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JEWISH EASTERN EUROPE


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ACHENAD
Ashkenazi

ebr.

D'DJ{!JN,

(eng.); Ashkenazes

numele Germaniei i al regiunii aferente n perioada medieval)


(fr.); Aschkenasi

(ger.)

Termenul achenad denumete n mod tradiional comunitatea evreiasc din Europa Central i
de Est. n principiu cea care se gsea la nceput ntre Germania i nordul Frantei i care, mai
trziu, a emigrat ctre Polonia, Lituania i Rusia. Se gsete n contradistincie cu termenul
sefard care definete comunitatea evreiasc originar din Spania i care a migrat n timp spre
nordul Africii, zona Europei de sud-est i Balcani.
n sens strict, termenul definea la nceput zona de aezare a comunitilor evreieti din nordvestul Europei, n special din jurul Rinului (Mainz, Worms i Speyer), identrficndu-se astfel cu
Germania, cu evreii germani (akenazim), precum i cu generaiile ulterioare care migreaz din
aceast zon i care conserv cultura achenad cu felul ei de viaa, folclorul, sistemul juridic,
dar i cu instituiile sociale. La origine, termenul achenad reprezint un popor biblic i o ar n
vecintatea Armeniei; meniunile din Geneza l prezint ca fiu al lui Gomer (n timp identificat n
sursele talmudice cu Germania), nepot al lui Iafet i strnepot al lui Noe. O alt interpretare
apropie termenul de achenad cu "saxonii" care n perioada carolingian reprezentau mare parte
din populaia germanic din regat. n aceeai perioad, termenul achenad se impune n ebraic
n cele din urm ca echivalent pentru Germania, fiind utilizat n literatura rabinic.
Spre deosebire de comunitatea sefard care a fost deschis influenelor exteme, evreii achenazi
au avut o atitudine mai conservatoare i riguroas, n spiritul fidel al obiceiurilor i scrierilor
religioase evreieti interne. nvaaii erau preocupai de studiul Bibliei i Talmudului, de
comentarea textelor sacre i mai putin de analiz a sistemului juridic (halaha). Cu toate acestea,
centrele culturale achenade i sefarde au exercitat influene reciproce, astfel scrieri despre
Talmud ale unor erudii achenazi au ptruns n cercurile cabaliste din Provena i Spania, iar unii
nvai sefarzi au fost influenai de ideile hasizilor achenazi. n timp, cele dou comuniti au
dezvoltat moduri diferite de organizare comunitar, instituii sociale, reguli diferite de existen,
norme juridice, valori etice i religioase specifice, obiceiuri, mentaliti, patrimoniu cultural, de
pronunie i scriere a limbii ebraice i a serviciului religios. Idiul, utilizat ca lingua franca pentru
ntreaga comunitate achenad din Est sau care a emigrat, a constituit un element de identificare
comunitar puternic i a cptat o ncrctur emoional i cultural special.
Conductorii locali din Europa de Est, precum i din alte pri ale continentului, invit deseori n
perioada medieval comuniti evreieti care s se stabileasc n acele regiuni n scopul
dezvoltrii economice i demografice a regiunii; documente specia le care s stimuleze i
protejeze populaia nou-venit sunt emise, asigurnd stabilirea unor relaii de bun nelegere n
zon ntre diversele confesiuni. Perioada cruciadelor (n special 1096) reprezint un moment de
persecuii mpotriva populaiei evreieti din Europa 0'ctidentaJ, dar abia n secolul 13 i 14
acuzaii le de omor ritual i izgonirea prin expulzare a unor comuniti din Anglia sau Frana din
diverse motive contureaz o politic complex de persecuie a populaiei evreieti. Din secolul 15
i 16, evreii achenazi emigreaz din Europa OccidentaJ spre cea Oriental, cu precdere n
zonele slave, stabilind noi centre n Boemia. Mbtavia. PQlQnia i lituania. Limba utilizat (iudeagermana sau idi) devine caracteristic acestUi grtJp.
timp, datorit marii arii de stabilire i a
diferenelor mari dintre culturile n care se gsesc, diferene semnificative se stabilesc ntre
diferitele comuniti.

rn

ncepnd cu secolul 17, rolul comunitii sefarde ncepe s scad: pe msur ce comunitatea
achenad ncepe s creasc numeric i ca importan. Ca urmare a masacrelor lui Hmielnitki
din 1648 din Polonia, multi evrei achenazi se mprtie n Europa Occidental i traverseaz
uneori Atlanticul, ajungnd n scurt timp s ntreac numeric comunitile sefarde din aceste
zone. Sfritul secolului 19 accentueaz migratia acllenazilor din Europa de Est datorit
persecuiilor din Impreriul arist nspre Statele Unite, Austrlia, Africa de Sud, Palestina i Europa
Occidental, iar comunitatea sefard ajunge s domine numeric doar zone precum Orientul
Mijlociu, zone din Asia, Italia i Africa de Nord. Inainte de al Doilea Rzboi Mondial, evreii
achenazi reprezentau 90% din comunifatea evreiasc mondial, ns Holocaustul a distrus cea

mai mare parte din aceast comunitate, determinnd astfel i scderea preponderenei sale. Cu
excepia comunitii din Rusia de astzi, n Statele Unite se gsete cea mai mare comunitate de
evrei achenazi care reprezint majoritatea n aproximativ toate comunitile evreieti din Europa,
cu excepia Frantei, de asemenea, n Africa de Sud i Australia; cu toate acestea, n Israel
sefarzii i evreii orientali alctuiesc majoritatea. lniiatoare a diverselor curente de gndire iudaic
precum a hasidismului, Haskalei (curentul iluminist in comunitatea evreiasc), sionismului politic,
dar n mare parte i a diferitelor curente generate de Haskala in interiorul iudaismului (iudaismul
reformat, liberal, conservator i neoortodox), comunitatea achenad este- creatoarea unui
patrimoniu cultural remarcabil care a avut un mare impact asupra culturii mondiale n general.
Achenad

- evreu din Europa Centrala i de Est

Achenad

- evreu german I Sefard - evreu spaniol

ISTORIE CULTURAL - ISTORIE SOCIAL - TRADITII


Bibliografie:
Dictionar

enciclopedic

de iudaism, Bucureti,

Editura Hasefer, 2000; Encyclopaedia

Macmillan Reference USA, 2006; Attias, Jean-Christophe,

Judaica,

Esther Benbassa. Dicionar Larousse

de Civilizaie Iudaic. Traducere de erban Velescu, Bucureti, Editura Univers Enciclopedic,


1999; Baumgarten, J. Miile Ans de cultures ashkenazes, Paris, Liana Levi, 1994; Ben-Sasson,
Hayim. A History of the Jewish People. Harvard University Press, 1976; Haumann, Heiko. A
History of East European Jews. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2001; Hundert,
Gershon David, ed. YIVO Encyclopedia for Jews in Eastem Europe, Yale University Press, 2008;
Kriwaczek, Paul. Yiddish Civilization: The Rise and Fali of a Forgotten Nation. New York, Knopf,
2005; Solomon,
Scarecrow

Norman. Historical Dictionary

of Judaism.

Lanham, Md., and london,

The

Press, lnc., 1998; Vital, David. A People Apart: A History of the Jews in Europe.

Oxford University Press, 1999.

Dr, Camel ia Crciun


(n Dicionar de Termeni Culturali, editor Mircea Martin)

108

John Klier

mid-eighreenth century Polish attitudes had blended rhe tradition of toleran


militant Carholic inrolerance of the Counter-Reforrnarion,
and rhe COlnrne
an tagonisms of the nascent Polish urban middle-class. To rhese elements was
added the discourse of the European Enlightenment rnovernent, which'
ambivalent towards the jews, but included elements of jewish emancipation.
Polish Four- Year Sejm met almost simultaneously with the French Na;
Assernbly, and the 'Jewish question' was debated in both. The Enlightenment
course on the Jews included the premiss that Jews were victims of religious p
dice who deserved humane treatment and basic human rights, and the fear,
Jews had been corrupted by centuries of persecution into an intolerant, fa
people, content to evade productive labour and to exploit their Christian net
bours. Both accepted the idea of a 'Jewish question', and both tended tow
emancipation as a resolution-though
rhrough very different paths.28 T
debates wcre transposed from Poland to Russia after 1795.
The pragmaticalIy tolerant Catherine II was content to use Enlighten
values as guidelines; the reforming emperor Alexander 1 sought to put thern:
force through legislation; and the reactionary tsar Nicholas 1 pursued Enligh'
ment through diktat. AlI accepted the basic Enlightenment assumption tha
Jews were badly in need of reform, but that they mere reformable. By erodingJc,
'fanaticism' through education, and preventing 'Jewish exploitation' through "
lation ro protecr the peasantry and programmes to make theJews more produc'
the Jewish question could be resolved. This was a far cry from the 'traditie
Russian reJigious antisemitism' that has often been seen as the chief motivat
Russian J ewish policy. 29
Where does the shtetl fit into alI ofthis? It was theJewish world ofthe shtetli
was the ultimate target of Russian policy (just as it would have been the targ'~
Polish statesmen had the partitions never happened). The narrow world ofJe'
reJigious orthodoxy, be it exemplified by the hasidim or the mitnagedim, was
geted as the fortress of 'Jewish fanaticism'. The shtetl economy, wirh its fe
reJics, was the inevitable victim of modernizarion, for rhe Jews suffered its,'
nomic consequences before they received its economic benefirs. Whether'
viewed rhese changes as poignant or long overdue, contemporaries of these
forrnations alI recognized that the shretl, and alI that it encompassed, was doom
28 For contemporary debates about the Jewish question ar the time of the Four-Year Se;
J. Woliriski, J. Michalski, et al. (eds.), Materialy do dziej Sejmu Czterolemiego, vi (Wroc/aw, I
Sec also Eisenbach, Emancipation, 102-12.
29 For a brief overview of this problem, see J. D. Klier, 'Traditional
Russian Religious ,
semitism',]ewish Quarter/y, 174 (Summer 1999),29-34.

How J ewish Was the Shtet1?


BEN-ClON

PINCHUK

age of the shtetl, the quintessential small town of Jewish cultural and
'discourse, is that of a small Jewish world imbued with ethnic culture and
Even today the shtetl rernains one of the more prevalent and popular syrn~wish life in the Diaspora. 1 Many people conceive ofthe shtetl as representical habitat and particular way of life of east European Jewry. Of the
'i;tors that combined to impart to the shtetl its prominence in Jewish dis" e most important is probably the fact that a significant part of the Jewish
inthe last two centuries either had lived in a shtetl or were descendants of
'who had. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Jewish literature, both in
and in Hebrew, played a central role in propagating the image ofthe small
opean town as a uniquely cohesive Jewish world. MendeJe Mokher Seforirn,
,eretz, and Sholem Aleichem, together with a long list ofless famous authors,
major contribution ro the popular conception ofthe shtetl. The in1luence of
erary images was 50 pervasive that one could wonder whether discussions of
ep were dealing with literary stereorypes and myths or with a real historical
'. aphic entity. The quesrion of the exisrence of a srereotypical shtetl could be
,'carlyas the beginning ofthe twentieth cenrury, when much ofits traditional
had already disintegrated and many of its sons and daughters had gone
. By finally destroying the shtetl, the Russian Revolution, and subsequently
'ifocaust, provided the added incentives of nostalgia and guilt to intensify what
fdescribed as the mythical elements in the image ofthe small town.
notion that the shtetl was a Jewish town is widely accepted, to the point that
<.
. ted as ifthis were common knowledge and needed no proof. However, to
of my knowledge, there has been no scholarly treatment of what in reality
ed the 'Jewishness' of those small east European towns. This chapter
gproof of the persistent vitaliry ofthe imagc ofthe shtetl inJewish discourse could be found
..a review of a new translation of Sholem Aleichem. The reviewer, E. Shai, maintains that
leichemis relevant now more than he was in the past for the Isracli reader, He was read in the
nostalgia for the shtetl. Today he reads like a post-Zionist text, frighteningly relevant to the
theJewish state at the end ofthe second millennium .... (Israel] had lost its pioneering and
iry Zionist guise and appears as the politica! entity of Kasrilcvke's offspring, a shtetl mas. igas an empire' (Ma'an'v, 28 Aug. 1998).

Ben-Cion Pinchuk

I IO

Hoto Jewish Was the Shtetl?

represents an attempt to define the historical reality and the concrete manifi
tions that would justify the assertion that these numerous settlernents were ind
Jewish towns, and thereby ro c1arify the role of the shtetls as the territorial base
the eulture and history of east European Jewry.
In his study Da tmazh [un shtetl (The Image of the Shterl'), the Iiterary
and historian Dan Miron proposed an intriguing hypothesis about the c1assic'
of the small east European town as portrayed in Jewish Iiterature. According
Miron, 'the image of the c1assical shtetl was determined [by the author's intenti'
ro crea te an ideal Jewish world, an island of unadulterated Jewishness. There
Kasrilevke], Sholem Aleichem construeted a small Jewish state. Though tiny
weak, this statelet was eompletely auronomous." The idealized literary small t
had few non-jews and only a token presence of the Russian bureaucracy,
maintained. In deseribing the structures assoeiated with the Jewish religion
way of Iife, sueh as the central synagogue and the smaller prayer houses (b
midrash), the ritual bath (mikveh), and the old cernetery, as the prominent sigh
the shtetl, the authors were not portraying reality but repeating a preconcei
ideal construetion. Miron viewed the use of the Jewish rather than the Slav
names of the towns in Jewish litera ture from Mendele in the first half of the ni
teenth eentury to Shai Agnon in the second half of the twentieth as evidence of
ideological approach. (It should be noted at the outset that in this multi-e .
region, where Russian and Pole, Ukrainian and Lithuanian, German and B
rusian Iived side by side with a large Jewish population, each group had its o
name for its place of residence. One should nor look for elabora te ideologi
reasoning behind this quite ordinary occurrence.) Miron asserts that the shtetl
Jewish literature not only had a Jewish name, but also represented an ideal Je
kingdom-a
metaphor for heavenly Jerusalem. This Iiterary critic strongly obje
to the identification of the historical with the literary shtetl. Such identification
pervasive from the start of the twentieth century and was reinforeed after
Holocaust, as Miron eorrectly maintains. However, going beyond literary anal
and hypothesis, the thrust of Miron's argument is directed against the essence
the literary portrait of the shtetl, namely the idea that it is an autonomous, in
grated, and unique Jewish world. Miron contends that this rype of shtetl, which
strongly implanted in popular imagery and attitudes, is no more than a creation
rhe long tradition of Jewish literature-in
other words, a myth. 3
A similar approach is adopted by Benjamin Harshav, the poet, literaryexp
and historian of Jewish culture. 'The shtetl was not the real background of
Yiddish speakers', Harshav claims, 'but it was their proverbial, mytholog
"space", a eollective locus of a network of social and ideological relations
wrought in the phraseology of Yiddish folklore and litera ture. '4 In his study ,
2
4

D. Miron, Der imazh fun shtetl (Tel Aviv, 1981),23.


B. Harshav, The Meaning of Yiddish (Berkeley, 1990),94.

Ibidzc.

1II

.ofYiddish Harshav notes the enormous power of the shtetl as a syrnbol in


ewish life. The relationship between the real shtetl and its literary andculentations is of no interest ro these two critics. Both Miron and Harsh.av
rned with the image of the small town as refraeted through the prism of
'diseourse, and they make no atternpr to evaluate the extent to which the
removed from the hard faets of history and geography. Quite elearly, for
,two literary critics the shtetl is a myth of an ideal Jewish world, and as su-ch
:~ieality-an image that suffered the distortions of cultural mediation and hj.d
. entreality. My purpose here is to try to unearth the hard facts thatserved as
-,,,.;~of the cultural constructs and assess their mutual relationship.
'-dus end, it would be worthwhile investigating the history of the term "sluet.l ',
,though ill defined, is both a part of the Jewish cultural and ideologi cal diseand a concrete geographical and historical entity. The shtetL evolved an.d
" .on the plains of eastern Europe roughly between the sixteenth and the
;ii~thcenturies. Small towns of a similar nature could be found aII over the
"h-speaking regions of Europe. However, most were located on the territories
':h;ltuntil the last quarter of the eighteenth century was the Polish-Lithuarllan
. ~nwealth, and were annexed ro the Russian empire ar the end of the
eenth cenrury.! The terrn itself was derived from the Yiddish and mea::ns
'small rown'. Since we are dealing here not with a purely geograpb.ical
but with a cultural phenomenon as well, the shtetl should be studie-d init:s
,a1and historical context. No cIear-cut criteria regarding the number ofresiand the size ofthe shtetl were established; hence the difficulty in com.piling a
e list that would include aII of the settlements in this category. However-, inthe
rity of cases there is little doubt about the historic c1assifieation of riie sertlie-

.Ir

:.ts.
. etween 1772 and 1795 the Polish-Lithuanian
state ceased ro exist as a n indie.,.
dent political entity. Irs territories were divided among its neighbours, Prussia,
, . ,i(l,and Russia." The majority of the Jewish population and most ofthe shteUs
'.,fQrrner Commonwealth were located in the territories annexed by Catheriaae
"::~'eat.The traditional tsarist policy of excluding the Jews from RUlBian
.rieshad to be abandoned or at least redefined. The administrative solurion
ndesirable presence of Jews in the Russian empire was the formatiion of a
.'Iterritorial entity, the Paie of Jewish Settlement, which consisred largely of
..W1yannexed area (though its boundaries changed over tirne).? Almost until
nd.of the nineteenth century the majority of the Jews in this area res:ided in
.towns.

ro

.the origin ofthe shterl an private lands, see G. D. Hundert, 'Jews in Polish Private T'owrs', in
delson and C. Shrneruk (eds.), Studies on PolishJciP1J' (Jerusalem, 1987).
:, vies, Cod's Playground: A History ofPoland (Oxford, 1981), i. 511-46.
Pipes, 'Catherine II and the jews: The Origins of the Paie of Sertlernent', Soviet Jewjlh .Affii,~, 5
)"j~20.

