Jews: What's in a Name?

Haim Cohn, a justice of Israel's Supreme Court, last March married twice-divorced, once-widowed Michal Smoira —and thereby, say Orthodox rabbis, seriously violated Jewish religious law. Cohn transgressed not because he is a Jew, or because he is a judge, but simply because of his name. To be a Cohn—or a Cohen, Kohn, Kahn, Coen, Cahn, Kahane, Kagan or even Katz—is to be a descendant of Moses' brother Aaron and his sons, who were the first hereditary kohanim (priests) of Israel. The honor entails for Orthodox Jews a long and specific set of responsibilities.

The obligation that allegedly applies to Justice Cohn...

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