Levitical Cohans and Great Teachers (2 December 2015, 20 Kislev, 5776)
The Tribe of Levi was comprised of Cohans (Priests) and Levites.
Technically the Cohans (Priests) were part of the Tribe of Levi and therefore also Levites. Nevertheless the tendency is to consider them separately.
It has been stated that from studies performed at cemeteries, about 5% of Jews appear to be Cohanim. Other sources indicate about 6%. Levis are about 4 to 5%.
Levis and Cohanim together comprise close to 10% of the Jewish population. Many other Jews may also be descended from Levi but are no longer aware of their ancestry.
On the other hand a portion of they who identify as Cohanim may not be such but rather ordinary Jews who are mistaken concerning their ancestry.
There are stories of Jews from eastern Europe migrating to America and reaching Ellis Island where the officials finding their names difficult to pronounce decided that henceforth they should be known as "Cohen"!
Even in the State of Israel such events occurred. I once had a neighbor named "Cohen" who was not a cohen.
His parents were Jews from Iran whose actual name when they first came to Israel had been misunderstood by an official and incorrectly rendered as "Cohen".
After the Ten Tribes separated from Judah, their king Jeroboam demoted the Levites and placed members of other Tribes in their places.
Consequently we are told that all the Levites moved southward and joined Judah (1-Kings 12:31, 2-Chronicles 11:14 ).
Jewish Legends (such as those collated by Eldad HaDani) sometimes refer to sections of the Levites and the Children of Moses (who were also Levites) as being attached to the Lost Ten Tribes.
One of these legends strongly suggested that the Lost Ten Tribes were in France and the British Isles and/or Ireland.
Parallels have been noticed between the Druids Priestly Class among the Celtic Peoples and the Levites and Rabbinical Scholarly class among the Jews.
The Levites in effect, as a social class, overlapped and intermerged with the Sages. This situation had already been preadumbrated in Scripture:
We were commanded that if at ANY TIME a question concerning the Law and how the commandments were to be kept should arise then an appointed juridical body should decide the matter.
9 " .. you shall consult with the Levitical Priests and the judge who is in office in those days; they shall announce to you the decision in the case."
Here we have the Levite, the Priest (Cohen), and the judge (i.e. the Sage) listed together.
The Levites and the Judges (i.e. Sages) were in effect to be the authoritative body who would decide ALL religious questions.
Their decision was to be binding on pain of death:
10 You shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the LORD chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. 11 According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. 12 The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. 13 Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.
The Levites and Sages came to form one social grouping dedicated to learning and teaching. Anyone could belong to this group. They were otherwise known as Pharisees. Many of them were simple workers and artisans. Entrance was contingent on the will to learn and be observant. Judging from later experience it stands to reason that descendants of Levi would have been prominent among them. Rabbi Moshe Wolfson (who according to reports is not a Levite, nor a Cohen) once gave a lecture in the USA concerning the Cohens and Levis. He pointed out that even though they comprise a small minority amongst the Jewish people they have what appears to be an overwhelming majority in the lists of Great Authoritative Halachic [Torah Law] authorities.
The Book of Malachi upbraids the Israelites for desecrating the honor of God in the eyes of the heathen. In the End Times all the Gentiles will acknowledge God (1:11). The priests (2:2) are condemned for lack of sincerity and for not glorifying the Almighty. God has made a Covenant with Levi (2:4) meaning the Priest ("Cohan", 2:7). We should have learnt Torah from him. They who should have kept the Law but did not do so will be condemned. They who did not obey Levi have betrayed the whole nation of Israel. They among the Jews who married non-Jewish women (as many Reform Jews do) instead of Jewish ones are also excoriated.
Malachi 2 (NASB):
4 Then you will know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant may continue with Levi, says the LORD of hosts. 5 My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him as an object of reverence; so he revered Me and stood in awe of My name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7 For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.8 But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts. 9 So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction. 10 Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD which He loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 As for the man who does this, may the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the LORD of hosts.
From the context we see that "Levi" is not a single individual but a whole class of Levites and Scholars who kept the Law and endeavored to help others do so.
6 True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7 For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.
Levi as Bureaucrat. Levites and Official Duties
Druids and Israel. A Comparison of the Sages of Judah with those of the West