Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain, Founder & Spiritual Director

           "Yahweh hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." (Psalm 110:4)

In Christian Scripture, the figure of Melchizedek is taken to be shrouded in mystery and, according to the author of Epistle to the Hebrews, the founder of a non-Jewish priestly line separate from and superior to that of the Kohanic (priestly) descendants of Aaron and Moses. It bases this on the only passage in the Old Testament where Melchizedek is mentioned:

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all. (Genesis 14:18-20)

Based on this, the author of Hebrews (attributed to the Apostle Paul, but which modern Christian scholars believe was more likely one of his Gentile disciples) writes:

"You remember that Melchizedek, king of Salem, a priest of God Most High, went to meet Abraham . . . . It was to [Melchizedek] that Abraham gave a [tithe]. By the interpretation of his name [Melchizedek] . . . . he has no father, no mother or ancestry, and his life has no beginning or ending; he is like the Son of God . . . . Now think how great this man [Melchizedek] must have been if the patriarch Abraham paid him a [tithe]. We know that any of the descendants of Levi who are admitted to the priesthood are obliged by the Law to take tithes . . . But this man [Melchizedek] who was not of the same descent [was given] his tenth from Abraham, and he gave his blessing to [Abraham] the holder of the promises. Now it is indisputable that a blessing is given by a superior to an inferior . . . [So] it could be said that Levi himself, who receives tithes, actually paid them, in the person of Abraham, because he [Levi] was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek came to meet him." (Hebrews 7:1-10)

From this argument (which we shall see in a bit is specious) the author of Hebrews deduces that the priest Melchizedek: 1) was a "Gentile" because "he has no father, no mother or ancestry, and his life has no beginning or ending" and he is therefore not of Israel's lineage, but of some other, supernatural origin like that of the "Son of Man"; and 2) because he received rather than gave tithes to "Abraham" -- whom the author describes as the "holder of the promises" -- his priesthood is separate from and superior to that of the descendants of Aaron and Moses, the Kohanim:

"Now if perfection had been reached through the levitical priesthood because the Law given to the nation [of Israel] rests on it, why was it still necessary for a new [and better] priesthood to arise, one of the same order as Melchizedek not counted as being of the same order as Aaron?" (Hebrews 7:14)

However, there are two singular errors in this argument that reveal the hand of a Gentile rather than Jewish author, both of which concern a misreading of Written and Oral Jewish Scripture:

  1. It was not Abraham to whom, as stated in Hebrews, Melchizedek gave tithes and blessings, but Abram who was not, therefore, as also mistakenly claimed in Hebrews, "the holder of the promises."
  2. Although the family descent of the priest Melchizedek may not have been mentioned in written Jewish Scripture, it is clearly stated in its oral counterparts, the Midrashim, which were certainly available to the author of Hebrews had he been a Jew such as Paul rather than one of his Gentile disciples to whom the Oral Torah would have been unknown.

I will discuss each of these singular errors in the argument Hebrews makes for a Gentile priesthood to replace that of the Jewish Kohanim in a later section, but first I want to briefly explore the authorship of Epistle to the Hebrews.


There is a serious question among Christian scholars as to whether the Apostle Paul actually wrote all of the epistles attributed to him. Some, they believe, may have been, while others are thought to be pseudoepigraphical works penned by his Gentile disciples and attributed to him. The difference, of course, is more than merely interesting. A comparison between them shows the former (those presumably written by Paul and of which Romans is an example) insisting upon the supercession of God's covenants with the Jewish people, while the latter (those thought to be by his Gentile disciples and of which Hebrews is an example) generally dismiss and replace them with "newer" and "better" Gentile covenants. For example, of Hebrews one Christian scholar writes:

"The question of who wrote this letter [the 'Hebrews'] has been a subject of debate from the earliest times . . . but while there may be a strong presumption that its author had come under the influence of Paul, the letter can hardly be attributed to Paul himself . . . [Its] theme is that the ineffectual sacrifices of the [Jewish] levitical priests are replaced by the [Gentile] one . . . of Christ, and that his priesthood is of an altogether higher order than that of the Jewish priests derived from Aaron." (Alexander Jones, L.S.S., S.T.L., L.C.B.; Christ's College, Liverpool, England; in "Introduction to the Letters of Saint Paul," The Jerusalem Bible (Reader's Edition), Doubleday, 1968.)