II2

Ben-Cion Pinchuk

In its dealings with this area, the bureaucracy of the Russian empire reco
the existence of a special urban category: the mestechko or small town." W
census was conducted in 1897 (the only full-f1edged modern census carried ci
the empire), a separare listing was made for the mestechko. Although not ali o
shtetls were included in this official category, those included do represent the .
of the shtetls in the region; the census thus provides us with important sta .
data for the study ofthe shtetl.
The Paie of Settlement during this period should rightfully be known as 'Shr
land'. It was here, primarily during the nineteenth century, that the ideas, ima
stereotypes, and cliches that came to be associated with the shtetl took shape.
Paie gave rise ro the novels, satires, and articles that shaped and propagated
image of the shtetl as the cultural and geographical entity with which we are f: .
iar today. This image of the shtetl played a prominent role in the Jewish eul
and political discourse of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In literatur
the Yiddish or Hebrew languages, as well as in the daily and periodical press;
shtetl frequently served ro designate Jewish life in eastern Europe in generalnovelists, journalists, ideologues, and political activists, the shtetl becarne a cat
word, a symbol-although
it represented different things to different groups
the end ofthe nineteenth century the shtetl carne to represent east EuropeanJe
as a whole among the modern ideologies and political movements that had evo
since the beginning of the Haskalah (Enlightenment). For Zionism, socialism;
their many permutations, the shtetl was aJewish town; a whole and cohesive
mostly negative-Jewish
world. For the Zionist parties in particular, the s
towns were identified with what they viewed as the generally negative life o.
Jews in the Diaspora. The image, or rather images, of the shtetl came to be am'
those most frequently associated with Jews and Jewish history in the minds of]:
and non-jews alike. Novelists, visual artists, and ideologues ali contributed gr
ro the image of the east European 'townlet'. However, those Jewish images.
firmly planted in the realities of the life of the Jewish people.
What were the main characteristics of the historical shtetl? Though the s
often had residents who engaged in agriculture, it should nevertheless be
sidered an urban settlement because the majority ofthe town's inhabitants de
their livelihood from non-agricultural
pursuits. The small town served as"
economic centre for the immediate agricultural vicinity and engaged in provic
services and commodities to the peasant population in the countryside.? Since
end of the eighteenth century this area had been part of the Paie of Settleme ..
the Russian empire, and until the last quarter of the nineteenth century the s
towns constituted the main urban element in the territories between the Baltic:
the Black Sea. What made these numerous small towns shtetls was their Jew,:
Gorodskiya poseleniya v Rossiiskoi Imperii (St Petersburg, 1860), i. 7-1 I.
A. Ruppin, Hasotsiologiyah shel hayehudim (Berlin, (931), i. 87-96; G. D. Hundert, TheJt1DJ
Polisi Private Town: The Case of Opato in the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore, (992), introd.
B

Hoto Jewish Was the Shtetl?

113

'':..ns, which usually constituted not only the largest ethnic group but often
ute ma;ority. The significance of this demographic preponderance for the
ofthe towns ofthe region was manifold, as will be shown later.
knall town of the Paie of Settlement, like any other urban entity, reflected
.,re of its inhabitants. The demographic composition of the shtetl w.as of
..,:-,itnportance in determining its urban character. In the western provm~es
~:.iyas)of the Russian empire there were hundreds of small town~ ":"lthjewish
,. ies. According to the 1897 census, the five provinces of the original Paie .of
'~ent that were selected for this study had the following ethnic make-up: the
teofVolhynia had 60 small towns with an absoluteJewish majority, and of
. had a Jewish majority of between 80 and 100 per cent. In practice, the
~
.
hn
..
'Could be considered Jewish towns because of their et re composrtion.
ia had the largest number of shtetls with aJewish rnajority. The province of
~.had 50 shtetls with an absolute Jewish rnajority, 9 of which had majorities
:80 per cent. The number of towns with a Jewish majority in the province of
as 28, 5 of which had majorities of over 80 per cent. Kovno had 59 sh~etls
ewish majority, 10 of which had majorities of over 80 per cent. The provmce
gliev, the last in our sample, had 41 with an absolute majoriry, 10 of ":,,hich
~jorities of over 80 per cent. In sum, the five provinces had 238 shtetls with an
te Jewish rnajority, and in 57 of these over 80 per cent of the population was
,iO The provinces included in the sample were among those with the highest
: ion of towns with Jewish demographic preponderances. At the end of the
. th century, a time when many wcre mourning the rapid decline and even
rance ofthe shterl as a distinctly Jewish settlement, the 1897 census found
mbined provinces ofthe Paie and Poland 462 small towns with an absolute
..ajority, and 116 with a Jewish population of over 80 per cent. 11 Thus, of
reds of shtetls that existed in the western regions of the Russian empire
e nineteenth century, more than 100 had an almost exclusively Jewish
ion, The non-Jews in these towns, who lived mainly on the periphery and.
it engaged in the urban econorny, had a limited impact on the towns' charac" shtetl or Jewish town was thus a significant and widespread phenomenon
=reaching implications for Jewish culture and history.
1people who shaped the images and ideas oftheJewish masses through their
'and political writings, whether they lived in the Russian empire ar abroad,
.are of the existence of many hundreds of shtetls. These smallJewish worlds
rt of their everyday knowledge and experience.

dara are taken from the respective entries in Eureiskaya entsiklopediya, 16vals. (St Petersburg,
j for the provinces of Vilna (v. 557-62), Volhynia (v. 736--7), Grodno (vi. 793), Kovno (ix.
and Mogilev (xi. (53).
an the results of the 1897 census as recorded for the different provinces of the Russian
in the Evreiskaya entsiklopediya.

Hoto Jewish Was the Shtet.l?

Ben-Cion Pinchuk

114

In addirion ro rhe census data, maps, and photographs attesting to rhe je .


characrer of the shretl, we have availabie ro us the records and impressions of pe
who were personally acquainted with the smal! east European town. The au
biographies of shtetl residents frequently provide a vivid porrrait oflife there
nor ro be found in tatistics. 12 To these rather subjective and highly partial SOlII
we can add the observations found in the diaries of foreign tra vellers to the regi'
These too are of a subjective nature, often with pronounced anti-Jewish und
tones. Alrogether these sources provide the basis for an attempt to understand
nature of the shterl and to outline its central features. The cornposite portrait
emerges is, in its broad contours, one of a Jewish settlement. An analysis of seve'
hundred autobiographies and memoirs written by people from various walks of :
from different regions and different times (from the nineteenth century until a .
the Holocaust), reveals that the Jewish character of the shtetl is one of the fu
prevalent thernes. Whether it is dealt with specifically or as part of the gene
description ofthe physicallandmarks and prevailing atmosphere, the predo .'
and tangible Jewish presence is striking. Non-Jews are present, physically and ~
turally, on the periphery-if
ar all. Such descriptions might be expected from th
who carne from small east European towns, and their tone could easily be attribui
to nostalgia for home even in the pre-Holocaust years. However, we encouni
similar-though
less positive-views
in travellers' descriptions of the region "
its inhabitants. Many travellers to the western regions of the Russian empire noi
the prominent Jewish presence in the numerous smal! towns there. Even :
foreigners, these were 'Jewish rowns' and were c1early distinguishable from
'Russian towns' nearby.P Hundreds of Jewish towns dorted the map of the P
and this was the reality that the Jewish novelists portrayed.
The presence of several million Jews living in the western regions of the Russ
empire during the nineteenth century thus besrowed a special urban characte ,
the area and gave the shtetls their distinctively Jewish fearures.l" One may ri .
wonder what is meant by such terrns as 'Jewish character' or 'Jewish featur
12

1 drew the information

the memorial

for this portrait

books of shretls

of the shtetl from several hundred

in the area and of the period

investigated

accounts

here. About

con
160 au!

raphics by shtetl rcsidcnts who ernigrarcd to the United Stares before 1914, located in the
archives in New York and asscmblcd as the Collection of American-Jewish
Aurobiographies;
anothcr

source of data. Since this is an interpretative

any particular
13

Sec 1. Lifshits,

poyln un rusland',
(London,

1807), 137-46;

YIVO

un amerikaner

biela,

3: 313-29.

G. Reinbeck,

A, Sokolova,

'Shtetl:

According

to Isaac Levirats,

ernpire,

ar the end ofthe

vegnyi'

Russian Lift in Toum and G'

SI Petersburg ro Germany in the Year 1805

aktsenry

tsmtrai'noi

1981), 1-2).

fun 18tIl un ershter helft 19tIl yh.

Aiso F. H. E. Palmer,

Evreiskie

or 1.61 million Jews,

Russia: 1844-1917 (Jerusalem,

raizender

Travelsfrom

YevrerS' ea istonya la eu!' tura v krayinakh


14

from drawing artenrio


~~

'Englishe

1901),110--25;

the Russian

essay, 1 have refraincd

item.

v organizatsii

la skhidnoyi
rqth century

lived in 'townlets'

arkhitekturnogo

Yevropy(Kiev,

over 33% oftheJcwish


(1. Levitats,

pros

1998),418-22.

The ]ewish

lIS

ied ro rowns. Demographic preponderance should be the starting poinr for the
. The hundreds of small rowns with absolute Jewish majorities represen t:ed,
erai rerms, Jewish material and spiritual culture as it evol ved in east:ern
16

ews of the

like their brethren in the villages and larger tOWI1Sin t:his


in external appearance from the surrounding popula",In his physical complexion and clothing the shtetl Jew-with earloc.ks and an
.<' similar to that worn
today in hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox comm tmitiees-c'd different from his peasant neighbour. The language heard rnost; often in
\sueets of the shtetl was Yiddish; the Jews knew Slavonic languag-es of the
'ounding population at a levei barely sufficient for economic dealings with the
. Jews, but they did nor use them in their internal cornmunications. Ta thenon<theJews seemed to be from another country-strange
and incornprehcnsible,
gin a world of their own.
,i:: shtetl resident was surrounded by public buildings associated with jew ish
ion and customs. The central synagogue, which was usual1y irnpresisive and
ionally even fortified, served both as the main prayer housc and as; the site
"portant general rneetings. Many smaller houses of prayer (batei 771idra!>h),
, :numbers varied with the size of the town, served as centres for srucly
:rayer for the members of various occupations and sects. In every shcetl there
a Jewish cemetery, and often more than one. The cernetery was ahvays
igthe town's earliest Jewish sites, dating from the beginning ofthe Jewish
'ce there. Surrounded by legend and myth, the cernetery occupied a special
in Jewish -literature, symbolizing the continuiry of organized jew.ish life.
g the other Jewish communal buildings in any shtetl were the rituallr.t.th
:h); the hospice (hekdesh), which provided shelter and care for the sickand
,.te; and the slaughterhouse, which provided kosher meat. The heder5 wltich
shtetl with sounds of young people chanting, were also ubiquitmas inthe
" Ali of these places imparted a tangible Jewish character to the town. Tn
pWnsthere was a church serving the Chrisrian population of the eravireras,
.: cred as a stark reminder of the wider realities surrounding this island of
e.
shretl,

n, were distinguishable

;~e

not only the communaI Jewish structures that gave the sh tetl a unique
;' the urban landscape and the co rtyards, shops, and streets reflecaed the
~sand values of its largesr ethnic group. Photographs ofbuildings and stree.ts
..erous shtetls convey a certa in rickety quality-an
absence of solid.ity aIId
ness. The 'airiness' captured and popularized sa vividly in Mare Chagall 's
, gs reflected the basic attitudes of the shtetl Jews towards life in general
wards the physical urban environment in particular. Life was considered a

popula
Commui

'i~ea that the town is the reflection

Im Capilalism and Malm'al

of rhe civilization

Lift, 1400-[800

(London,

thar produced

il is develioped by

1973),68.

'~i;;K;',

,'.

1I6

Ben-Cion Pinchuk

transient experience and external beauty was deemed oflow value. This ephern
quality emphasized in particular the sojourn away from the historical homel
Combined with the poverty and the poor building materials of the region, it
duced what has been called by Jew and non-Jew alike the 'Jewish look' ofthe sb'
Buildings were unadorned, fences unpainted, and gardens drab, This lack of
attempt to decorate the Jewish surroundings was particularly conspicuous w
contrasted with the elaborate efforts of the non-Jewish population. Tbe s
market square, and the streets leading to it-that
is, the economic centre of
community and the neighbouring villages-were lined with stores, workshops,
taverns run by Jews and bearing their imprinr. To the outsider and local resi
alike, whether Jewish or nor, the small settlement looked distinctly Jewish.
As 1ha ve said, theJews hurrying about their daily chores in the usually unp
and poorly drained streets, in the shops, taverns, and the market, looked diffe
from their non-Jewish neighbours. Moreover, they imbued the structure
rhythm of daily life with the spirit of custorns, norms, and values based on Je.
law, thus imparting to the small town a distinctly Jewish air. The traditionalJe .
community lived according to a strictly prescribed daily routine and lifestyle .r
the many Jews who lived in extreme poverry offered daily prayers, and on
sabbath-shabat-stores
and workshops were e1osed; the shtetl rested fro
work, and daily life took a different turn.
The entire weekly cyele of shtetl life centred on the sabbath. AII econ
activity carne to a standstill on that day, and time was devoted to prayer, study,
recreation. Numerous accounts describe the day of rest not just as an ideal but
reality in the Iife of the town. Preparations started early; by midweek people sta
to buy provisions for the festive sabbath meals. Cooking, baking, and cleani
the following days were followed by a visit to the mikveh with bundles of elean
festive clothing on Friday. The walk to the synagogue and back, the candle .
through the windows, aII were sights that dominated the shtetl, intensif .
sense ofitsJewishness.
The major Jewish holidays served as additional occasions for expressin
temporal dominance of Jewish culture in the small town. Rosh Hashanah;:'
Kippur, Sukkot, and Passover regulated the flow of the shtetl's economic life.
meant not only a pause in the regular comrnercial bustle but also a change i";
sights and sounds of the town. The preparation of food, elothing, and decora
according to custom, could be observed many days in advance, and these
tangible expressions of the shtetI's Jewishness. At Purim children and a
roamed the streets in fancy dress in celebration of a miraculous delivery from
ship. Candles glowing on window siIls for the eight days of Hanukkah co
orated ancient victories and served as yet another reminder of the Jewish ch
of the shtetl.
.
The internal organization and autonomous structure of the Jewish cornrru
contributed to the shtetl residents' sense of separateness. The institutional stru .

HOllJ

Jewish Was the Shtetl?

.'Metl was similar to that of other Jewish centres ofthe Diaspora.l" To mainistinct identity on alien soil and in a hostile environment, the Jewish comhad created an elaborare system for managing aII aspects of communal and
uallife. The relatively small size of the community, its cohesiveness, and
.,the fact that the Jews constituted an absolute majority imparted a uniquethe autonomous shtetl organization. The community was headed bya single
body, which was in charge of its internal affairs and represented the Jewish
:lits ro the outside world. This was the kahal, 17 which in the Polish period had
.responsible primarily for tax collection and other services on behalf of the
:ties, as well as for administering the overall functioning of the community.
:cate network of permanent and ad hoc organizations dealt with every conle aspect of the life of the community and the individual.
im the age of 3, boys attended one ofthe many heders (literally, 'rooms' where
were conducted by a teacher). Each shtetl had somc form of public educa,system, a Talmud Torah, financed by the cornrnunity, where children ofthe
.families and orphans were provided with an elementary Jewish education.
sinall number of the shtetls could afford a yeshiva, an institution of higher
ton in Judaism. However, what might be called part-time yeshivas were
in many towns, whcre teenagers and even older members of the community
ued their study ofJewish religious law supported by a network ofbenefactors
. ovided food and shelter. Even poor families shared their meals with yeshiva
ts; it was considered an honour in the community to support students. The
.f the Torah and thc rabbinical literature was nor limited to the young. AII
sof the shtetlJewry srudicd: young and old, rich and poor, the learned and
rant. Many groups, the so-called h auurot; met regularly to study various
.ilie accumulated Jewish religious literature. One of the more impressive
ngvalues inherent in the culture ofthe shtetl was the high esteem for leam'for people who devoted their Iives to its pursuit.
cradle to grave the individual was cared for by the community. The tenets
siJ.feligion and practice, translated into concrete actions and organizations
.dfor their irnplernentation, formed the foundation of the system. Charity,
bah, was a symbol of high moral standards and served as the basis for mutual
id welfare. Since poverry was endemic, particularly in the nineteenth-century
many Jews needed one form or another of community assistance from time
:.A deeply felt commitment to the needy and destitute and a sense of mutual
ibiliry was central to the positive self-image of the shtetl cornmunity.
were organized to care for the sick and visit the ailing; to provide poor
ith dowries and pay for their weddings; to provide aid and loans to the
e internal structure of the shtetl cornmunity, see M. Zborowski and E. Herzog, Lift ls With.
k.CuIIU" of the Shwl(New York, '963), '9'-239.
.
,thechanging role of the eaha]; see S. W. Baron, The Russian Jews Under Tsars and Souiets (New
e' 64), II9-25

118

Ben-Clon Pinchuk

impoverishcd; and ro arrange for food and lodgings for rhe poor visitor. These are
jusr a few examples of rhe intricate nerwork that bound the shtetlJews into a c10sely
knir communiry. As noted above, rhe basic srrucrure ofthe community was similar
ro rhar of other Jewish population centres. However, the intimacy resulting frorn
the shtetl's small size imparted a particularly strong sense of Jewish solidarity and
identiry ro its residents.
The shretl was a real]ewish town, nor a mythicalJewish world. There was noth_
ing myrhical abour its portrayal as such in literarure and in jewish cultural and
political discourse. But life there was nor idyllic, as it mighr have appeared ro be in
popular and some literary presentarions. The shtetl, when presented as a domain of
innocent religiosity, mutual help, community care, social stability, and devotion to
learning and 'good deeds', became a powerful myth. These were demographically
Jewish islands, nor enclaves of ideal Jewishness. Life in the real easr European
Jewish small towns was far more complex. The poverty of much of rhe popularion
engendered ten sion and strife with the few who were better off; class and status
divisions abounded and frequently poisoned interpersonal relations, as did differences in educarion. The high esreem for learning was accompanied by a disrespect
for physicallabour; community care and neighbourly assisrance also rneant strong .....,,,.;~;'c"..
social conrrols; and the inrimacy of large families and caring neighbours could
easily become stifling inrervenrion in the individual's freedom. Beneath the popular
images was rhe real shtetl, which was fraught with rension, discontent, and frustrated energies. Only rhus can the massive emigration from the shtetls to the
farthest corners of the globe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries be explained.
The portrair presented here is a composire picture ofthe shtetl as ir existed at its
peak-at the time when it entered as a symbol into Jewish discourse before becoming mythologized. Of course, nor ali east European small towns corresponded ro the ~
portrair drawn above, but many hundreds did possess the essential features outlined
here. What c1early emerges from the dara, though, is nor a myrhological Jewish
world but a small Jewish town with ali its complexities. In rheir sights and sounds,
in their daily pulse and economic rhythm, in the internal organization and in the.
way they were perceived by their inhabirants and contemporary outsiders, the.
numerous shtetls ofrhe Paie ofSettlement constituted uniquely Jewish wor1ds.
.

