Good chances that at some point in time, you have met or heard of a person with the last name of Cohen (often spelled Coen or Kohen). Perhaps you know one personally, and perhaps you just saw one of the movies by the Coen brothers, Ethan and Joel. Cohen is a last name that designates a person who is in direct patrilineal descent from Ahron (also spelled Aaron or Aharon), who was Moses’ brother. Aaron was the first high priest of the Israelites around the time of the story of the exodus from Egypt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kohen for further reading). Usually, a person carrying this last name is a Cohen, although there are many people who are so without carrying the name – I happen to be one of them. For a religious Jew, being a Cohen is a great honor – the closest we got to Royal Blood. For a secular or atheist Israeli like myself, this is no big deal, and for most of my life, I didn’t even know of it.
When I was 23, and about to marry my sweetheart, Paula, the issue came up. The Rabbanuth, which is the official body in Israel that governs the state with regards to religious matters, also has full control of marriages. As such, they have records of the entire population, and that includes info on who is a Cohen. Israel has no separation of state and church, as we already discussed, and so the Rabbanuth has absolute power to muck-around with people with regards to marriage. For example, they will not let people get married during certain periods of the year, because it conflicts with some religious holidays (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Holy_Days). In my case, since I am of royal descent, this meant that my wife-to-be had to go through special training, so she can become worthy of living with a person of such high status (in case you haven’t detected the sarcasm…this stuff is beyond BS!). During this training course, she was trained in various stupid religious traditions, some funny, some sad and all totally idiotic. She recalls the stupidest and funniest one as the Washing in the Mikveh. Biblical regulations specify that full immersion in water is required to regain ritual purity, because during the monthly period, a woman becomes un-pure. The Mikveh is a public bath-house where all religious women are required to attend after their period ends. The trainer was an 80 year old woman, demonstrating how you should stretch the skin all over your body to get full exposure, thereby reaching the maximum purity. Can you imagine?