On the other hand, the same Christian scholar writes of Romans:

"Paul had not himself founded the church at Rome. It was a mixed community in which there was a danger that Jewish and non-Jewish converts might look down on each other, and Paul [himself], before visiting the church [there] sent this considered examination of how Judaism and Christianity were related to each other . . . In [Romans] we can see Paul correcting the unbalance of the Greek outlook which relied too exclusively on human reason."(ibid)

Thus we see that what can be called the "de-Judaizing" Pauline letters, or at least in the case of Hebrews, tended to be written by Gentiles, while the "Judaizing" letters appear to have been written by Paul. This may account for the mistakes in the former deriving from their Gentile author's lack of familiarity with Oral as well as Written Jewish Scripture, as we shall see in the following section.


"A fundamental issue with the Rabbis was the acceptance of a traditional Torah, transmitted by one generation to another by word of mouth, side by side with the written text [the so-called, 'Old Testament']. It was claimed that the Oral Torah, equally with the Written Torah, goes back to the Revelation on Sinai, if not in detail at least in principle." -- Abraham Cohen (Everyman's Talmud, Schocken Books, 1949, p. 146)

I have discussed the nature, origins and place of the Jewish Oral Torah, compared to the Written, at some length in previous lectures. Suffice it to say here that although it was redacted in such works as the Talmud, Midrash, and Kabbalah on and around the 3rd century, C.E. it existed, according to tradition, long before that -- or at least during the time of the Gospels. For example, we see it referred to in several places by the Jewish Evangelists:

  • THE WELL OF MIRIAM  In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers . . . did drink from the same spiritual Rock that followed them through the desert." (1 Corinthians 10:1-4) Now, nowhere in the Written Torah ("Old Testament") is there any mention of such a "portable well" that "followed the Israelites through the desert." We do see it, however, mentioned in several redactions of Jewish Oral Scripture, including the Talmud. For example, "Every place our forefathers went, the well went in front of them." (Pirke De Rabbi Eliezer 45B.i) Now, although the written text in which this "portable" well (called the "Well of Miriam" in the Talmud) is referred to may not have existed at the time of Paul, its oral transmission surely did -- as witnessed by Paul's reference to it in his letter to his fellow Jews whom he knew would recognize and understand it.

  • CAIN'S FRATRICIDE  The Apostle John writes, "Be not like Cain who belonged to the Evil One and cut his brother's throat; cut his brother's throat simply for this reason: that his life was evil." (1 John 3:12) Again, nowhere in the Written Torah ("Old Testament") is there any mention of Cain cutting his brother's throat. Written Scripture simply says, "And while they were in the open country, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him." (Genesis 4:8) Only in the pre-Christian, Jewish Oral Torah do we see it mentioned that Cain "killed" his brother by "cutting his throat." For example, the Midrash states: "Cain arose, lifted up a stone, and aimed it at Abel's throat. Abel fell dead." (The Midrash Says, Vol. 1, p. 63, Benei Yakov Pub., 1980.)

These are only two of the many instances in which references to pre-Christian, Jewish Oral Torah -- kept guarded from and unknown to the Gentiles at the time of Jesus and Paul -- are made in Christian Scripture. In such instances, they mark their author as clearly Jewish rather than Gentile. We now turn to the significance of this in our discussion of the false assumptions underlying the Epistle to the Hebrews and its efforts to displace the Jewish priesthood with a Gentile one.


At the beginning of this lecture, I pointed out that there were two major errors in the Epistle to the Hebrews mistakenly attributed to Paul: 1) It was Abram and not "Abraham," as incorrectly stated in Hebrews, who was met and blessed by the High Priest Melchizedek; and 2) Contrary to the assertion by Hebrew's author that Melchizedek "has no father, no mother or ancestry, and his life has no beginning or ending" (Hebrews 7:1-10), his identity, family and priestly lineage was extremely well known in the pre-Christian, Jewish Oral Torah. Since the bulk of Hebrew's argument for a Gentile priesthood to replace the Jewish rests on this second error, we will consider it first.

The Identity, Family & Priestly Lineage of Melchizedek

The assertion in Hebrews that the High Priest Melchizedek had "no father, no mother or ancestry" is true only insofar as he is mentioned in the Written Torah, or "Old Testament." However, the pre-Christian, Jewish Oral Torah not only identifies who he was and who his parents were, but by doing so clearly identifies him as a Levitical Priest in the traditional lineage of Aaron and Moses.

