In Devarim 17:8-9 we read:

If there arise a matter hidden from thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, and between plague and plague, even matters of controversy within thy gates; then shalt thou arise, and get thee up unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose. And thou shall come unto the Kohen the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days; and thou shalt inquire; and they shall declare unto thee the sentence of judgment.

and then again in pasuk 12:

And the man that doeth presumptuously, in not hearkening unto the Kohen that stands to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die; and thou shalt exterminate the evil from Israel.

My question in why are we talking about Kohanim? The sedra is called Shoftim. The point of the pasukim we quoted is that if your local shofet can't answer a question you should go to the sanherin and ask them. At no point does the torah mean to imply that you should be asking a local kohen you find in the temple to adjudicate your monetary questions.

So why are we bringing the kohanim into the picture here?

  • what none of these answers to date addresses is the judicial authority. the question is not 'should a Jew consult a Kohen about torah matters?' I agree that he should. The question is as far as who can decide a matter of law. When that is the case the person who's word counts is the judge (be he kohen or otherwise). Jan 5, 2014 at 22:48

4 Answers 4


In the book the Temple, R. Joshua Berman explains that one of the reasons why the tribe of Levi were not given land was because they were intended to mix among the tribes and be the teachers of Torah and the judges. Each Cohen or Levi only worked in the Temple for about 1 week out of the year.

As for why this only talks about the Kohanim and doesn't mention Judges in general. this is because the judges in General did not discern betweeen "blood and blood" or "plague and plague" Only the Kohanim could do that.

So while Kohanim could judge all matters, non-Kohen Judges could only judge a subset of those matters.

As an aside, this is one of the areas in which Chazal and the Tzadukim differed. The Tzadukim argued that only Kohen's could be a judge of any kind.


It seems that Kohanim could (see this Wikipeida entry),

..... function in Judicial aspects and to instruct Torah directives to the nation of Israel [; this] is rooted both in the written Torah and the Oral Torah. In Kabbalah it is expounded that the Kohen should function in Torah guidance, should also be unusually knowledgeable in Torah law, and should act humbly and kindly -even though being in an authoritative position.

and see here for Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's view that:

the Kohanim were the teachers of Torah to Klal Yisroel, as it says, "Yoru mishpatecha l’Yakov – They (kohanim) should teach the halachos to Klal Yisroel" [Devorim 33:10].

  • but they were not the only judges. why would the verse focus on kohanim and not just use the generic term judge? Jan 5, 2014 at 22:51

"Nega Lanega" ("between plague and plague") would refer to Tzaraas which only a Koahein could answer.

  • Thanks! Can you edit in how you know that's the referent? Anyway, welcome to Mi Yodeya. Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features.
    – msh210
    Aug 8, 2013 at 4:33
  • what about the rest of the items listed in the verse? Jan 5, 2014 at 22:48

The kohanim were given 24 types of gifts, which meant that they rarely had to work for a living. Instead, they were expected (at least in theory) to provide religious instruction to the masses, especially since they only worked in the Temple two weeks a year plus holidays.

  • religious instruction yes, but they were not the only ones who served as judges and whatever the case the focus in the pasuk should be on going to the judge, the type of judge (kohen, levi etc.) shouldn't matter Jan 5, 2014 at 22:49
  • There was (and still is) a lot of overlap between the educational and judicial systems. The one who taught the law was also the one who applied it.
    – Ypnypn
    Jan 6, 2014 at 2:33

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