'1""'!9 . 5

q,

q;

'"''

,.

The Changing Shtetl in the Kingdorn


ofPoland During the First World War
KONRAD

ZIELINSKI

D. KASSOW
has argued that rhe shtetl should nor be srudied .in a
vacuum, but rarher should be seen in its specific hisroricaJ and legal context. 1
Indeed, in the case of Polish jewry, rhe First World War and especiaJly thethree
years of German and Austro-Hungarian occupation created a very specifccen rext.
Whar did rhis turbulent period bring ro the Jewish community in the sh,tetl' Catasrrophe or inspiration? This chapter represents an attempt ro answer this question.
Ar the beginning of rhe Firsr World War, Jewish cornrnunities adopj.ed l w'aitand-see attitude. But soon it became clear that, despire the declarations ofGrand
Duke Nikolay concerning rhe 'morning star of liberty' that was su ppose d toshine
upon rhe Jews of the Russian empire, the tsarist army remained a pillar or anrisemitism.f In realiry, everyrhing depended on rhe local army headquarte rs.je-wish
SAMUEL

This chapter ancmpts


~ed

on material

to describe

rhe impact of the war on rhe shtetl in the Kingdom

from Polish archives in Warsaw,

Krak6w,

and Lublin,

of Polnd . It is

and from a few collettionsin

,.,~~ Kriegsarchiv and the Haus-, Hof-, und Staatsarchiv


in Vienna, the YTVO Institute
fO! Jewish
' .. !l-SCarch, and thc Leo Baeek Institute in New York. ) also used memoirs, diaries.and newsspapes published before the ourbreak
'#I;aron, yizkor

bildur).

:;it!l!.ch vital information,

of the Fim

World War. Last but not least, 1 used memorial

We must be cautious

in relying on memorial

books. Although

we must be aware of the fact that they may contain unconscious

cg~ut the shtetl. Moreover,

booIs (siJui
!:hoy provide

...

m yth-crea.tion

since our focus here is on the years '9'4-18, the events descriibedin a:hese

'~kS
took place at least thirry years earlier. 1 have lirnited my srudy to the Je .s of the Kintdc.xn of
. ':1t.01iind:There were shretls elsewhere, of course, above aII in Galicia and the forrner Pale of Setrlonent,
.,but their character

}c"A

<i,~

and experience

History ofHabsburgJews

S. D. Kassow, 'Cornmuniry

. ;Reinharz, and C. Shmeruk

during the war

ere significantly

167D-1918(Bloomingron,
and Identiry

different.

See e.g. W. O.McCagg,

Ind., 1992).

in the Interwar

Shtetl',

in Y. Gutman

, E. Hendels;ohn,

(eds.), The Jews of Poland Beuoeen Ttpo World Wars (lIanover,

;J'he Polish terrn for shtetl,

miasteczko; is used in Russian

literarure

NH, 1989),
too. See e.g. W _ E.Kelner .

.' , ROSJiya w memuarakh: Evrei v Rossii, XIX ue]: (Moseow, 2000). This book is r-evieve-d by,~
ogilner in the joumal Ab Imperio: teoriya i istoriya natsional' nostei i natsionaliema v postsu"tskorn
.
ranstue (Kazan, 2000),2: 38-'3. See also Irving Howe's ciassie work World of Our Parhlrl.- ne'
ofthe European ]ews 10 America and th Lift They Found and Made(New
York, '976),10.
.
. P. Wr6bel, 'Przed

odzyskaniem

cPolsce(Warsaw, 1993), 111-15.

niepodleglosci',

in]. Tomaszewski

(ed.), Najnol7lsz"r.z;igtiydow

-::.

66

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

munity might impose its will an rhe individual was questioned repeatedly in aur period. and jurists tried ta decide cases on the basis of
precedents drawn from rhe halakhic literatu re. The Mishna and Tosefta
had ruled that rhe inhabitants
of a city could require each other ro
share in the building of the ci ty wall, the establishment
of a synagogue,
and the purchase of a Torah scroll. The jurists now tried ro expand
llpon these few examples and rule an other. quire diHerent matters.
ranging from the cornmunal purchase of an etrog (ci tron) for Tabernacles or hiring of a childrens
teacher to sharing in the cost of negotiating government
recognition
of the kehila' autonornv.?
The
general tendency was toward obligating rhe individual ro share in the
public burden even in cases where he would derive no personal benefit
Irorn his contribution.
But the halakhists never articulated the individual's obligation and sratus vis-a-vis the kehi!a in abstract and generalized terms.?
The kehila could draw on two authoritative
sources for its procedural norms: the Talmud and minhag, or cusromary llsage. There are
two diHerent notions implied in minhag. First. minhag includes everything that had been accepted as binding by Ashkenazic Jewry as a whole;
these customs had, for the most part. been recorded formally in halakhic
works that were regarded as almost as authoritative
as the Talrnud."
But minhag also includes specific local usages for which there was some
evidence-and
nor necessarily in writing. Usually such local custorns
did not totally contradict rhe more general Ashkenazic minhag; rather,
they introduceri slight variations or dealt with issues for which there
was no clear-cut ruling in the general tradition. This is not surprising
when we remember that the minh ag of each area reflected a branching
out of the common Ashkenazic legal tradition rather than a totally
independent
development.
[This, incidentally,
provides yet a further
proof for our view of Ashkenazic Jewry as a single social unit.)
Tak anot . One of the characreristics
of comrnunal government
our period was rhe commitment
of such local usages to writing.
Every kehi/a of standing had a comprehensive
system of bylaws, or
takanot." It is safe to assume that these takanot represented the accumulated decisions taken at meetings of community mernbers or rheir
representatives.
Although in the Middle Ages there was still debate
between major halakhists (Rabenu Tam and Rabbi Eliezer ben Ioel haLevi [Ra' A ViYaH]) as to whether the community
had the right ro
impose its will on the individual, by our period the supremacy of the
community
had long been recognized.
By the end of the sixteenth
century at the very laresr, we find that communities
had special com111

THE

FORM

ANO

STRUCTURE

OF

THE

KEHlLA

mittees of baalei t akanot ta formulare rheir bylaws. Once the kehi!


-and,
in some places, the av bet din (communal rabbi)-had
approved
their wording, the takanot became binding on both the members and
the leaders of the community."

H al akh a a n d Keh il a Governance.


In summary, we may say
that [ewish communal government
exhibited aspecrs of both a traditional and a rationalized system: On the one hand, the takanot were
perceived as based on traditional values; on the orher. the very fact
rhar rhe takanot were committed to writing lent them the more rationalized character of a fixed system of obligarory norms. In the end,
the rationalized system of governance would always be based on the
emotional appeal of traditional values. The takanot , and the authority
of the leadership generally, were based on concepts thar Iinked the
individual ro the collective Jewish fate and claimed an intrinsic value
for the kehiia . Emotional terminology
drawn from the Talmudic
lexicon-we
hear of "the needs of the community"
or "the need of
the rnajoriry" as well as concern for the "status" and "standing"
of
the kehi/a-served
as both guidelines and legitimation for the leaders.?
In those a reas where it was customary for communal ordinances to be
submitted ro halakhic scholars for approval. the link between the takana
and the religious law theoretically binding on ali [ews was a direct one.
But even where halakhists did not have the power ro decide on issues
of public policy, this does nor imply thar [ewish public life was deaf ro
halakhic norms. For one thing, the local customary law of the kehiia
was an integral part of Halakha. Moreover, it was assumed thar the
communities would limit any arbitrary actions in accordance with halakhic notions of jusrice and righteousness,
which could be clarified by
referring ro local custorns. It was this link ta the Halakha and past
custorn that limited. at least in rheory, the possibility of arbitrary rule
based on intimidarion."
Moreover, at least in theory, the halakhists
were assumed to be rhe ones to rule on unclear or doubtful issues in
the interpretation
of the written takanot . 9
The Ashkenazic-Polish
kehi/a of the sixteenrh through eighteenth
centuries was not the small, structuraIly unified institution of the Middle Ages, which could be governed by its members and scholars through
a form of almost continuous participatory democracy. This kehila differed as well from the transitional
format of the thirteenth
through
fifteenth
centuries,
when rhe institutionalized
kehila declined in
strength and [ews depended upon local scholarly individuals for leadership."? For one thing, at least the leading kehi/ot of our period were
far larger than before, numbering now in the hundreds, sometimes in

'~'?$il
The Form and Structure
of the Kehila

he fact rhar Jews were segregated from the rest of society-both


by state law and of rheir own volition-meant
that the majority
of their individual and group needs had to be provided from within
rheir own community.
The Jews were forced ro crea te institutions with
the ability and authority
to carry out the various necessary social
functions. The most common and most ba sic of these insti tu tions was
the kehila (plural: kchilo);
commuJial organization),
which united
within itself and bound together aII of rhe permanent residerits of a
given locale. In the present chapter we shall exarnine the basis of the
kehilo' authority and its various instirutions and offices. We shall ask
to what extent the institutions of Jewish self-government
approached
the rationalized forms of contemporary
government
in which a given
office was defined and existed without reference ro the individual incumbent and ta those who used irs service. Finally, we shall look at
the balance between lay and rabbinic leadership and the link between
the rabbinate and the kehila.
The kehila was more than a reflection of the demographic growth
of a group of [ews ta some critical nurnber at which communal activity
was possible. The formation of a kehila was a social act intended to
articulate rhe religious and cultural ties rhar linked individual [ews to
one another. Organization
was, in the first place, imposed on the [ews
by their common and parallel needs. But the kehila that they created
was based upon Talmudic law and implied explicit or implicit acceptance
of the validity of that law. In this sense, the kehila derived from the
attachment of its members to the shared Jewish tradition.

Ashkenazic
and Local Cuslom.
Of course, conditions
had
changed enormously
sin ce the Talmudic period. Hence, even though
the norms of [ewish society theoretically derived from Talmudic law,
the halakhists were forced more than once ta admit that in questions
of election procedure, tax assessment, and other matters of communal
governance, it was difficult to issue a pure din Iora, a decis ion derived
directly from earlier rabbinic sources.! The extent ta which the com-

..

'

~'.

-':.

68

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

the thousands, and. in a few cases at the erid of the period, even in the
tem of thousands and morell
Moreover, as we shall see, rhese kehito:
were not homogeneous as to wealth, occupation. or educational achievement. Of necessity the large kehilot required a hierarchically organized
and directed leadership. with decision making assigned ta a small number of individuals.
Structural stratification and the occasional need ro
impose disciplinary measures are the telltale signs that the kehila had
outgrown the primary group stage in which the governing officials and
the governed were Iinked by an immediate and intimate relationship.
And once this system of differentiation
had spread among the large
k ehilot , smaller kehilo! inevitably followed suit, even though their
numbers did not necessitate abandoning the medieval norrns of government.
5 e p har d icI n fiu e ne e. These changes in the size and structure
of the Polish-Ashkenazic
communities
made it difficult to apply traditional Ashkenazic norms of government
in practice. Though differences rernained. in structural terms these kehuot were now closer ta
rhe medieval Sephardic model than to the Ashkenazic, and it was easier
for halakhists to resolve problems according to precedents found in rhe
Sephardic tradition than in the Ashkenazic. In other words, these comrnunities were confronted by a contradiction
between concrete realiry
and their ideological frame of reference. On the one hand, the halakhists
of Poland and their contemporaries
in the kehilo! of Cerrnany consciously and emphatically sought to preserve their Ashkenazic traditio n
and opposed the inereasing penetration of Sephardic halakhic influence
through Sephardic halakhic manuals such as the Sh ulhan Arukh, On
the other hand, when it carne ta governance of the "ehi/a these same
scholars in fact abandoned much of their Ashkenazic
tradition and
almost unknowingly
absorbed principles and details of communal governance and organization
from Sephardic halakhie works.V This tendency in the field of I-Ialakha was unguestionably
the product of the
real changes in "ehi/a size that we have described.P

Th e Pa mas i m and O t h er Fu n c ti ana ri e s . The concentration


of communalleadership
in the hands of a limited group of from three
ta six (or sometimes
more) p arnasirn or rashim (heads) is a clear
indication of the "ehi/a' s stratified structure. Next in the hierarchy of
offices stood the tovim (viri buoni; good men), gab a'im (treasurers].
and memunim (overseers). Each of these had his own specific field of
activity. The tovim assisted and advised the parnasim ; the chariry
gabaim
administered
the hekdee}; [i.e., the poorhouse) OI the syn-

IV

THE

FORM

ANO

STRUCTURE

OF

T!-IE

KEHILA

agogue; arid the other officials supervised


prices and weights and
measures at the market, as well as "ashrut14
All of these officers served
by appointrnent
as a public service. Though personal interests and
satisfaetions presurnably affected whether the individual accepted an
appointment
and how he fulfilled it, rhese were essentially
unpaid
positions, a fact that in itself lent them a political-governmental
aspect
not shared by rhe offices of the functionaries.
The factor that most influenced the character of a specific kehi!
administration
was nor the number of parriasim on the administrative
body, but the division of labor among them. One parnas was declared
the p arnas ha-~odesh-warden
of the month-and
he was considered
superior ta his felIows. As its tirle indicates. this office rotated on a
monthly basis. But the significance of this rotation varied tremendously
with the particular style of administration.
In the communities of Germany, Moravia, and western Hungary, rhe parn as ha-/:zodesh was rhe
chairman of the council of parnasim. I-Ie had the right ro call a meeting
and had other clearly defined functions. Authority, however, remained
ultimately
lodged in the hands of the councii. and a]] actions of the
p arnas ha-hodesh were based upon its authority 1S On the other hand,
in rhe communities
of Poland and Lithuania, during his month the
parnas ha-hodesr: was the only authority; he initiated actions. made
decisions. and directed the executive apparatus. while the other parnasim became merely his assistan ts.!"
The appointed officers were regularly called upon to rnake decisions
as ta whether. for instance. a given minhag or takana applied to a
certain situation, or when and where ro enforce the law. Thus. these
communalleaders-unlike
rhe paid clerks-really
functioned as rulers.
These leaders were never forced to account for their acrions. since there
was no public watchdog institution along the lines of a modern parliarnent. The only guarantee, rherefore. that rhey would discharge their
office faithfully lay in their own idenrification with the social values
thar they represented. The communal takanot thar oudined their official
duties and functions took this into considerarion.
Sometimes the i akanat devised mechanisms by which to foree the leaders ta tupervise
eaeh other. as by requiring a large quorurn for certain decisions ar by
insisting on a final accounting, especially with regard to financial revenues and expenditures.
At times fines were levied on delinquent parnasim, although such fines were intended less as penalties than as a
method of encouraging desirable behavior.17 In rhe final analysis. the
takanot had ro rely upon the assumption
that the officials respected
the values of society. They therefore reminded the parnasim of their
obligation to attend faithfully ta communal nceds, and warned them

