I remember learning (somewhere in talmud but can't remember where) that the kohanim were divided into 24 groups and they rotated service in the temple. And they went to Yerushalayim for the chagim, of course. My question is: what did they do the rest of the time? They didn't own land, so I presume they lived in the Levitical cities. Doing what?

  • Who says that they didn't own land? Within levitical cities they absolutely owned land. See Demai 6:4-5 for references to Israelites leasing fields from kohanim and levites. See earlier in that perek for references to kohanim and levites leasing fields from Israelites - proof that even those who didn't own land could still spend their time working on it.
    – Shimon bM
    Oct 16, 2013 at 2:15

2 Answers 2


The kohanim were divided into 24 mishmarim, and each mishmar was divided into batei av. So (aside from holidays when all of the kohanim worked), kohanim worked in the beit hamikdash only 2 days a year.

The answer that I heard (and I forget who said it, probably the Chofetz Chaim) was that a single day working in the beit hamkidash took 6 months of preparation. The kohanim were supposed to be free to be torah scholars, and that's why they're supported by terumah.

Of course, there were kohanim who were amei ha'aretz. Since their knowledge of Torah doesn't reflect spending 6 months of study between visits to the beit hamikdash, they must have spent their time running businesses or something like that. (And it should be noted, that the gemara strongly recommeded against giving one's terumah to kohanim who were amei ha'aretz.)

  • Re "gemara strongly recommeded against giving one's terumah to kohanim who were amei ha'aretz": I believe it's written in a language of requirement rather than recommendation: one must give mat'nos k'huna to a chaver (as opposed to kodshe mizbeach, which any kohen could eat, as they would all keep it from becoming tame). I don't have a source handy, though.
    – msh210
    Jun 10, 2011 at 6:19
  • @msh210: I think you're right, and I wrote it the way I did because I don't have sources either. However, I'd be willing to bet that am-HaAretz yisraelim ignored this requirement, and gave their terumah to am-HaAretz kohanim.
    – Chanoch
    Jun 14, 2011 at 0:43
  • @msh210 the end of Chagiga. Apr 28, 2017 at 2:08

The Kohanim were supposed to be religious leaders. They studied Torah and taught and judged the people. This can be seen from pesukim in the Torah which mention coming to the Kohanim for rulings in Torah matters.

Here are some sources: one, two, three (thanks to WAF and jake).


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