We see that many of the Biblical patriarchs had dual names: Abram becomes "Abraham;" Sarai becomes "Sarah;" Jacob becomes "Israel;" and so forth. Such "nicknames" are common, and no less so with the Patriarch who carried the one of "Melchizedek."

    According to Jewish Oral Scripture, "Melchizedek" was the "nickname" for Shem the son of Noah and for this reason was an ancestor, through his father Noah, of Levi and, therefore, an early precursor to the priestly lineage of Aaron and Moses, the Kohanim.

There are multiple references in the Talmud, Midrashim, and other works of Oral Torah to Melchizedek being another name for Shem, the son of Noah; for example:

  • "Melchizedek was Shem the son of Noah, a priest most high." (Pirke De Rabbi Eliezar 9A.i)
  • "And Melchizedek is Shem, the son of Noah." (Rashi, Commentaries, Genesis 14:18)
  • "And Melchizedek is Shem, the son of Noah." (Talmud, Tr. Nedarim 32)
  • "Tamar was the daughter of Shem, [who is] identified with Melchizedek king of Salem, Priest of God the Most High. (Midrash Rabbah, Vol.2, Soncino Press translation, 1983, p. 796)
  • For additional references to Melchizedek = Shem in the Oral Torah see also: 1) Jerusalem Targum on Genesis 14:18; 2) Midrash 126b; 3) Talmud, Tr. Nedarim 32b; 4) Martin Buber, Midrash Agada, fn. 18, p. 30.

So we see that before, during and after the time of Paul there was most likely the Oral tradition among Jews that the identity and family of Melchizedek was not, as claimed in Hebrews, "unknown" but that he was actually Shem, the son of Noah, and a priest of God Most High. Moreover, because Noah was a patralineal ancestor of Levi, father of Aaron and Moses, his son Shem (i.e., Melchizedek) was not the founder of a "new order" of priesthood, but that of the very Aaronic priesthood Hebrews seeks to replace with a Gentile one. For example, here is the paternal family tree of Shem who was, remember, actually Melchizedek according to Jewish Oral Scripture. (See The Sequence of Events in the Old Testament by Eliezer Shulman, 1987):

  1. Noah
  2. Shem ( = Melchizedek) <-------------------------
  3. Arpachshad
  4. Shelah
  5. Eber
  6. Peleg
  7. Reu
  8. Serug
  9. Nahor
  10. Terah
  11. Abraham
  12. Isaac
  13. Jacob
  14. Joseph
  15. Levi
  16. Kohath
  17. Amram
  18. Aaron ( = First High Priest) <-------------------------
  19. Moses

In other words, rather than being of a "different" and "higher" order of priesthood than that of those descending directly from Aaron and Moses, "Melchizedek" was their ancestral founder. Thus, the entire structure of a Gentile priesthood built in Hebrews to replace the Jewish priesthood of Aaron and Moses, crumbles.

Abraham: Holder of the Promises

Moreover, the author of Hebrews states it was "Abraham . . . the holder of the promises" from whom Melchizedek received tithes and to whom he gave "blessings." But that is patently incorrect. It was Abram (who had not yet received the promises of Yahweh) to whom Melchizedek came out. So it was not the "holder of the promises" who gave tithes to and received blessings from Melchizedek, but the uncircumcised Abram, with whom Yahweh had not yet made his Covenant.

All of this -- the incorrect attribution of Abraham to Abram and the ignorance of the Jewish Oral Torah that Melchizedek was actually Shem, the Son of Noah -- argues that Hebrews was written by a Gentile author, and not by Paul the Jew who was reputed to have been well educated in both Written and Oral Torah and did not hesitate to use both in his authentic writings -- and that the intention of this piece, directed "to the Hebrews" was two-fold: 1) First, to take away the priesthood from the Jews and replace it with one of the Gentiles in order to service the increasingly Gentile Church of Paul in Antioch as opposed to the diminishing Jewish Church of Peter in Jerusalem; and 2) by doing so, to "put the Jews in their place," so to speak, by establishing religious authority over them, just as Paul feared they would in his Letter to the Romans.


