LEVITES, the descendants of Levi (q.v.), who were singled out for the service of the sanctuary. The term is more particularly employed in contradistinction to priests (q.v.), in designating all those members of the tribe who were not of the family of Aaron. It was their office—for which no further ordination was required in the case of the indi vidual—to erect, to remove, and to carry the tabernacle and its utensils during the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness. When the sanctuary had found a fixed abode, they acted as its servants and guardians, and had to assist the priests in their holy functions in the sanctuary and in their medical capacity among the people. The vocal and instrumental music in the temple was likewise under their care, as were also the general instruction of the people, certain judicial and administrative functions, the keeping of the genealogical lists, and the propagation of the Book of the Law among the community. In order to enable them better to fulfill these functions, no special part of the land was allotted to them, but they were scattered—in accordance with Jacob's last words (Gen. Aix. 7)—in Israel; 48 Levitical cities, among which there were also certain "cities of refuge," being set aside for them on both sides of the Jordan; with out, however, preventing their settling wherever else they pleased. Their revenues con sisted of the annual tithe (q.v.), and of a share in the second tithe, due every third year, and in the sacrificial repasts. The length of their service varied at different times. No
special dress was prescribed fur them until the time of Agrippa.
While in the desert not more than 8,580 serviceable men strong, they had, under David, reached the number of 38.000 men fit for the set-vice, 24,000 of whom this king selected, and divided them into four classes—sacerdotal assistants, doorkeepers, singers and musicians, and judges and officers. A very small number only returned from the exile, and all the Mosaic ordinances with respect to their cities, tithes, share in sacrificial repasts, etc., were virtually abrogated during the second temple. Nothing hut the ser vice in the temple, in which they were assisted by certain menials called iVethinim, was left to them. It may be presumed that they earned their livelihood partly like the rest of the community, partly as teachers, scribes, and the like. Their traveling-garb con sisted, according to the l'almud (Jebam., 122 a), of a staff, a pouch, and a Book of the Law. Foreign rulers also granted them exemption front taxes. This is the only tribe which is supposed to have kept up its pure lineage to this day; and certain, albeit small, signs of distinction are still bestowed upon its members, more especially in the case of the presumed descendants of Aaron (the Kohanim). But the purity of lineage is more titan questionable in many instances.—Levites is also the name given to certain sacer dotal assistants in the Romish church.