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

that any infraction was tantamount


to incurring a punishment
of
herem [excommunication.I"
In cases of particularly
heavy responsibilities, officials were sornetimes required ta take a formal oath thar
they would properly perform their task. This was true for those who
selected candidates for office, tax assessors, and the parnasim thernselves upon Iirst taking office, ar if there was some special problern. as
when a pamas was suspected of using the influence of the gentile
aurhorities in order ta gain his office.!? The resort ta rhe herem and
oath point ta the religious character of their responsibilities.
Ultirnarely.
it was only piety rhar could guarantee thar officeholders would adhere
to society's values when no human power could Iorce thern ta do so.
And piety-in
Hebrew. yir'at shamavim, or "Iear of heaven"-ranged
aII the way Eram its most primitive sense of fear of the magica! power
of rhe words of rhe oath ta its pure religious meaning as the desire ta
imitate the qualities of the omniscient Cod.
Although there was a clear hierarchy of offices within the kehila
-parnasim
above tovim above gabo'im and memunim-each
level
was, ta a large extenr. independent
of those above. Hierarchy was a
function of the relative importance of the specific task and the cornpetence of the office; it did not involve subordination
of one official ta
another. 20 On an operational level, the only small expression of hierarchy among the officers occurred when the p arnusim delegated
sorneone to perform a specific task. such as fixing food prices.21
To the extent that officeholders needed help in carrying out rheir
duties. they would make use of assistanrs. or sliamashim,
paid by
the kahal. The nurnber of such paid functionaries varied with the size
of the cornmunity.
In some places. one functionary could handle aII of
the tasks. whereas in other places a considerable nurnber of functionaries=--town scribes, court messengers, town witnesses (edim de-mata),
watchmen, prison guards. and street c1eaners-amounted
ta a structureci system. In rhe largest communities
we find an entire bureaucratic appararus.F Of course, these positions were salaried rather than
honorary. although the bulk of the salary carne not direct!y from the
kehila but from fees charged to those to whorn the service was rendered. It made no difference whether the service was ta the individuah benefit or not. The functionary
was entitled ta collect a fee as
much frorn someone who was excommunicated
or jailed as from sorneone who requested a notarized document,
sought rhe attachment
of
property. or the like23 The size of the fee for each service was generally
specified in the communal takanot, The fact thar rhe communal leadership fixed these fees indicates that a partial rationalization
of cornmunal service had been achieved.
But this was only a partial

THE

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Tl-lE

KEl-lILA

rationalization.
It is almost certain that at least some of the communal
functionaries
did not devote full time ta their office, and had other
sources of income.
The typological distinction between officials who actually held authority and functionaries who merely executed orders was not absolute.
since the functionaries were sometimes aurhorized to initiate ptoceedings on their own. Sornerimes. for instance, the takanot specified that
the sh am ash, without waiting for instructions
from the communal
officers, was to excommunicate
anyone who acted in a certa in manner.
In orher places, he was ordered to attach property or arrange payments
on his own authority.v'
In this we see expres sed a tendency ta free the
communal executive apparatus from its dependence upon the legislative
aurhority.
Bu t even if authority thus passed. ta some extent. ta the
executive staff. we must rernernber that the responsibiliry and accounrability of the two branches remained quite different. Whereas the officeholder was ultimately responsible only to his own conscience as ta
wherher his decisions were consonant with the values of society, the
paid functionary was liable ta suffer real sanctions. such as "1055 of his
positiori" (a repeated threat). for failing to obey the officers ar ta
irnplernenr instructions spelled out in the takanot, On the other hand,
there were cases in which the talcanot made the functionary responsible
for enforcing the takanot themselves and freed hirn from the obligation
of obeying the officeholders, if the latter demanded something contradictary to the takanot," It is, in lact, difficult ta imagine a case of such
clear confrontation
between a functionary and a communal officer. In
any case, the expertise of the functionary
(who was in continuous
service to the community)
wirh regard ta custamary procedures normal!y prevented any more or less intentiona] deviations from the norms
of the takanot.

Th e Sh t a dl an . There was one functionary in the large kehilot


and the supra-cornmunal
organizations
who formed a complete exception to ali the rules we have laid down regarding public servants. This
was the shtadlan (intercessor), who was obliged to devote aII his time
to cultivating contacts with the outside, gentile world, or t least ta be
always ready ro make such contacts. Sometimes rhis would require
that he travel far from home. The sht adlan of a cornmunity.
and aII
the more 50 of an entire province, was cal!ed upon to deal with the
secular aurhorities. who often were located some distance away. Moreover. unlike al! other communal funcrionaries,
the shradlan required
specialized knowledge not always found in other members of the cornmunity: command of the vernacular and legal terminology,
familiarity

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

with the local legal and political sysrerns. and aggressiveness and flexThese talents and skills could hardly be learned
in either Jewish or non-Iewish schools. They could be acguired only
by unusually talented people whowere
prepared to devote enormous
personal effort and intense individual study to thern and to adopt a
life-style that was accessible to only a very few. special Iamilies.i"
Because of his uniqueriess, the shradlan was granted much more liberal
working conditions;
because of rhe importance
of his Iunction , rhe
communities
and supra-cornmunal
organizations
were ready ta shar e
in the special expenses of maintaining
him.27
The [ewish community
viewed contact wirh the gentile worId as
the exclusive prerogative
of the organized kahal and province. The
individual was forced ta rely upon the kehila officers ta act as his
representatives
vis-a-vis the outside world even if the matter involved
his private aHairs. Usually. in Iact. the great eHort and experti se reguired made it necessary for al! ta rely on rhe shtadlan.28
Even in priva te cases, the shtadlan acted in the name of the cornmunity and it was therefore preferable that he nor become the agent
of any one individual. At least in one place, Cracow. the logical srep
was taken of forbidding the shtadlan from receiving any reward from
the individual on whose behalf he had acted. In other places. the ehtadlan was al!owed ta ask for a fee but could not make his help conditional
on being paid.?? In other words. special circumstances
created a type
of functionary closely corresponding to the modern rationalized version
of the public olficial, who serves the community
without any personal
relation ta those who need him, and who receives the bulk of his salary
out of public funds. One of the signs of the decline of the kehila arid
of the supra-comrnunal
organizations
in the eighteenth century was
that they were no longer able to pay the shtadlanim a fixed salary.
The shradianim were now given a percentage of the communitys
current income and presumably were not prevented from taking a fee for
their services from those who made use of thern. 30

ibiliry in negotiations.

The Co m m u n a] Rabbi.
aur description of those who participated in the governance
of the comrnunity
would not be complete
without mentioning
rhe communal
rabbi-even
though there were
aspects of the rabbinicaloHice
that had nothing to do with communal
government.
The rabbi' 5 functions as halakhic authority in ritual and
civil matters. as teacher, and as preacher were of long standing and did
not depend on his holding formal communal office. Anyone who had
been ordained a rabbi by his teacher or another recognized authority

THE

FORM

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STRUCTURE

OF

THE

.KEHILA

73

was entitled to rule an halakhic questions. Whether he chose ta do 50,


especially with regard to difficult matters such as divorce and levi rate
marriage, was up to hirn and rhose who chose ro seek him out.:" In
our per iod. scholars who held no cornmunal office were srill sometimes
asked ta serve as judges. Similarly. the authority to teach the Torah
derived only Irom the willingness of students ta be taught. Again, in
some places in our period. there were heads of Talmudic academies
who held 110 orher communal office. Even so. there was a clear tendency
in our period nor ta allow halakhic authority ta be exercised sporitaneously but rather ta concentrate it in the hands of individuals formally
recognized by the community as rabbis.
The rabbi was usuaIIy chosen Irorn alllong a nurnber of candidates
at a meeting of rhe rownspeople or by a more limired body functioning
as their representarives.V
Of course, the candidare had to have been
ordained as a qualified haIakhic judge in the lashion mentioned above.
but the rabbis particular authority vis-a-vis rhe members of his cornmunity derived exclusively Eram this act of appointrnent.
which was
formally noted in the kehila record book and speIJed out in a formal
"letter of rabbinical appoin trnent" (ktav rabonuri. This Ietter derailed
the conditions of the appointmenr.P
The rabbi was hired for a fixed
period of rime, usually rhree years. 34 His base salary was Iixed. as were
his orher sources of income. These latter included, aside from spontaneous gifts, fees for services such as supervising
rhe writing of a
marriage or divorce contract, or acting as a judge. The honors owing
ta the rabbi. such as when he would be called ta rhe Terah in the
synagogue, were similarly speciiied. In rhose places where the rabbi
was also ta serve as the head of a yeshiva, rhe letter would mention
this obligation as well as the cornmunirys
comrnitmenr
to support a
given number of nonlocal srudents.:" The rabbi would assume his post
arnid much formal and festive ceremony, through which the congregation accepted rhe ra bbi' s religious authority. 36 arid from thar poin t
on, he was considered the mara de-atra (literally:
master of the
place)-in
effect, possessed of a monopoly over the "rabbinic" duties
we ha ve outlined. Frorn this point on , no one el se could decide halakhic
guestions or judge cases, or preach or teach in public, without his
permission or at least tacit consent. Sorne of the rabbinic duties might
be passed on to secondary officeholders-halakhists,
preachers. and the
Iike-but
these latter were subject to the rabbis supervision.
It was
considered a serious breach of discipline for thern. or anyone else, to
disobey the rabbi or, much worse, to insult him, and the institutions
of the keliila were obliged to suppress such actions with whatever means
were available.:"

74

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

The Communal
Rabbi a n d t h e Pti rn a s i m . The development
of this communal
rabbinate was linked ro the strengthening
of the
organized kehi/a typical of our period. It was only rhe existence of a
permanent
apparatus for levying taxes that gave rhe kehil rhe ability
to premise the rabbi a fixed salary suHicienr ro provide hirn wirh a
significant part of his livelihood. In earlier periods, up through the first
half of the sixteenth cenrury. the rabbi had derived his entire livelihood
Irorn fees for service. Similarly, ir was the creat ion of a method of
enforcement
of cornmunal discipline rhat made tr possible ro allocare
aU rabbinic rasks ro a single individual anei ro eliminare his potential
rivals. This again had not been rhe case in earlier eras. when competition
between rabbis was very extensive.:" The rabbis new depcndence on
rhe strength of the organized cornrnuniry could have a negative effect:
In many cases. especially in Poland anei Lithuaniu. rabbinical posts were
now bought. The carididare or his family would pay the kehil a or those
elesignated to choose the rabbi a one-tirrie fee in return for the appointment.
We shaJl deal with the sociologica] implications
of this
phenomenon
below.?" Here, it is sufficient ta point out thar anyone
who had purchaseel his rabbinical position considered it, and aII the
prestige. honor. anei incorne thar went with it, as his own personal
office for the duration of his rerrn. Had there been no kehila organization that could guarantee the "buyer" a rerurn on his "investment."
such a "sale" of the rabbinical office could never have taken place.
Just as the contemporary
rabbi depended upon the kehi!a, the organized kehila elepended upon him. Here we return to the point from
which we began our analysis: the kehila' s power rested in principle on
the holiness of the tradition. To contemporaries.
the preservation
of
the kehi! was tantamount
ta preservation
of rhe religion. ar, as rhe
highly emotive current expression had it, "the Terah." It was no wonaer, therefore. that the [ews sought sorne sort of institutional
expression for their understanding
by instal!ing the bearer of the tradition
as the head of the cornmunity.
We have already noted that in mosr
places the rabbi was asked ta authorize rhe takonot, even if he had no
role in formulating thern. There were even places where the rabbi was
given the authority to supervise the enforcement of rhe basic iakanot ,
such as ensuring rhar al! bylaws were observed during an election.?"
It goes without saying that the coinmunalleadership
was forced to rely
upon the rabbi to provide a religious imprimarur
for its decisions. to
warn against infractions of the iakanot, and to authorize especially
severe punishments-for
instance. the great herem (decree of excommunication]."! The rabbi was even more crucial as represcntative.
in his religious-halakhic
rele, of the community
vis-a-vis
other

THE

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OF

THE

KEHILA

75

corrununities-v-as, for instance, when he was asked to debate with other


halakhists who had issued judgments OI' decrees of excommunication
against mernbers or leaders of the cornmunirv.V
Thus, the two forrns of communalleaelership-that
of rhe p arriasim
and thar of the rabbis-were
closely linked and dependent upon each
other, and neirher could exist or function withour the aid of th e orher.
Of course. such mutual dependence also led ta frictions and disputes
over prestige, jurisdicrion, and the division of labor. The balance of
power varied Irom place to place, and rnonographic studies of various
communities
or regions reflect different equilibria arrived at by these
two forms of authoritv within the kehi]. On the whole. however, it
is possible ro see the rabbinate gradually gaining a more secure role
for itself in communallife,
and rhe rabbi himself becomes a more clearly
defined rype. Communities
change rheir rabbis less often. The initial
appointment
was for ar least three years, and in sorne places for
10ngerY And the rabbi was occupied primarily with his official duties.
Even rhough there stil! were rabbis who engaged in cornmerce and
moneylending
through the end of aur period. the more the rabbinate
becarne a guaranteed
source of livelihood and prestige. rhe more it
becarne the rabbis sole professionand
occuparion.?" The increasing
signs of respect accorded the rabbi attest ta the rising social status of
the office. In the synagogue, the congregation waited for him before
starting the service, and rhe reader would not begin the repetition of
the emida until the rabbi had finished his prayers. 45 It seerns that much
of rhe prestige thar, during the first half of aur period. and especially
in Poland, was accorded ta the head of the yeshiva (who was nor always
a communal rabbi) now devolved onto the city rabbi. whether or not
he functioned as a rosh yeshiva. The ris ing social status of the rabbinate
inevitably brought with it a corresponding
rise in expectations of the
incurnbenr and increased emphasis on his responsibiliry for what went
on in his community. Often he was bJamed for the il!s of Jewish socierv,
and he was held responsible for the perfection of public life. It is no
wonder, thcrefore. thar the crisis that affected traditional society at the
end of our period seerned to many to be primarily a crisis in the
rabbinate.
'

The Kehila's Range


of Activities

he kehila leadership was generalIy responsible for the workings


of ali communal
institutions.
and no aspect of group life lay
outside its sphere of aurhority.
Economic activity. relations wirh nonIews. family and social matters, religion, and education were aJl subject
to its control ta a greater or lesser extent. But without question the
principal task of the communalleadership
was to represent the /cehi/a
to rhe outside world and to rnaintain relations with the non-Iewish
authorities,
In some regions the link between the Jewish and non[ewish authorities was officially formalized, eirher in that the election
of the parnasim required prior government
approvaJ or in thar the
parnasim were required to swear or attest allegiance to the authoriries.!
But even in those areas where the election appeared to be a merely
internal Jewish matter, borh the rnembers of rhe community and the
authorities
assumed thar the elected leaders were the ones intended
and authorized ta main tain contact with the government.
The leaders
were held responsible by the authorities for raising taxes. rributes, and
any special, or emergency,
levies Erom the community.
To a norinsignificant degree, they were also held responsible by the authoriries
for the actions of individual Jews. Not infrequently
they would be
called upon ta discipline individual viola tors of the law or even ta hand
over such individuals for trial by the secular authoriries.?

Th e Enforcement
Pouiers of t h e Parnasim.
In return for
these services. the heads of the Iewish community
could rely on government backing and support whenever they had ro enforce their own
decisions. As we have dernonstrated,
in the final analysis the kehila
depended for its existence on the internal cohesion of the cornmunity.
But this cohesion was. aher all, a function of Iewish ideals and moral
values, and idealism could not always control conflicts of personal inrerest, nor could it prevent individuals Irorn deviating Irom accepted
norrns. For the [ewish cornmunity, as for any other society. theretore,
it was vital to have available an appropriate
means of enforcement.
And since the physical means of enforcement were concentrated in the

li E

K E li [L A' 5

RAN G E

OF

t\

C [V [TI

E5

77

hands of the state, the Jewish community


had access ta them only
insofar as the government
would allow. Hence, the Jewish charters
regularly included authorization
from the government
for rhe cornmunity ta enforce its decisions, sometimes even specifying how the
authorities would aid in implementing
this. For example. it might be
specified that a certain percentage of any fine imposed by the [ewish
communal Jeadership would go ta the general fise. 3 This allocation of
a certam amount of enforcement power to rhe kehi! is rhe basis for
the welI-known "auronorny"
of the jewish community.
This autoriomy, in theory given to the Jewish community
as a whole, was in
practice at the disposal only of the official leadership. For aII that it
was based on powerfuJ elements within the jewish consciousness and
ethic, rhe authority of rhe communaJ Jeaders would have been impossible wirhout government backing and enforcement of cornpliance. To
agreat exrent. justifying the comrnunal leaders rule in traditional and
religious terrns was a means of covering up the real sou rce of their
authority.
The members of rhe comrnunity were requested to be loyal
ta their group because of interna] values alene. arid the emotion-Iaden
terminology of tradition hid the externa! factor that was rhe true basis
of the cornrnunity's authority. The paradox implicit in this internalized
rationalization
of external power is seen c1early when the independence
of the kehila was guaranteed by a ta/cana rhat fined any Jew who wenr
to the secular authorities to appeal a sentence imposed by the Iewish
leaders, and that assigned part of rhis fine ta the secular fise. ,1

Types a n d Division
of Ta x es . The community
Jeadership
needed the aurhority and power ro enforce its decisions prirnarily when
allocating the tax burden, the Jargest part of which went to pay fees
owed ta rhe governrnent."
The merhod of allocating taxes was based
on accepted custorn, a mixture of traditionalism
and serni-ranonalization. The arnount of the property tax was calculated on the basis of
a sworn declaration of worth by the taxpayer, or through an estimare
by assessors sworn to issue fair appraisals. 6 The assessment did not fix
an absolute amount for the individual ta pay wirhin the assessmenr
period: rather. it determined
the percentage of the total communal
obligation that the individual was required ta cover. Owing to the
frequent Ilucruations in the level of the kehila' 5 expenses and the absence of an accounting system for forecasting budgetary
needs, the
leadership could not determine the absolute arnount of the individual's
tax obligation in advance.
Questions inevitably arose about which types of property were
subject to taxation. Typically, capitalloaned
out at interest or invested

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

in business ventures was considered fully taxable. Land and buildings,


investments that were not always revenue-producing,
had already been
exempted Irom ful! taxation in the medieval period." With the increasing incidence of credit transactions.
disputes and disagreements
arose
among scholars as to the tax status of businesses conducted with other
people' 5 money or in partnership with people from other communities. 8
Various interest groups with constant!y changing memberships debated
how to tax such businesses. When we consider the undefined nature
of capital based on credit, it is no wonder that the assessors, and perhaps
even the capitalists thernselves, found it dilficult ta assess the property
for tax purposes. 9
In addition ta this property-based
tax (skhumim),
there were also
consumption taxes imposed upon meat. salt, wirie, and other products.
Moreover. it was accepted thar certain ourlays. such as support of the
peor. maintaining
the synagogue, and 50 Iorth. should be covered out
of donations or fines paid by those who broke any of the bylaws (ta/canot). A rhird method of covering certain expenditures was to divide
the amount among those of means on a per capita basis rarher than in
accordance with assessed wealrh. According ta the original halakhic
sources. this procedure was ta be followed concern ing expendirures for
rhe physical defense of the community
in times of danger, something
rhat affected rich and poor egually. 10
Apparent!y rhe available legal precedents and principles were insufficient to allow the distribution of the tax burden among the various
groups and classes without dispute and contention.
Concepts drawn
from Jewish tradition and local practice could provide only a framework
within which the communal leadership functioned, influenced always
by the relative strengths of the various inrerest groups and social forces.
Halakhists did occasionally decide specific points of dispute by referring
to traditional principles. but they generally found it difficult to apply
"Terah law" (din tora), even in the broader sense of the terrn, ta these
matters.!! Hence, rather than issuing binding rulings, they would suggest a compromise or hand the case over ta the communal leader s.??
Thus the real decision was rhe product of the various pressure groups
and was executed through the coercive powers vested in the communal
leaders.