         "And thou [Moses] shalt bring [Aaron's] sons, and clothe them with coats: And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father [Aaron], that they may minister unto me in the priest's office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations." (Exodus 40:14-15)

So contrary to the assertions made in the Epistle to the Romans, the Kohanim are the only and eternal priests of God -- never to be replaced. The Torah ("Old Testament") describes this anointment of Aaron, the brother of Moses, as the first High Priest (Kohain Gadol). The books of Exodus and Leviticus describe the responsibilities of the Kohanim, which include the Temple service, blessing of the people and spiritual healing. The Kohanim are a family of the Tribe of Levi. In fact, the office of Kohain was granted to Aaron and his sons and to all their male progeny for all generations. The Torah states a number of times that this Jewish priesthood is an eternal covenant with the descendants of Aaron, the first Kohen, never to be lost.

  • “And they shall have the Kehuna/Priesthood as a statute forever, and you shall consecrate Aaron and his sons.” (Ex. 29:9)
  • “Bring close Aaron your brother and his sons with him from among the children of Israel to become Kohanim/Priests to Me [for all time].” (Exodus 28:1)
  • “And anoint them as you anointed their father, that they may serve Me, and it shall be for them an appointment to an everlasting Kehuna/Priesthood throughout their generations.” (Exodus 40:15)
  • “You and your sons with you shall keep your Kehuna/Priesthood. I give your Kehuna/Priesthood as a gift of service.” (Numbers 18:7)
  • “It is an everlasting covenant of salt before God with you and with your descendants.” (Numbers 18:19)
  • “And it shall be to him and to his descendants after him a covenant of everlasting Kehuna/Priesthood.” (Numbers 25:13)
  • “For God your God has chosen him of all your tribes to stand and serve with the name of God he and his sons forever.” (Deuteronomy 18:5)
  • “The Kohanim, the Levites, the sons of Tzadok kept the charge of my Sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from Me, they shall come near to Me to serve Me and stand before Me to offer before Me the fat and the blood, says the Lord, God.” (Ezekiel 44:15)
  • “For the Kohain’s lips shall keep knowledge, and Torah you shall seek from his mouth, for he is a messenger of God.” (Malachi 2:7)
  • “Behold I shall send to you Elijah the Prophet [a Kohain] before the coming of the great and awesome day of God.” (Malachi 4:5)

Modern Genetic Proof of the Jewish Priesthood

Molecular geneticists have recently discovered the “Cohen Modal Haplotype” which is a DNA signature consisting of specific genetic markers on the Y chromosome of the Cohens. This indicates a direct patrilineal descent of present day Kohanim from a single ancient ancestor, precisely as described in the Torah. Explanations and implications are quoted as follows:

“The simplest, most straightforward explanation is that these men have the Y chromosome of Aaron. The study suggests that a 3,000-year-old tradition is correct, and has a biological counterpart.”
                                                   Dr. Karl Skorecki, New York Times, January 7, 1997

“It’s a beautiful example of how father to son transmission of two things, one genetic, one cultural, gives you the same picture.”
                                          Prof. Michael Hammer, New York Times, January 7, 1997

“For more than 90 percent of the Cohens to share the same genetic markers after such a period of time is a testament to the devotion of the wives of the Cohens over the years. Even a low rate of infidelity would have dramatically lowered the percentage.”

                          Dr. David Goldstein, Oxford University, Science News, October 3, 1998

“Like first experiencing the Western Wall in Jerusalem, it’s to me an extraordinary moving and intense experience of history and sacred history coming together. I think the Y chromosome research does the same thing genetically. It is a tangible embodied moment of connection to our past.”
                    L. Dorfman, San Francisco State University, Science News, October 3, 1998

It should be noted that the Orthodox Rabbinate has accepted the validity of these genetic tests of the Jewish Priesthood and a Jewish male who is born into a family of Kohanim, and whose DNA is found to contain the "Priestly Marker" is considered a direct descendant of Aaron and Moses and an hereditary priest in their ancient lineage.

