Levites are members of the tribe of Levi, the third son of the patriarch Jacob. Members of the tribe are either priests (Kohanim) or Levites, their status being established by family tradition. The family name Levi or Levine generally denotes that the members of the family are Levites.
In Temple times the offering of the sacrifices was the function of the priests. The function of the Levites was to provide the musical accompaniment to the sacrifices, vocally and with musical instruments, and to act as gate-keepers and general guards.
Nowadays, a Levite is given the privilege of being called, second to the Kohen, to the reading of the Torah in the synagogue and a Levite washes the hands of the Kohanim before the latter deliver the priestly blessing.
The redemption of the first-born is not held where the father of the child is a Levite or the mother the daughter of a Levite.
Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.