The Kehila as a Fi n a n ci al l ns t it u t io n . On the whole. the


kehila reguired only limited powers of enforeement because. in most
aspects of lile. its function was limited to supervising and overseeing
(rather than initiating and implementing).
In the economic sphere,
however. the power of the kehila beeame more critica], at least in those

THE

KEHILA'S

RANGE

OF

ACTIVITIES

79

regions where the kehi! acted as a financial institution in its own right.
This happened in particular in seventeenthand eighteenth-century
Poland and Lithuania. where the kehi! held the exclusive right to
distil! liquor. eolleet taxes and duties on behalf of the non-Jewish au~
thorities. etc. It is clear thar the kehila leadership, laeking a staff ot
professional administrarors.
could not undertake ta direct these enterprises itself. In effect. rhe kehita merely held the right ta subler its
concessions, and it profited frorn acting as middleman
between the
authorities and the Jewish sub-concessionaire.
In this way the ketula,
because of its many obligarions. became something of a financial institution in its own right, lending and borrowing, profiting and losing
in such financial transactions.P
The kehila:s expanded financial role also led to new institutional
pressures and distortions.
So long as the kehila remained a merely
supervisory body, its concern with economic activity was merely tangential. The kehila might, for example. caII upon a tax Iarmer ta submit
his tariffs ta the approval of the cornrnunal leaders or forbid an individual ta borrow money from non-Iews without communal license.
Bu t such ruli ngs were in tended essen tiaI! y ta prevent the comrnun ity
as a whole from being harmed either directly ar mdirectly. The tax
farmer might rouse hatred by charging more than was his due: the
borrower might tarnish the cornrnunirys
reputation by defaulting an
his debts.!" Of course. intrigue and favoritism could lead to abuses.
even in matters rhat were merely supervisory.
but these were recognized as distortions of justice and deviations from the type of behavior
incumbent upon the cornmunal leaders. But once the cornrnunity becarne a financial entity in its own right, it was almost inevitable that
conflicts of interest would ari se. Once the heads of the community
were obligated by the government ta assurne, and then to subler. certain
tax Iarms. ta borrow and ta lend. they became involved in ongoing
activities that, even when performed honestiy, could lead ta individuals'
benefiting at the expense of the public. The leadership s power to decide
and enforce now easily became a tool for economic exploirarion for the
leaders own beuefit.

The Power of the Co mrn uriit u and the Rights of the Individual.
The control of rhe kehila leadership over the life of the individual was extensive but by no means absolute. If an individual saw
himself as harmed by a decision adopted by the community
or its
representatives.
he always had the right to appeal to a halakhic authority. Even if the halakhisr held a communal appointment,
he was
reguired to act impartially and could not appear to favor the community

80

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

over the individual. Of course. there were psychological pressures on


any rabbi ta decide for the communal government
of which he was a
part and against the individual. But even ignoring this, we may well
ask whether the judicial theories under which he operated favored one
side or rhe other. In theory. the Halakha did not grant preference to
the community over the individual. Halakha derived its rules governing
communallife
Irom the laws of partnership,
as if the community were
nothing but a graup of individuals associared for sorne specified and
limired purpose.P
This legal approach did, ar times, serve to protect
rhe rights of the individual against oppression by the rnajoritv.I" But
the sarne logic could also be used to prevent an individual horn withdrawing from a "partnership"
whose obligations he had de Iacto accepted up ta thar point.V In Iact, the halakhic authorities
were not
consistent in following up this notion of partnership.
In many cases,
they supported the majority against the individual; most prominently
rhey ruled that the demands of the kaha! were assumed to be justified
until proven otherwise. Thus, the individual was required ta pay any
sums demanded of him. and only afterward could he sue the community
for redress.:" In theory, the concept of a partnership
between equals
would nor have allowed such a policy.
The preference given ta the power of the majority over rhe rights
of the individual was already implicit in the medieval Jewish tradirion,
and exegetes found support for it in the Talmudic sources.!? Because,
in our period, p arnasim were elected rather than assuming power on
their own, yet another basis was available through which to legitimize
communal power: the notion of representation.
The leaders were conceived of as loyal agents of the community, even when they did things
that went against the individual's desires" The halakhists consistently
gave preference to the community over the individual and, as we have
seen. opposed the leaders only if they demanded arbitrary legislative
powers and ignored basic concepts of propriety and justice.P
Lay Co u r t s . The role of the halakhic authorities was supervisory: Rather than planning and executing policy, their task was ta
prevent anything that might destroy the structure of tradition. This
was true also in the sphere of jurisprudence.
Not aII legal questions
were brought before a halakhic court. To a not insignificant degree,
the lay leaders of the community
also served as judges, especially in
matters akin to criminal cases, such as quarrels. insults, brawls. and
beatings.V Even if the p arnasim asked the city rabbi to join thern when
they sat in judgment,
rhey did so only ta strengthen
their own authoriry.P
They remained merely a disciplinary body, deciding both

THE

KEHILA'S

RANGE

OF

ACTlVITlES

81

procedural and sentencing issues according to precedent and the rulings


of the takanot rather than according to halakhic principles.
The same was true in civil cases. Judges were selected from among
the members of rhe community
in the same fashion as ali other appointments.
This judgeship was not merely an honorary appointment
but rather a license ta provide a certain service. The litigants would
paya certain fee to rhe judges in accordance with the size and importance of the legal rnatrer in quesrion.?" These appointed judges were,
of course, not always scholars. Hence, it was also true that they did
not always judge their cases according ta pure halakhic principles. Not
only did they nor base rheir decision on Talmudic sources; they did
not even rely on halakhic sources in rhe broader sense. They decided
according ta their own besr judgment, presumably
using precedents
drawn from their Iimited local experience.P
Nevertheless. the Halakha
did nor, ea ipso , deny the legitimacy of such procedures. Litigants had
always been allowed ta bring their case before laymen on the condition
that borh parties freely accepted the judges. On the other hand, the
community
had the right to force its members to obey its decisions in
civil marters, Judges appointed by the kehila were rhus considered
equivalent ta judges whom the individuals had chosen for themselves,
and they were therefore not required to decide cases in accordance with
Talmudic law.26

fudges'
Fe es . There was similarly no reason ta object ta these
judges for taking fees for their services-no
more than there was for
objecting ta halakhic judges, who had long been charging fees. Social
necessity had long ago averwhelmed
the principle of imitatia Oei in
this regard ("just as I judge for free, 50 also shalJ you"). Taking a fee
Irorn Iirigants (according ta the size and importance of the case, and
in such a manner that both sides would bear the costs equally) was a
further step an the road to rationalization.
The Talrnud had already
moved in this direction when it allowed the payment ta judges of skhar'betila de-minkara [a fee in compensation for an appreciable 1055]i.e., recompense for the money that the judge had lost by not engaging
in his own profession during the time of the trial. 27 The idea of paying
judges a fixed salary from communal coffers had already been raised
in theoretical terms as a method of freeing judges from economic dependence on any of the litigants who carne before thern. 28 But in reality
this proposal was never acted upon-just
as it was never instituted
with regard ro communal functionaries,
as we have seen-except
in
the case of rabbis of the very largest comrnunities.
who received part

82

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS
THE

of their salary as skh ar bataia, ar Iee far time losr that might orherwise
have been used in rhe pursuit of profit.
As may well be imagineel, thaugh they accepred the !ay court. the
halakhists never were campletely happy with the institution arid they
justified it anly an the grounds rhat it was at least better than turning
ta arka' ot shel goyim-gentile
courts=--in places where there were no
sages capable of serving as judges.?? While this reasaning was appropriate ta conditions in Paland, Lithuania, and even many places lI1 the
German lands through rhe second half of the sixteenth century, the
large-scale deragatian
of civil matters ta lay judgment did diminish
the authority of the schalarly halakhic tradirion. Hence, durmg the
seventeenth
arid eighteenth
centuries, when Tarah study flaunshed,
Talrnudic scholars multiplied, and each cornmunity had its own av bet
din, ar cornmunal rabbi, the demand arose ta have civil cases judged
by the Halakha and its interprerers an ce again. We therefare hear Iierce
criticisrn of lay courts by rabbis and scholars.:'? In manyareas,
th ese
efforts met with a certain success. either because a rabbinic court was
established alangside that of the laymen. ar because a rabbi ar scholar
was appainted ta the lay court. But lay courts were never eliminared
alrcgerher. and the struggle between scholars and lay judges cantinued.
Even during the second half of the eighteenth century Rabbi Ezekiel
Landau was stil! camplaining
in Prague that only rrunor cases were
handed over ta scholars ta judge, while the important cases were adjudicateel befare lay courts.:"
.
Apparently,
lay courts were preferred because they provided mare
rapid decisians arid implementation.
The cornmunal bylaws oiten fixed
a maximum period over which tria!s might drag an .:\2 On the orher
hand, a "rabbinic" trial caulddrag an because af the very specific rules
cancerning evidence and prool, as well as because al appeals ta rabbinic
authorities in other centers-samething
that was quite cornrnon lI1 the
Middle Ages and that had not disappeared fram comrnunal life in aur
period. Borh of these types of courts shared cne advantage at least lI1
handling cases between mernbers of the sarne cornrnuruty: It was pa~sible ta Iorce sameane ta appear in courr and ta obey the court s
decisian. The community's
enfarcement
apparatus (which did have
some pawer) was available ta the litigants in order ta Iorce the recalcitrant ta abey.

The
Pr oh ib it io n against
Recaurse
to
Nan-Jewish
Courts.
The jurisdictian of Jewish courrs was limited by the charters
issued ta the Jews by the gavernment.
Certain types of legal matters,
such as the transfer

af real estate,

were usually

subject

ta the nan-

KEHILA

RANGE

OF

ACTIVITIES

[ewish aurhorities.P
In sorne matters, individuals w,ere allawed ta
choose between Jewish and non-Iewish
courts-and
the cammunity
waged an angaing struggle ta dissuade the individual ham exercising
rhis right. The act of turning ta a gentile court was cansidered a religiaus
crime, and the terrn arka' ot (gentile court] gained a negative ematianal cantent, ta be eguated almosr with a non-jewish house of worship.?" Thaugh there was no place where [ews did nor resort ta gentile
caurts far same marrers, the cornrnunitv and its representatives
insisted
an their right ta determine in which cases this would be perrnitted.r"
Obviausly the exrenr ta which the community
could control the
individual in matters of litigatian was a functian of the pawer and
authori tv of the specific k ehila. In Paland, far example, resort ta gentile
courts was relatively rare. while in the srnall tawns and newer cornrnunities ot Germany it was much mare cornmon.v" And the cornmunity always reserved this option as a last resort-as,
far instance,
in dealing with pawerful individuals against whorn it was atherwise
helpless. In such cases, an explicit license wauld be issued far thase
wha saught ta bring suit in gentile courts against such pawerful
people.:" 'Once rhis precedent was set, hawever, it was aften difficulr
ta prevent litigants Irorn continuing ta use gentile courts an the graunds
that their opponent would not appear befare a rabbinic caurt ar would
not abey its sentence. This happened especially in inrer-comm una]
cases.:"

CapitalOffenses.
In arder ta protect the community ham lawless individuals. confirrned criminals, and gavernment
infarmers, wha
ali endangered rhe existence of the cornmunity and the life and property
of individuale. Polish Jewry reinstituted
the law of moser (infarmer)
as it had existed in Spain. Tho.ugh there may have been cases of death
sentences issued by [ewish authorities in medieval Ashkenaz, almast
no trace af these has survived in the halakhic literature.
But saci 0.politica! condirions similar ta those thar had applied in Spain now led
the sages of Poland ta turn ta the Sephardic saurces in which the
practica! aspects of such matters had been discussed.:'? An .indeed. the
death sentence as well as corporal punishment
was decreed by cammunal leaders in secret, arid sametimes even with the acguiescence of
the authorities. 40 Now, recagnized rabbinical figures ruled that a moser
could be subjected ta corporal punishrnent.
mairned. ar even executed,
We ha ve clear evidence of such sentences being carried out with the
appraval of rhe great rabbis,"! althaugh there was al sa a certain reca il
fram this and an attempt ta arrange far gentile courts ta carry out the
despicable deed.42 In any case, a farmalized judicial procedure far capital

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

cases never developed anywhere.


It may also be noted here that by
rheir very nature, the laws of moser were applied not by a regular
court but by a sort of "underground"
court in which the accused was
judged in absentia and without the wealth of fine safeguards that the
theoretical judicial tradition of the Halakha had develcped."
This type
of case proves rhar the existence of the [ewish cornrnuniry depended
upon severe internal discipline and radical dissociation from rhe outside
world.
Excommunication.
It is thus clear rhat the kehi! did nor hesitate ta resort to coercion in order to maintain its aurhority.
In sociological terrns. rhe cornmunity's
"power of enforcement"
was not
Iimited ta the usual disciplinary measures at the disposal of the courts:
confiscation, fines, corporal punishment,
imprisonment
and whipping,
and, in exceptional cases, death. '11 Alongside these were two other
means of coercion-s-Jrerem
(plural: haramot; excommunication)
and
the handing over of Jews ta the secular authorities-both
of which
reflect the nature of Jewish communal
existence as a traditionalreligious minority within non-Iewish society.
t
In a formal halakhic sense, the herem implied re mov ing the individual from the community-that
is, preventing
his participation
in
the mutual relarionships of community mernbers in both the real and
symbolic spheres of life. In the mishnaic period, the nidui, as it was
then called, served as a means of internal discipline among the various
groups of sages. In later years it served as a means of enforcing the
opinions of either the rabbis or the lay leadership (depending on who
was then dominant) on the public at large. '15 Preventing an individual
from participating
in communal life was one of the outstanding
disciplinary measures of the kehila in the sixteenth through eighteenth
centuries. The extent of the ban depended upon the seriousness of the
offense. On occasion the punishment
arnounted ta no more than the
denial of some privilege in the political or religious sphere, such as a
temporary disqualification
from holding public office, leading religious
services, being called to rhe Terah, or being counted in the quorum for
prayer. 46 The formal declaration of rhe herem included al! of these and
added that social contact with the individual and his family was forbidden: His son was not to be circumcised, the marriage ceremony was
not ta be performed for his children, nor were they ta be given a [ewish
burial. 47 The threat it posed ta one s physical existence was not the
only intimidating
aspect of the nerem; it also meant that the individual
would not be able ta perform his religious obligations. of primary
importance
ta anyone raised as a religious Jew. Moreover, since the

THE

KEHILA'S

RANCE

OF

ACTIVITIE5

85

[ews primary social contacts were restricted to his own society, the
herem was tantamount
to cutting him off from aii social contact. The
excommunicatee!
individual felt himself losing his place in both this
world and rhe next. This explains the tremendous emotional impact of
the very terrn "herem," an impact that was intensified by the ceremony
that accompanied its e!eclaration: opening of the Ark, blowing of the
sholar. and the lighring of black cane!les.
The efficacy and force of the herem derivee! primarily Irorn the
socierys traditional, religious nature. In some cases a herem coule! be
enforced through physical means: for instance, a [ew under herem who
entered the synagogue coule! be physically ejected.:" But this was not
the case when a herem was e!eclared against rhose who engaged in sorne
undesirable economic or social practice in priva te-as,
for exarnple.
coin c1ipping ar slane!ering an adversary. Here, the efficacy of the decree
came trom the magical powers associatee! with the herem . We should
not forget thar this society believed in the magica] power of wore!s per
se, ane! of holy wore!s in particular, arid the e!eclaration of a specific
formula could therefore lead ta radical sociological results."?
The terrn herem carne ta be associatee! with other ancient prohibitions. The hezkat yishuv (the right of resie!ents ta keep out potential
cornpetitors] was also called herern ha-yishuv, arid the rerrn herem was
also appliee! to an entire series of prohibitions in the spheres of sexual
and social relations."? The term was also applied to new prohibitions
imposed by the eommunal and supra-communal
institutions,
as for
insrance, the herem against farming taxes ar duties at certain times in
Polane!, the herem against buying a rabbinical post, etc. 51 It is clear,
however, that in cases where the herem carne into conflict with powerful
persona! interests, it could nor serve as an absolute barrier to maleficence. There were constant complaints about people who ignored and
transgressed rhe haramot . Because of this there were some who objectee!
to the use of the e!evice in the first place, arguing that the sin thereby
committed by those who did not observe the rules outweighed
any
practica! benefit.52 But this itself demonstrates the magical and religious
power of the herem. We may assurne that those who transgressed
the
herem did not deny its power and did not mock it in principle; rather,
rhey found some way ta justify their actions by arguing that the
herem did not apply to their specific deed.P
The herem once again exernplifies what we said above-namely,
that even in places where leae!ership resred in the hands of laymen
rather than.religious Iunctionaries. the basic institutions of government
depended upon concepts whose force derived From the religious sphere.
Who had the right ta excommunicate
remainee! a bone of contention

86

TRADITlON

ANO

CRISIS

THE

between lay and rabbinic leaders. But even in those areas where the
power was in lay hands. rhe actual issuing of the decree. and. of course.
the supervision over irs enforcernenr. remained in the hands o] those
expert in religious matters-i.e.,
the halakhist s.>" It was they who
decided whether a herem applied to a given act or objecr. thus derermining the scope of the essentially irrational hcrem through rhe rational
rnodaliries of thought ar their disposal. 55

KEHILA'S

RANGE

OF

ACTIVITIES

was permissible arid what was obligatary, but rather between what was
forbidden and what was obligatorv.P? In any case, authoritative
halakhists recognized rhe legitimaey of surrendering
an individual to the
gentile government when necessary and in fact even ruled on occasion
that this be done. This was the ultirnate threat by which the kehila
could try ro control the actions of its members vis-A-vis the ourside
world. actions that might lead to serious consequences
for the entire
community.

