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Descendants of Levi, the third son of Jacob. From ages 20 to 50, the Levite was consecrated to render service at the Sanctuary where the Israelites worshiped God by bringing sacrifices to the altar. They were gatekeepers and caretakers of the sanctuary and its furnishings; they were judges, teachers of the Law and scribes, temple musicians, and assistants to the priests. Since the tribe of Levi had received no land in Canaan, the Levites were assigned the revenues from 40 cities, as well as certain tithes from all crops and produce. They assisted the prophet Samuel at Shiloh in the Tabernacle services and in teaching the people. In the First Temple, built by Solomon in Jerusalem, they were the musicians and singers, and performed the menial tasks as well. When the Temple was rebuilt after the Babylonian exile, the Levites led the joyous recession at the dedication festival. When Ezra and Nehemiah instituted the Great Assemblies and read the Law to the people, the Levites circulated among them explaining and teaching its meaning. To this day, when all traces of the various tribes of Israel have long been erased by the centuries, the tradition of descent from the Levites is still handed down. At synagogue services, a Levite is called up to the reading of the Torah second after a kohen, or priest.

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