5, Malbim translates "הכהן הראש" as "הכהן הראשון", referring to Aharon as the "first kohen".


Radak, Ralbag and Metzudat Zion to Melachim B 25:18 all say that Kohen Harosh is the Kohen Gadol.

In addition Ha Yben Ezra on his commentary to Tehillim 99:6 uses the terminology "Kohen Harosh" for Aharon Hakohen and "Kohen Hakohanim" for Moshe Rabenu.

  • 1
    This helps strengthen the question ("So what is the difference between these two titles?", by indicating that the two titles refer to the same office (position)) rather than answering it.
    – msh210
    Commented Dec 4, 2011 at 20:32

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