Handing
Jews over ta the Gentile
AI.tthori/ies.
The surrender of Jewish criminals to the gentile authorities is a reflection of
the fact that [ewish society was independent
only to the extent that
surrounding
society would allow. Since individual Jews functioned,
especially econornically. in rhe non-Iewish world, they were also subjecr
ta its laws and rules of behavior. Anyone who violated those laws was
subject to the gentile authorities
and could not Ilee back into Jewish
society. In such a case the [ews had no basis on which ro appeal. On
the orher hand, a Jew might fall into rhe hands of the government
nor
because he had broken the law but simply because of an arbitrary
decision by the ruler or because of a false accusation brought against
hirn. Under these circumstances,
Jewish society Ielr itself obligated ta
do everything it could ta save the Jew.56 This faet created a very strong
tie between rhe Jew and his cornmunity,
for if )ewish sociery ceased
ta proteet hirn. he was defenseless and virtually on his own. And indeed.
the public warnings about proper behavior toward gentiles sornerimes
threatened
not to defend the transgr essorY Such a warning was apparently more frightening
than various threats of punishment
at the
hands of Jewish courts. As for rhe more severe cases, not only did
Jewish society reserve the right not ta defend the individual before rhe
authorities;
it acrually handed over the criminal, even in cases where
this would certainly result in the death senrence.v" This was a radical
and final disciplinary measure that involved rhe sarne ethical problern
implicit in the use of force by any state: the paradox that in rhe last
resort the individual is riecessarily prevented lrorn using foree only by
the public use of force. [ewish society. as we know, Eorbade resort to
gentile authorities
and gentile courts, and defended )ews against the
arbitrariness
of those institutions.
But )ewish society succeeded in this
only by allowing itself to use these forbidden means when absolutely
necessary. The sarne doubts and hesitations
that we find in general
society ccincerning rhe implernenrarion
of the death sentence were expressed also by [ewish judges who were asked ta decide whether or not
to hand over an individual ta the gentile authorities.
They confronted
the same ethical polariry. The issue was to decide nor between what

_,_.~. "~~"

'''.''~

::.."'.-,-.. ""~d

.,"::(,,.r,,,,,

r.: ~.:"

.
'A~

""'(''"'~,'('~~.''.:

;"'

':

.'

TIiE

The Composition of
the Kehila

he kehi! was normally composed of the permanent residents in


a given locale. and one of its prerogatives was the right ro decide
who might or might not settle there Each Icehila sought ro gain recognition of this power horn the local authorities on whom it depended
for its politica] and judicial auronomy. From the point of view of Jewish
law, this prerogative was based upon a medieval tradition that, though
originally not universally accepted, had by this time come ro be seen
as authoritative.!
Whether or nor the individual was granted hezka:
ha-yis/wv or. more briefly. the hazalca (as the right of settlernent was
usually ealled) depended on two Iactors: the terrns of the community's
original eharter (kiyum), which usually limited the number of settlers.
and economic conditions generally, which determined whether the Jews
saw an increase in the Jewish population as a threatening or a promising
economic development.
(In our period, in most plaees the former was
the case.] Of course, much depended on the individual involved: rich
people who could help support the kehila'e activities were welcorned,
while poor people rnight be encouraged or even forced ta give up their
hazaka and leave.? It was customary ro give preferential treatment to
exceptional scholars. who were nor considered bound by rhe laws of
hezktu ha-yishuv and might settle anywhere."

Terms for Joining


or Leaving
a Community.
Often new
settlers would be granted temporary residence rights. Such a person
was termed a nokhri, or stranger. 50 long as he had not officially
been granted a hezkat yishuv by the lcehila4 On a political level. he
could neither vote nor stand for communal office; in "civil" terms, he
did not enjoy full freedom ro trade and was not given the same religious
honors, such as being cal!ed to the reading of the Torah or reciting the
kadish on the anniversary of the death of a clase relative (yahrzeit)5
On the other hand, the nokhri was not obliged to share in the costs of
communal mernbership.
exeept insofar as. he carne to some personal
arrangement
with the kehi/a leaders." A nokhr: became a ful! member
through the formal and official addition of his name ro the list of

COMPOSITION

Of

TIiE

KEHLLA

89

householders.?
From then on, the new member would share in all the
financial burdens and would usually also contribute a one-time "advarice" ro the communal coffers." Of course, especially during the
formative period of a kehila it no doubt often happened that a nokhri
would gain membership without undergoing any formal procedures.
The hezkat yishuv was a personal righr. retained only 50 long as
the individual kepr up his residence in the locality. There were cases
in which an individual maintained his hazaka even afrer moving away
by continuing
ro pay a share of the expenses of rhe kehila at a rate
fixed by custorn or detennined ad hoc. In the absence of such a prior
arrangement,
however. one 5 hazaka ended a year or more (depending
on the local custom) aher leaving a place." Since hezkat ha-yishuv
involved obligations as well as privileges, individuals were sometimes
eager ro have rhis period shortened 50 as ta hasten their Ireedom from
financial responsibility.
It was decided, however. that anyone leaving
a commuJllty was obliged ta continue to participa te in the expenses of
rhat community
for a certain period of tirne, usually a year or two.
Sometimes the right to lea ve was made conditional on the deposit of
a secunty adequate to insure thar the individual would honor his responsibilities even while living elsewhere. In other cases we find the
individual ending his obligation by making a one-rirne, fixed payment.l''
It was legally impossible to srop sorneone from leaving a kehila, but
we In fact know of cases in which mernbers of a community
forced an
individual ro take an oath that he would not abandon thern.!" This
would tend to happen especially in smaller communities where everyone depended on the continued
residence of a few wealthy
indlvlduals-and
sometimes just one.

Family Members'
Rights of Residence.
Barring local t akanot ro the conrrary, ones hezkat yishuv alsa included mernbers of
the household. including even dornestic servants. Still, there had to be
some limits on who might legitimately be included in the "household."
As we shall see, in this period the nuclear family was often joined by
secondary relations, and the kehila was forced to protect itself against
people using their family connections to settle illegally. There was,
however,never
any doubt that relatives of the hrst degree were included
in hezkat ha-yishuv.
Sons and daughters,
stepchildren
frorn either
parent. and grandparents-in
other words, ali those whorn one was
haIakhically obliged to support-had
the right to join rhe household
of the kehila mernber, even if they had not been born in the Iocale or
lived there before.
On the other hand, rhese individuals

could only participate

in the

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

personal right of domicile of rhe householder;


they did not autornatically gain this right for themselves.
Usually, one could transfer
hezkat ha-yishuv only to children, male or female: and even rhis was
nor absolute and unconditional.
As a general principle. the children of
kehila members could acguire the hazaka, even if they had previously
lived elsewhere,
50 long as they reguested
it within a glven nrne
period-custamarily
two or three years aher their marnage. Unless
specifically stated otherwise, rhe hazo):a also included the nght ta establish a family in the area.F Sometimes, even a kehl/a member was
not autamatically
allowed to marry off all his children locally unless
he could provide an adequate dowry for each. This was anorher method
by which the community
tried to !imit the number of members who
were unable to carry their full share of the financial burden.!3 l~ are~s
without such a limiration, children had the automatic nght to Iequest
the right of residence, and the usual preconditions
for acceptance were
either waived or considerably !ightened for them. But even l~ere, t~el~
automatic right ta request did nor guarantee them mernbers lp, an .1
they did not exercise their right to request mernbership
wirhin a certam
period of rime. it lapsed too.

Appointments
a n d Offices Are Te m p or a r f . Let us turn now
1
I ds by which offices were transferred and personnel changed
ro thle mehtlo s
I I adership
Even these purel y functional details
wit 1Il t e cornrnuna
e.
..
I d
merit cannot be ignored. The methods of changing
ea ers,
o f govern
h d
.
tant
. d d rhe very fact thar offices did change
an s, were lmpor
asr m ee,
fk ni!
t
deterrninants ofrhe social character and function o ela governmen
.
A primary characteristic of kehila institutions
was the Iaer that no
was h e,Id for life much less could it be pas sed Irorn
o ffIce
. ffather . to son.
.
This was as true for elected leaders as it was for paid uncuouanes.
The rabbi and shtadlan served for fixed penods of urne. and even if
these appointments
could be renewed or extended, whether or not ta
do 50 rernained the decision of those who had made the origina] ap.
t A shamash
scribe or other minor funcrionary might. It
pomtmen .
".
.
f
11 bis true be appointed without time Iimit. but these were a ter a su
ordina;e positions ultimately dependent upon those with real aurhority.
Th
ld always be fired for poor performance
or for disobedience
to;;r~o~eir
superiors.J" Conversely, the elected officials, who could
not effectively be disciplined during their term of olfice. served for only
limited periods.
.
h
f
The sociological intent of rhese arrangernents
IS dear: C ange o
personnel prevented individuals from monopolizing offices arid turrung
them into permanent
sources of income ar bases of power. Lirruting

THE

COMP05ITION

OF

THE

KEHlLA

rhe term of otfice prevented individuals Eram abusing their positions.


This was especially important since there was no other effective, institutional mechanism
rhrough which ro control the leaders' performance. The iakanot emphasized arid stressec! rhar rhe annual (or. in
rhe case of rhe supra-comrnunal
institutions,
the bi- ar triannual) elections must take place on rime. 15 It was not a quesrion. merely, of orhers
eagerly awaiting the opportunity
ro displace the current officeholders.
Even in places where the pool of potential officeholders was actually
quite small. the community stressed the irnportance of changing personnel because this forced officeholders to consider public opinion and
syrnbolized the fact that authority derived ultimately from rhe cornmunity ar large.16

Criteria for Officeholding.


The criteria for holding office varied. There were no predetermined
rules regarding who might be appointed as il paid functionarv.
these appointments
were left up ro the
officials The rabbi had ro have been ordained by his teacher, il recognized Torah aurhority, ar one of the provincial rabbis,I7 but beyond
rhat. the decision was based upon rhe candidate proving in person rhat
he was qualified ta serve as the head of a yeshiva,
a judge, and a
spiritualleader.
In many places it was also sripulatedrhar
the candidate
for a rabbinical post could not be related ta members of rhe comrnunitv.!" but this requirerncnr
was not universal.!? The increasing insistence an rhis pointwas il reflection of the emerging role of the rabbi
as the prirnary judge and arbitra tor of disputes. Since family ties provided the major focus around which group loyalty was forrned. it was
logical therefore rhar the rabbi could not be related to any of the groups
that srrove for power in rhe community.
Age an d Officeholding.
The primary qualilicarion for public
office at the local and supra-communallevel
as well as for the rabbinate
was age, usually calculated in terms of the number of years since the
candidates marriage.?" This rnethod of calculation reflects thertendency
to marry early. The minimum age rose with the importance
of the
office, and special takanot were issued to raise the minimum age of
rabbis and of those who held office in the supra-communal
organizations. Even where we do not have such explicit takunot it is almost
certain that public office was not open ta anyone who had not attained
a certain chronological maturity. The traditional nature of the society
dernanded thar public positions be given only ta those WhD had already
absorbed the tradition and had demonstrated
it before the younger

TRADITION

ANO

CRISIS

generation. Moreover, in some places election to higher office was made


conditional upon prior service ar some lower level.?' This guaranteed
that the candidate would gradually gain experience in handling public
alfairs. and to a certain extent the system provided opportunities
for
observing and selecting the best candidate.

Taxpayers
as Officeholders.
While age and experience reguirements
did not present absolute barriers to an individuals
rise,
there were two ,others-one
based on property
and one based on
learning-that
had much more far-reaching
social implications. Anyone who enjoyed local residential rights was considered a member of
the cornrnunity. But the hazaka did not automatically
gualify its holder
to vote or stand for public office. For this, one had to be a taxpayer:
that is, one had to be a property owner whose assets were regularly
assessed and who shared in the communal expenses in proportion to
the extent of those assets. 22 Even taxpayers could nor ali stand for every
office. In some places rhe taxpayers were divided into categoriesusually three-and
each level had its own specific and defined rights.
The major offices. such as that of p arnas, were open only ta members
of the highest category.." No one in our period questioned this link
between political privilege and the size of one' s contribution
to the
communal
burden, even if there were inevitably struggles between
those of more modest means and those with greater means over the
strength of this link. 24 The only factor that somewhat mitigated this
"plutocratic"
tendency was the custom of accepting a certain level of
education as a partial substitute for property. As we shall see, scholars
of this era acguired titles of hauer and morenu, which were treated as
partial equivalcnts of the property gualifications reguired for appointment.:" As is obvious. this custom had far-reaching
sociological implications, which we shall discuss when we turn to the question of
stratification in this society.
Nowhere did the electorate at large vote directly for candidates of
its choice. Rather. appointments
were decided upon by a lirnited group
of from five ta seven mevorerim
(selectors]. who decided upon the
suitable candidate by majority vote. These rrievorerim were selected.
in turn, either by a yet larger group of selectors or by rhe drawing of
names at random from among ali those with the right ta stand for
election. In those places where taxpayers were divided into categories.
the upper classes were given preference in that a larger number of their
members
were included in the pool from which mevorerim
were
chosen.i"

THE

COMPOSITION

OF

THE

KEHILA

93

The electoral sysrem was semirationalized


in the sense tiut election
was determined by two principles: chance (in determining the makeup
of the nominating body) and evaluation of personal merit (in the direct
elecrion of officials). The element of chance implied rhar in selecting
the mevorerim
matters were left in the hands of heaven. But the
selecrors themselves re/ied on personal judgment in selecting the most
suita ble candidates. The selectors were usuallv required to take an oath
rhar they w~~dd carry out their task honestly (le-shem shamaylm)
and
lmpartIally..
On a certam level. this method was mereiy a compromise
between radical democracy and oligarchy, or. as traditional sources had
it, between "rninyan"
and "binyan"-that
is. between giving a relarively large number some role in the election proccss and limiting office
to thar smaller grollp who were generally regarded as suitable. Be that
as It may, the system performed the necessary social function of giving
the members of the community the feeling that It was they who determmed who would lead thern. Despite the relativelv weak connection
between rhe voters and the results of the election, the system was able
to maintam this sense of parriciparion , and even though the pool of
qualified candidates for office might be guite srnall. rhe public set great
store by the eiections. There was an ongoing struggle in most cornrnurunes to enlarge the franchise, and suspense over the outcorne of
elections always ran high. Even though officeholclers were elected rime
and again from among the same limited circle. comperinon wirhin that
group kept up public interest.
The kehila had always to take precautions lest leadership become
the monopoly of a smal1 group. Given the elose ties in Jewish society
even between relatively distant relations, it was important not to let
relarives hold multiple offices for an extended period of time. Hence
the kehilot took special care that members of a single family not be
chosen for offices that had deaJings with each other. Indeed, the takanot
of the kehilot and other public insritutions aI! included rules that aimed
at distancing members of the same family from each orher. and struggles between vanous factions ofren centered on the interprerajion
and
application of these very rules. 2Sr Another factor thar could lead to
overconcentranon
of power was the involvement
of the secular authorities. Opposition ta accepting appointmenrs
to ]ewish communal
office from the secular authoriries can also be understood as an expression of the fear that a parnas appointed in this manner would nor step
down from office aher his term was finished. Finally, the political
II1dependence of the community
was also threatened
if the official
gained his position through absolute economic dorninance, as in a case

94

T RAD

1 TIa

AN D

C R [ 5 15

where the majority of rhe community


depended economically on a
wealthy rnernber. These dangers, particularly
problematic when economic powerwas Iinked to politica! influence at cou rt, severely limited
the polirical mdependence
of the communities,
especially taward the
end of our period, as we shall soon see.