The Hereditary Jewish Priest as a Messenger of God

         “For the Kohain’s lips shall keep knowledge, and Torah you shall seek from his mouth, for he is a messenger of God.” (Mal. 2:7)

Thus, as we have seen, the Jewish Kahuna, or hereditary Priesthood, is reserved specifically by God for: 1) Jewish males; 2) from the tribe of Levi; 3) of the family of Moses and Aaron; 4) who can prove their claim to the priesthood either by family tradition or, more recently, DNA testing. Moreover, this Kahuna, this priesthood, represents an eternal covenant between Yahweh and the descendants of Moses and Aaron which cannot be broken either by God or by man:

"And thou [Moses] shalt bring [Aaron's] sons, and clothe them with coats: And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father [Aaron], that they may minister unto me in the priest's office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations." (Exodus 40:14-15)

It was for this reason -- in order that the religion of Yahweh, through "Jesus Christ," may be extended to and practiced by the Gentiles -- that the Apostle Paul (or, more likely, one of his Gentile disciples) attempted to replace the Jewish priesthood of Aaron and Moses with a Gentile priesthood of "Melchizedek;" but more about this highly questionable slight-of-hand in a future lecture. At this point, let us consider the Kabbalistic implications of the Jewish Priesthood and its Priests, the Kohanim.

Elijah: Prophet & Kohain

         "Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the father to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse." (Mal. 3:23)

According to Jewish Oral Scripture, the Prophet Elijah was, in actuality, the reincarnation of Phineas, son of Aaron the first High Priest, and therefore himself a hereditary Kohain as well as prophet:

"Rabbi Eliezer said: 'The Holy One, blessed be He, changed the name of Phineas to the name Elijah -- Elijah of blessed memory, who . . . . [zealously] brought about the repentance of Israel in [Shiittim] the land of Gilead." (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 66:A.1)

and also:

"The Holy One, blessed be He, was revealed unto Elijah, and He said to him: 'What doest thou here, Elijah?' He answered Him, saying: 'I have been very zealous.' The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: 'Thou art always zealous! Thou wast Zealous [when you were Phineas] in Shittim [the Land of Gilead] on account of the immorality. Because it is said: Phineas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, in that he was zealous with my zeal.' " (ibid, 33b.ii.)

For this reason, Elijah as a Kohain was, in the words of the Prophet Malachi, "a "messenger of God [whose] lips shall keep knowledge [which] you shall seek from his mouth." In other words, a "reincarnation" of the Kohain/Priest Phineas, in the likeness of the Prophet Elijah, is to be the forerunner to and "mouthpiece" of the Messiah, as we shall see in the following section.

The Kohain/Priest as Messenger of the Messiah

         "In the Future to Come, in the generation of the Messiah, Moses, peace be upon him, will come in transmigrated form, and will teach the Torah. But even then he will be of uncircumcised lips (Ex. 6:12), and his interpreter will be Elijah of blessed memory, who lives and endures, and who is [actually] Phineas the son of Aaron, the brother of Moses, our Master." (Hayyim Vital, Sefer haHezyonot, p. 160)

In other words, during the Messianic era, Moses (called "our teacher" in the Torah) will return in a "transmigrated" form to "teach the torah," and before him will stand his interpreter, a "transmigrated" form of his nephew, Phineas the Priest. This relationship is described even more clearly in the Midrash:

"In the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will seat the Messiah in the supernal Yeshiva [academy], and [all those who walk on earth] will call him 'the Lord,' just as they call the Creator. And the Messiah will sit in the Yeshiva, and all those who walk on earth will come and sit before him to hear a new Torah and new commandments and the deep wisdom which he teaches Israel. And Elijah [the reincarnation of Phineas the Kohain/Priest] will stand before him as translator, and when he teaches, his voice goes from one end of the world to the other." (Yemenite Midrash; trans. by Prof. Raphael Patai in The Messiah Texts, pp. 256-257)

Now, it is important to note here that the Sabbatian Ma'aminim ("Believers") literally called (and continue to call) Sabbatai Zevi Amirah, an acronym for the Hebrew words, "Our Lord and King, His majesty to be exalted," just as prophesied in the Yemenite Midrash quoted above. Even more significant, perhaps, is that Sabbatai, like Moses of whom he can be seen as a "transmigrated" form, was of "uncircumcised lips" -- a good singer but a poor speaker. On the other hand, his "translator," the Prophet Nathan of Gaza, although a charismatic figure, was not a Kohain even though Christian sources at the time, and even some scholars afterward, believed him to be and mistakenly called him "Nathan Levi," a misattribution of the name Zevi. (For example, see the portrait of Nathan drawn from life in Gershom Scholem's Sabbatai Sevi: The Mystical Messiah, where he is mistakenly identified as "Nathan Levi de Gaza.")


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