Inter-communal

Relations

ur picture of [ewish communal organization has 50 far focused


on the kehila-the
organizational
and administrative
unit of
rhe Jewish cornmuniry in a single city. We shall now complete the
picture by treating aspects and forms of communal organization
that
do not exactly fir within this narrow rubric.
Yishuvim-Smaller
Settlements.
First, we should note rhar
kehilot often included residents of small neighboring settlernenrs (bnei
yishuv) as mernbers. Both the individuals involved and the kehila had
an interest in encouraging such mernbership. For the isolated individual
or the group of [ews too small ta maintain communal institutions
of
its own, membership
in the larger kehila provided vital services: aid
in cases of conflict with non-Iewish sociery.! and religious necessities
such as occasiorial public prayer, religious education for children, religiously supervised marriage and divorce, kosher foods, and, perhaps
most basically, final burial in a Jewish cernetery. Physical distance
rneant that such individuals could not be active partners in the kehila's
instirurions.
nor could they enjoy ali the benefits ta which they were
entitled, but they did receive the most vital services, even if with some
difficulries.
For their part, the community
and its agents were also ea ger to
bring such nonresidents
into the kehi/a. For one thing, as members
they were obligated to share in the common burden. and their par ticipation thus helpcd to ensure the existence of the kehila' s institutions.
Communal functionaries such as the rabbi, the preacher, and rhe head
of the yeshiva, who derived their livelihood either Irom seJfees for
services rendered ar horn donations given thern on specific occasions,
also saw the addition of new mernbers to the cornrnunity in a positive
light, sin ce it inevitably meant a broadening of their base of material
support. 2 But even leaving personal interests aside. leaders who identified with their communities naturally sought such expansion as a sign
of communal greatness and glory.
Once the population of an outlying settlement grew ta the point

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

that it could sustain independent institutions


of its own, conflict could
arise. The leadership of the established community
would argue for
retention of the status quo, while the yishuv Jews would argue that
rheir needs and rights were being ignored because they lived 50 far
from the communal institutions.
Such disputes often reached rhe rabbinical courts, as did dispures between established kehi/ot about which
held jurisdiction over settlements lying between rhern.? In the absence
of any clear legal basis for deciding such disputes, the issue remained
essentially political, and the function of the rabbinic court was more
ta encourage cornpromise and appease the parties involved than ta issue
a binding decision, unless the court was associated with a supracommunal organization
that the litigants were both required to obey.

Th e Provincial
Keh i!. Another form of communal organization was found where ali rhe Jews of the outlying settlernenrs in a
province (medina) belonged ta a single, provincial kehila. This form
of organization
was foundin the principalities of Germany where Jews
settled primarily in villages arid smalt towns and where there was no
large, central community.
By their very nature, such organizations
could deal primarily with the adrninistrative
side of Jewish life: allocating financial obligations, raising taxes, and maintaining a provincial
rabbi in the largest of the Jewish settlernents.
This rabbi would serve
as a judge, arrange marriages and divorces, and supervise the ritual
slaughterers.
But in anything related ta the daily Iife of the communities, such as the maintenance of institutions for education and prayer,
the provincial kehila could provide only limited and irregular services."
On the other hand, the very limited nature of these institutions bears
witness ta the almost absolute nature of the [ews' need for ties ta
communal organization.
Even when such institutions
did not provide
ali of the individual's needs. they were still considered worthwhile for
the minimum
they did provide. The government's
desire to keep its
Jewish subjects within a single rubric arid to levy taxes Irom rhem in
sorne centralized fashion further encouraged the creation and rnaintaining of these organizations.
But even this governmental
attitude
indicates that despite their dispersal, the Jews continued to lorrn a
unitary body whose mernbers could not be linked except ta each other.?
111 te r- co m m u n al Co o pe ra tion.
Having described the different
forms of communal organization,
let us turn now to the problern of
the relations between them. Every kehila, whether associated with a
specific city or a province, was an autonomous organizational
unit with
no obligatory relation whatsoever
ta any other. The kehila had au-

INTER-COMMUNAL

RELATIONS

97

thority over its members even when the latter were outside its territory," and over strangers 50 long as rhey were within irs territory. On
the other hand, the kehila's decisions were in no way binding for
mernbers of other kehilot, much less for their institutions.?
But these
clear-cut lines of jurisdiction among communities
existed only Irorn
the point of view of legal rheory, Individuals did not lead lives.completely contained within the framework of rhe lcehila, in rhe spheres
of economic life, family life, and education. members of one kehila
inevirably depended on individuals from other kehilot8 Even the cornmunal organizations
thernselves had ta help each other with regard ta
issues where joint action was prefera bIe ta action an the part of a single
community.
When the [ewish cornmunity
faced danger because of
pressure or abuse on the part of the government
or because of accusations and pogroms an the part of the masses, the situation was nor
usually limited ta the territory of a single community.
In such cases
cooperation on the part of many organizations
was a vital necessity.
lndeed, representatives
of dilferent cornrnunities customarily consulred
with each other and called ad hoc conferences even in regions where
no permanent,
regular, inter-cornrnunal
organization
had been instirutionalized.? Kehilot were likewise called upon to assist one another
in rhe event of natural disasters-most
frequently a fire10-and
ta
share in the costs of ransoming prisoriers.P
Such reciprocity was of a
spontaneous,
rather than a formally institutionalized,
nature: mutual
aieI was requested and extended on the basis of a cornrnon sense of
national unity, aneI an awareness of a cornrnon destiny that linked ali
the scattered sections of the people. Extending aid ta another cornmunity was seen as legally obligatory only when it might be reasonably
supposed that the danger facing that community
was likely ta strike
directly at others as well. This legal requirernent.
articulated
by
R. Joseph Colon in the second half of the fifteenth century.P was the
first break in the principle of the total legal autonomy of each kehila.
Reciprocal relations were also maintained
between comrnunities
both near and far for purposes of internal defense against religious
deviators. The outstanding
exarnple of this was the war against the
Sabbatean sect in the period aher Sabbetai Zvi's apostasy (1666). The
battle was carried on mainly by communal leaders, both rabbinic and
lay. They collected tesrirnony. issued proclamations,
pronounceeI the
ban, and otherwise punished transgressors
whom they could apprehend.P But their proclamations were not adeIressed only ta the rnernbers of a single kehila. Rather, they addressed [ewish public opinion
in general and assumed that where the principles of [udaism were
concerned, there was no geographical limit ta the authority
of the

TRADITION

ANO

CRISIS

individual community.
This sarne feeling of uniry resounded in the
eighteen rh century in rhe proclamations of the opponen ts of Hasidisrn.
for the most part al sa kehila leaders.!" One of the signs of the isolation
of rhe rabbinate in the Haskala period is the fact rhat they carried an
their struggle against the maskilim largely an their own, without support from the parnasim. And ar the sarne tirne. borh the maskilim and
the Hasidirn. as leaders of new popular movemenrs.
relied upon independent individuals rather than recognizeel public institutions, as we
shall see.15

l n t e r=co m m u n a] D'is p u t e c . This sense of a national


uniry
rranscending
the local kehila was also apparenr when a controversy
broke out among the leaders of a cornmuruty,
and particularly when
rabbinica] judges disagreed over a legal ruling. Such controversies
tended to arise in towns where rhere was no clear hierarchy obhgating
one rabbi ta accept the opinions of anorher. Once a controversy
did
break out, however, it generally spread beyond the lirnirs of the kehila,
almost invariably one or both parties would take their case ta halakhic
authorities elsewhere. 16 By the very nature of these controversies, rhere
was little chance of obtaining a uniform opinion from ali the scholars
consulted, for the issue generally turned on guestions nor clearly decided in rhe halakhic sources. A binding decision could have been
handed down only by an institution
ar individual with undisputed
authoriry, and there was neither a rabbinic institution that transcended
its local base nor a single halakhic scholar who was recognized as the
supreme authority
of his generation-except
in a metaphoric sense.
On the contrary,
aur period-the
sixteenth
through
eighteenth
centuries-is
marked both by a multiplicity of organizations
anei by a
wealth of rabbinic scholars who functioned side by side wirhour any
one succeeding in imposing his authority on the others. This explains
the large number of controversies stemming from differences in rulings
an religious law. The contemporary
systern of establishing the law was
both complicated and dependent upon a high degree of acuity, and it
ofren prevented any absolutely clear decision. Occasionally, of course,
clashes of personalities anei ideologicalleanings
further complicated the
theorerical dispute, anei virtually precluded any possibility of cornpromise.V Essenrially. however. the widespread phenomenon of legal controversy should be seen as a manifestation
of a structural paradox:
J ewish social units were tied ta one another by a cornrnon system of
law and justice but lacked a binding organizational
format through
which ta express this unity.

INTER-COMMUNAL

RELATIONS

99

Th e Herem of Rabenu Tam.


In rhe absence of any insritution
authorized ta decide disputed cases, the demand that courr rulings not
be guestioned orice they were promulgated
could obviously rely on
litrle more than moral suasion. This is clear Irorn the Iare of rhe herem
of Rabenu Iacob Tam (twelfth century), which threatened excornmunication ta anyone challenging the legality of a bill of divorce already
issued.:" The explicit intent of this edict was ta guarantee inappellable
validity ta a court aetion once it was complete. And yer. peoples fear
of the herem and their great reverence for the sage who had first
proclaimed it did nor prevent endless appeals and controversies
about
the legality of bills of divorce even aher they were delivered. Such
disputes arose even within single kehilot wherever there was no central
court.!? and were stil! more cornrnon when more than one community
was involved. for one thing. the courts of different kehilot were, in a
sense, competitors-either
for prestige ar for simple financial gain,
since the issuing of divorces was always an important source of income
for local rabbis.?" But, even assuming that the rabbis were completely
innocen t of selfish mori ves and of any desire ta ou tdo their colleagues
in halakhic learning, controversies were stillliable to arise on religious
grounds. The prohibition against appealing the already-implernented
decision of a court was counterbalanced,
aher ali, by the obligation ta
prevent people from falling into sin. Were one to accept an invalid get
(bdl of divorce] and thereby permit what was actually forbidden, rhe
woman might improperly remarry and thereby bring i11egitimate children into the world.?' Here we arrive at the heart of the matter
Th e Legal Relations
between Oifferent
Co m m u n it i e s . The
right (and duty) of a rabbinic judge in one city ro contest the ruling
of a colleague elsewhere was based upon two assumptions.
The first
had ta do with rhe legal nature of the Halakha, which, as received
religious Iaw, was subject to clarification but not ta change. The task
of the rabbi was therefore ta eliscover the law thar applied to the pending
case '. Were he to err in rhis, his ruling would be nul! and void. regardless
of his formal authority
ar his position as rabbi of the communitv.
Hence. and this is the second assumption,
it a colleague felr thar a
judge really had erred, it was the Iorrner s dury ta protest and thus
prevent a miscarriage of justice and its repercussions.
The mutual responsibiliry for maintaining rhe Torah was not lirnited by geography. There was only a gradation of responsibility:
Those
nea rest the scene of action and those living within the same country
had the primary obligation to rectify the error if they were in a position
to do SO.22 lndeed, the prevalent view was that the court closest in

100

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

proximity had the primary duty ta protest, but that it was thereafter
the duty of anyone else to do so. On the basis of this assumption.
as
is well known, protagonists
in halakhic controversies
sometimes succeeded in drawing scholars of distant lands into the argument. In any
case, until the dissolution of the traditional structure toward the end
of the eighteenth century, the scholars of one land, much less one city,
never argued that their counterparts
in anorher land or city had no
right to intervene.P
National unity was maintained in this period and
never challenged, at least wirh regard to matters of Iaith and religion.
The absolute autanomy of the community
was restricted ta those
matters thar might be classified as inyanei mamon-that
is, the political, economic, and legal rights that were the subject matter of most
takanot. And in fact, we can see an expression of this autanomy in
the preferences granted to the local residents over "outsiders" (nokhrim) who either passed through, or actually lived in, a given place.?"
It never would have entered anyone's mind ta demand equal economic
rights for a [ew who just happened to be staying in a particular city.
But this autonomy did not mean that the kehila could deal arbitrarily
with members of other kehilot. The same legal tradition that empowered the kehila ro issue regulations
for the benefir of local residents
also established rhe minimal rights of outsiders and required that they
be protected.P
None of the fundamental
elements that were added to the Jewish
legal rradition during the Middle Ages ever sought ta undermine the
universal orientation of the original Talmudic law, which had encompassed ali [ews, or at least ali those living within a single state. Moreover, the historical situation
of the sixteenth
through
eighteenth
centuries, particularly
in Poland but elsewhere as well. once again
approximated
the social structure of Talmudic times. Once again we
Iind dense Jewish settlernents.
relatively differentiated
in occupational
terrns, maintaining close social and economic ties with each other, and,
ta a large extent, basing their income on that fact. It is sufficient ta
note the increasing mobility of ba sic groups in this society: there were
tradesmen who traveled ro Iairs, young men who wandered from one
yeshiva ta another. itinerant preachers. and, of course, beggars, who
were considered a veritable plague.26 The sense of unity among the
different parts of the nation, which had not been eliminated even in
the Middle Ages, was now strengthened
by economic and social realities. In the legal realrn, this sense of unity found expression in the
rnultipliciry of claims and counter-claims
between members of different
kehilot . Which court had jurisdiction
over such cases-that
of the
plaintiff's city or that of the defendant's?
Did the litigants have the

INTER-COMMUNAL

RELATIONS

101

right ta take the case to a neutral courr, and, if so, what should the
nature of such a court bel None of these questions were adequately
thrashed out or decided even in theory in the legal tradition of rhe
period27 And the absence of any enforcement
mechanism with authority over the two cities involved in a given case made it even more
difficulr ta achieve satistaction horn a lawsuit. For this reason, already
in the Middle Ages communities resorted ta the questionable measure
of sequestering
the property of the defendant-deposits
or loans that
were in rhe hands of others-in
order ta compel him ta stand trial in
the plaintiff's city or in the place where the property was located.28

T h e As pir ati o n t o w ard 5 u p r a - c om m Lin 1.71 In 5 tit u t iO 11S . In


a period such as ours of interlocking economic ties, when capitalists
based their livelihood upon such arrangements
as the transfer of merchandise Irorn place to place and the acceptance of commercial paper
drawn against an anonymous
rnarket, such legal uncertainty
was an
intolerable impediment.
It is no wonder, therefore, rhar people looked
to supra-kehila bodies. which were in a position to guarantee rhe stability of legal arrangements between parties who had constant economic
dealings with one another. The gentile government
and its courts of
law provided another venue in which mernbers of distant communities
might air their petitions. But this solution contravened an unquestioned
national-religious
inhibition. and it was therefore essential that the
deciding body be found within Jewish society.
It was the Talrnudic legal tradition itself that supplied the concepts
necessary for a solution in the notions of rhe bet din gadul (high courr]
and bet vaad (house of assembly), ta which, under certain conditions,
individuals who refused ta accept the decision of their local courts might
appeal. In Palestine and Babylonia there had existed national organizations thar lent real enforcement powers to rhese institutions.
During
the medieval period, a period marked by organizational
fragmentation,
these legal terrns were used ro justify the activities of judges with
spontaneous,
as opposed ta institutionalized,
authority.
This might
occur when the two litigants (or, in exceptional periods, as in tl.fe days
of R. Meir of Rothenburg.
the entire people] accepted the authority of
a certain individual.P
In our period of increased inter-communal
contact, no single scholar could have satisfied the need for an ultirnare
arbitrator-even
if an individual of unquestioned authoriry could have
been found. The system of assigning authority in an ad hoc fashion
did nor, by definition, provide a permanent solution; it worked only
it both parties in a given instance agreed. But an economy based upon
credit depended upon guarantees that agreements would be carried out,

102

T R A OlT

ION

A Noe

RIS 1 5

and could not accept such a system ar all. It sought, therefore. to creare
permanent
institutions
of justice with authority
over broader areas.
and. indeed, did 50 in ali regions where the secular government did not
specifically prevent this development. In 1603 in German y, for exarnple,
a congress at Frankfurt tried ta lay the groundwork
for such a legal
institution
but was frustrated by the government. 30 This case dernonstrates that in areas where such supra-communal
institutions were
established, we should not assume rhar the motivating force derived
from the government,
even if the latter used these institutions
for its
own needs and sometimes even helped to crea te them. Moreover, even
if the government
had sought ta crea te thern. it could nor have done
50 without
rhe basis of Iewish legal concepts and rhe [ewish public
consciousness, The government
could only supporr ar block such a
development.
The source of the supra-comrnunal
institutions
lay in
the need for organizational
unity perceived by a jewish society thar,
an the one hand, avoided resorting ta state institutions
and, on rhe
other. was maintaining
ever-increasing
contacts among irs own cornponent parts.

Supra-Kehila Organizations

ist not our in ren r in the present study to describe the development
of any particular supra-communal
orgaruzanon.
Just as It was not
ou r intent ta describe the growth of any particular kehila. The supracommunal organizations flourished in the different countries of central
Europe-in
the German Empire and in Poland-Lithuania-from
the
mid-sixreenrh
until the second half of the eighteenrh century. Each
organizarion,
called a medina (literally: state), underwent a developrnent of irs own, and is wonhy of independent
historical treatrnenr.
(Indeed, this remains a major desideratum
of Jewish hisrory.]
Bu t
beyond any individual variarions, we find characteristic
features that
were common ta all these organizations
and arose from the similarity
in the factors that gave them birth: prevailing conditions, functional
patterns, institutional structures, and operational systems. In our study
of social historv, we are therefore jusrified in trying to abstract the
essentia] nature of the medina and to trace rhe universal aspects of its
developrnenr.!
By way of surnrnary, let us list the principal facts thar call for
analysis. Supra-kehila
organizations
existed and functioned Irom the
second half of the sixteenth centuries ta the first half of the eighteenrh
in Poland, Lithuania, Moravia. and wesrern Hungary.
The sphere of
jurisdiction
of such an organization
was called its galil (district) or
medina (state), and these names were also applied ro the organization
itself, as, for instance, incomposite terms such as uaad h a-gali! (district
committee) and ma?av ha-rnedina (condition of the state). Organizational structure differed Irom place to place. In Poland and MQravia,
the communities
of the galil chose representatives
who then acted
on behalf of the entire medina.? In Lithuania, on the other hand,
in matters relating to the district as a whole, al! the kehilot were subject ta the leadership of the principal kehila, even though they had no
role in forming its executive institutions.
In practice, the leadership of
the principal kehila and that of the district were identica!. Whatever
the method of electing rhe organization' s lay leaders, the unity of the
member kehilot found borh actual and symbolic expression in the per-

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS
SUPRA-KEHILA

50n of rhe rav na-medina (the rabbi of the 5upra-kehila) or the av bet
din (the chief rabbi of the principal !cehi/a), to whom ali the !cehi/ot,
including the principal one. were, at least theoretically.
subjecr.:'
The galil represented the firsr level of supra-cornmunal
organization. Where a number of such districts existed within a single country,
the districts themselves united into yet a broader organizational
unit.
The medina of Moravia encompassed three districts, that of Lithuania
between three and five. and the Polish lands Irorn four ta ten, the
increasing number of districts reflecting growing population as well as
the maturing of new centers. In al! cases, the executive institutions of
these organizations
were chosen by representatives
of the component
bodies. <1

The Role of ih e State.


The creation and functioning
of the
salii and medina were conditioned by the sarne factors that affected
the basic unit of internal jewish self-government,
the !cehI/a. None
could have existed but for the grace of the ruling authorities.
The
Europeanstate
of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries was based
upon a system of "estares."
each one of which existed as a politica]
and social unit unto itself, and was occasional!y even represented as
SL1chvis-a-vis the central government.
Thus, recognition of the suprakehi! did not involve any special concession. an the contrary, it COfresponded to the degree of rationalization
of government characteristic
of the period. by which rhe respective estates were held responsible for
the conduct of their interna] affairs and were obliged only to contribute
their share to the maintenance
of the state. For the [ews, this latter
meant tax payments in cash-payments
that were made not by individuals but by the community
as a collective. The state agreed to the
existence of rhe central, supra-!eehila organization and gra~ted it some
of the politica] power normal!y accorded to the local/eehilot b:~'ause it
found it more convenient to deal with a larger organization
and especially ta have the collection of the Jews' taxes centralized in this
manner.
It should be noted that for purposes of the kind of social history
in which we are engaged, it is irrelevant whether these organizations
were created by the state as a means of controlling the Jews or resulted
from an internal [ewish initiative." Whoever the initiator,the
supracommunal organization could not have existed without the welcoming
context of the corporate state on the one hand, or the frequent contacts
anddeep sense of interconnectedness
rhar linked the various Jewish
c~mmu~ities
on the other.
. ,Ne~otiations
between the government
and the supra-cornrnunal

ORGANfZATlONS

organization did not end once that organization had been created. Determining reciprocal righrs and obligations was an unending process
that required constant attention. Representatives
of the organizations
and of the government negotiated constantly over the leveI of taxation,
over special levies. and over whether the community was responsible
for the actions of its members and constituent subgroups. The representatives would also protest any abrogation of Iews confirmed rights,
arbitrary actions by government
officials, and encroachrnen ts by the
authoriries on their organizational
autonomy.
Lay a n d Rabbinic
Leadership.
Let us turn 1l0W ta a description of the internal structure of these organizations.
an a formallevel,
the structure of the medina appeared quite similar to that of the kehila .
Both were headed by p arnasim elected by the members-in
the kehila,
by local householders,
and in the medina, by representatives
of the
communities or districts. Election procedures were also similar. In Lithuania and Poland, those who elected the kehila leaders also directly
chose their representatives
both ar the district level and ta the Council
of the Four Lands; these representatives
coUectively formed the leadership of the supra-cornmunal
organization.
In Moravia, on the other
hand, it was the representatives
of the kehilot who in turn elected some
of their number ta serve as parnasim and lead the rnedina." Appoin tments ro the supra-kehila, like those ta the kehila, were honorary posts
with no financial recompense. Accordingly,
the extent of ories contributions to kehila taxes was an important factor in determining
eligibility. Officeholders were, on principle, not entitled to derive material
benefit frorn their post, though they were reimbursed for their expenses
from organizational
funds.?
In addition to its lay leadership, each supra-communal
organization
was headed by a rabbi. who exercised religious-halakhic
authority. This
was either a specially appointed. regional rav ha-medina or rhe av bet
din (chief rabbi) of the principal community
in the region. In the
Council of the Four Lands and the Lithuanian medina, both comp site
organizations,
rabbinic leadership was vesred in a committee of rabbis
each of whom enjoyed equal authority.
The division of power between the lay and rabbinic leadership was
likewise very similar ro rhat which obtained at the kehila level. The
lay heads of the medina decided on all measures of communal policy
and "Ioreign"
relations. It was they who distributed the tax burden
and special ievies, again through assessment
committees,
as in the
kehilot." The takanot adopted at committee meetings were sometimes
written by experts specially appointed to the task, but they were never-

106

T RAD

1 ION

AN D

eRI

SIS

theless issued in the name ot the p arnasim and rhe heads of the medina.
The sarne was true for regulations dealing with ritual questions such
as prohibited foods, Sabbath observance, the prohibirion of usury, and
rhe confiscation of usurious profits. Such t aka not could have been
formulated only by outstanding
scholars and. as a rule, they should
be attributed to the rabbi or rabbis of the supra-kehlla.
But even these
were proclaimed in the name of the lay leaders of the supra-kehila,
who, like rhe lay leaders of the kehilo, recognized their obligation to
uphold religious law.? Indeed, there was no clear-cur demarcation between the lay and rabbinical spheres of au thority: the parnusim assisred
in ensuring the dominance of religion in public lile, and they were
assisred in turn by the rabbis, the preeminent
representatives
of re ligion, in enforcing the t ak anot in other spheres. As in the /(ehila,. there
were sometimes differences of approach berwcen lay and rabbinic fIgures at the medina level, sometimes even leading ta ou tright protests
by the rabbis against the actions of rhe parnasim.'O.
But the mutual
interdependence
of the two authorities,
combinec! wlth. the fact that
rhe officeholders in both groups belonged ta rhe same social class, were
sufficient to reconcile such confIicts. In their public proclarnarions.
the lay and rabbinic leaders appeared as virrually a single ennty .. 1he
rabbis did nor hesitate ta sign regulations pertarnrng ta econorruc 01
politica! matrers: indeed. it was assumed rhat they approved of the lay
leaders decisions unless they actively objected. It 15 not mere happenstance that even though the p arnasim did nor necessarily solicit
the active assistance of the rabbis. they couched their proclarnarions
in religious terminology
and used a mechanism
deriving frorn the
religious sphere-the
decree of excommunication-as
a merhod of
enforcement.!'
To the extent that they served as judges and issued halakhic judgments in the broad sense that we discussed in chaprer 10, the rabbis
enjoyed independent
status within the structureof
the medina-as
in
that of the kehi!. That they would be able to nse above parricularist
interests. including rhose of the kehilot in which they functioned as
rabbis throughout
the year, was ensured by their close ties ta, and
dependence upon, the source texts of halakhic justice.P Theirs was the
court of last resort in aII inter-kehila
and inrer-regiona]
dispures. The
very existence of a central court of this sort epitornized the unification
of the kehilot into one overall body.

The Absence
of an Executive
Apparatus.
Despite the structural similarity between the kehila and the supra-kehila, however, there
were great differences in their operative methods and mechanisms.

SUPRA-KEHILA

ORGANIZATIONS

107

Note, for insrance. rhe very limitec! size of the supra-kehila's


bureaucracy in cornparison with the breadth of issues for which. in principle,
it was responsible. This is a good indicarion of the difference between
the two organizations.
The supra-kehila maintained a permanent staff
only ta keep up its contacts with the external authorities.
ro colIect
taxes. and ta keep the books. The judicial function. which, as we shall
see. was of fundamental
importance in the life of the medinot , was
exercised only periodically-whenever
there was a fair ar congress.
Only in Moravia are there indications of one degree or another of
continuous judicial acrivirv by the heads of the rnedina even while they
stayed in their hornetowns, and with and withour rabbinic participation.13 To perform its functions, the m edina employed, first of aII, the
shtadlan, who aeted as deputy of the parnasim in dealings with the
authorities.
In addition there were the ne'ernan (trustee). the sofer
(scribe), and the sh arnasn (attendant).
The first two worked as bookkeepers and clerks, and issued the docurnents of the council. To the
exrenr that the activities of the council were seasonal, even the scribes
and the attendants were employed only during congressional sessions
and Iairs.!"
The size of this staff was trivial in comparison with the scope and
nature of the decisions issued by rhe councils. It is therefore not su rprising to find rhat muny of the medinas
decisions were ro be carried
out nor by its own institurioris but by those of the kehilot . It should
be borne in mind that for most of the year. for all practical purposes
the medina did not exist and its leaders were dispersed ro their respective
communities.
True. they continued ta bear the title of rosh medina
(head of state), rosh gatil (head of district), ar manhig uaad arba
arazot (leader of the Council of the Four Lands], and they (ar their
replacements) would have to report on the implementation
of the cornmittees decisions at the next session, but this report would turn principaIly on what had. or had nor. been done by the kehilot rather than
by the leaders of the medina themselves. With regard ro most of their
decisions. the task of the supra-kehila
leaders involved control and
supervision rarher than direct implementation.
15 Execution
was Ieft ta
the kehila leaders and the paid officials at their disposal, TheJmedina
leaders would merely encourage kehila leaders and. if necessary, reporr
the latter' s refusal to obey.
In the final analysis, we thus conci ude that rhe supra-kehila
organization was completely different from the kehila. Wbereas the kehila was a ruling body with powers of enforcernent,
the supra-kehila
was merely a federation of autonomous
entities joined atound recognized common interests. It is true thar the members of the federation

108

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

theoretical!y
restricted their own freedom of action, but they never
made that restriction permanent
and obligatary by handing over rhe
means to execute government
decisions to the central organization.
Another indication of the sociological distinctness of the kehila and
the supra-kehila lies in the means of enforcement
exercised by each.
The kehila, as we have already seen, used practical!y al! means of
punishment-Erom
monetary fines to curtailment
of free movement
ta corporal punishment.
The supra-kehila also proclaimed such sanctions against those who violated its rulings. but its announcements
of
fines. threats of dismissal frorn office, and the like always required
enforcement
by the local kehila. It could almost be stated that the
supra-lcehila had no practical power at all, were it not for rhe significant
level of obedience thar a recognized and respected institution
backed
by exalred religious authority could elicit. especial!y in our period.
One of rhe proclamations
regularly resorted ta by the supra-kehila
was the decree of herem. Admittedly,
most such decrees were directed
not at specific individuals but rather at transgressors
in general. and
as such (as we have already noted in chapter 10) served more as a
means of intimidation and deterrence than as actual punishment.I?
But
the leaders of the medina did proclaim the ban against specific viola tors,
either individuals
or entire cornrnuniries.
when necessary. And the
herem, unlike orher means of enforcement, was well suited ta the suprakehila's organizational
structu re, for it did not require any action on
the part of rhe issuing aurhoriry or its agents. It was the public at large
that was requested ta have no contact with the excommunicated
person
and even to cause him direct harm. In social terrns. the implication of
the ban was ta withdraw th e protection of institutions
of government
and justice Irorn the individual. This type of sanction was typical of a
weak governmental
organization
thar had not the means to execute
punishments
on its own. Even rhe largest supra-kehila organization of
the pericd. the Council of the Four Lands, had no means of imposing
its authority directly on a recalcitrant community-unless
it was willing ta invoke the assistance of the secular government.
But just rhe
threat that the council might not defend a community against arbitrary
actions by the authorities arnounted, ipso facto, to an effective means
of enforcement.
It was even more effective to remove a community' s
legal protection vis-a-vis other [ews and, for example. to release rhe
community' s debrors frorn paying their debts, or to permit seizure of
mernbers' goods while in transit.V No kehila could withstand such
measures for an extended period of time.
The medina' s powers of enforcement
thus depended. in fact, upon
the entire cornmunity' s identifying with its purpose and decisions. The

SUPRA-KEl-IILA

ORGANIZATIONS

19

minimal preconditions necessary for creating a central government wirh


the power to enforce irs decisions were totally lacking. Hence, we should
understand the existence of these councils and medinot and their activity (especiaIly in those spheres in which they were not supported
by the secular authorities] as an expression of the recognition that such
activity was ultimately of beriefir to the entire community.
In some
areas, this recognition developed inro a sort of "medina consciousness,"
with an ideology thar demanded of individuals that they promote the
existence and unity of the medina. By the very nature of things, such
an ideology derived its terminoJogy
and drive from the traditional
religio-national
sources. Emotive terrns such as to oat ha-klal (the cornmon good) and zorkhei ziour (communal need) carne up of ten in the
decrees of the central councils; in extreme cases-as
with regard to
the acriviries of the Council of the Four Lands-con
ternporaries even
used the sanctilied terrns bet din gadol (great court) and sa nhe drin
gdola (grand Sanhedririj.!" The primary bearers of this ideoJogy were
presumably mernbers of the upper leadership class. who derived prestige
and status, and often material benefit. Irorn their activities on behalf
of the medina. But at least indirecrly. these concepts also penerrared
rhe general public awareness. and thus allowed the central leadership
ta mainrain control far in excess of what was warranted by its real
power of enforcement.

The Authority
of the Medina and Its Advantages.
What
matrers could be better promored by the medina than by the kehila?
In the last chapter we discussed rhe entire complex of problems that
arose from the fact that the [ews constituted a single society-both
economically
and socially-but
were dispersed over wide areas. An
institutional solution to these problems was sorely needed. The medina
represenred an attempt to arrive at a partial solution, at least with
regard ta rhe kehilot located within the terrirorv of a single kingdom.
In the first place, the abiliry of the Iewish community ta withstand
external threats was strengthened
by the existence of the national
organization.
A threat or a false accusation (bilbul) directed at an individual or a local community was ordinarily referred ta the central
organization,
the heads of rhe medina, and its shradianim, ar intercessors. For many reasons, the arguments of such medina representatives carried greater weight than those of local functionaries.
Moreover, the medina irnplied. ipso lacto. the required participation
of ali its members in any such rescue activity. Members of a medina
could have no doubts as ta whether they were obligated to participa te.
The abstract legal principle of mutual aid, the development of which

110

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

we discussed in the previous chaprer. here received stable institutional


expression. 19 The issue was nor just one of quarui ty; the accumulation
of power in the hands of the supra-kehila made a qualitative difference
as well. The medina could afford representatives
with far higher qualificarions than could the kehilot. The mediria could even refer cases of
accusations directly ro higher gentile authorities
wirh relative easean accepted strategy of Jewish self-defense.
The Counci] of the Fou r
Lauds, for exarnple. sent an emissary ro rhe pope requesting a statement
against blood libels.??
Because they were supra-communal
organizarions.
the medinot
enjoyed a distinct advantage in the legal sphere. The problem of deciding controversies
among members of different kehi/ot or among
different kehila organizations
was resolved by the establishment
of a
central court ro which both sides were subject. The central court of the
galilor the medina held jurisdiction over al! [ews living within its
territoryO
The actual power of this court dependeel on whether it hael
sufficient means of compulsion to force the parties ro arrerid courr anei
abide by irs elecision. But be that as it may, the legal anarchy of the
preceeling period. under which anyone with a clairn against someorie
ourside of his kehila did not know where ro turn, was eliminated by
the establishment
of the supra-kehi/a
organizations.
There were now
judicial frameworks with binding authority over extendeel areas. which
could provide the sense of security thar made possible frequent and
close financial contacts among [ews of the region.
The creation of the central organizations
also had some impact on
the local judicial system. Henceforth.
the individual no longer saw
himself as completely under the local kehila court, evcn if the t ak a noi
always took care ro ensure that rhe central organization did not infringe
upon the jurisdiction
of the kehila over local residents. There were
various restrictions on appeals ro the central authority:
In Moravia
such appeals were limited ro suits over a certain surn, and alI court
costs were ro be borne by the individual who had Iirst appealed to the
non-local court: in Lirhuania, appeals to the council caurt were allowed
only with the permission of the two principal kehilot or an alfirmation
frorn the local av bet din (chief rabbi) that he had refused to confirm
the ruling of the purnasirn.i? 5uch restrictions were designed ro dissuade people from resorting to appeals lightly. But in serious cases,
and especially in cases of disputes between individuals and their kehila,
the door was open for the individual to fight for his rights and to prove
the justness of his cause. In at least one region, in Moravia, there was
actually a special appeals court before which one could appeal a ruling
of a kehila court. even if it had already been promulgated. 23 But every-

SUPRA-KEHILA

ORGANIZATIONS

111

the me dina brake down the closed judicial framework of the


References ro a bet din gadol are rhus nor merely a rhetorical
device; the medin a courrs were a real authoriry and they fulfilled th e
function of a supreme judicial body in those areas of society over which
they had been assigned power. 24
There are several orher areas, aside from the appellate-juelicial,
in
which the supra-leehila
was superior to the local community
even
though it actually elepended upon that cornm un itv ta enforce irs rulings.
Certain types of decisions, for exarnple. were effective only if they were
issued cerurally, thus serving as a guide for ali the kehilot concerned.
A ruling that a particular tractate of the Talmud be taught during a
given period in al! rhe yeshivot of Poland and Moravia served as a
means of aiding 'the publishing houses in finding a wide rna rket for
a volume fresh from the press, but it also amounted ro technical aid in
the central supply of educational materials, as well as an educational
policy rhat facilitated students transferring
Irom one yeshiva ro another2S lt is unlikely that there was significanr opposition ro such
obviously beneficial rules. but rhe rules could nevertheless
never ha ve
been issued except by a supra-communal
organization.
Orher decisions dealt with distributing
Iinancial burdens among
differenr bodies : for exarnple, whether settlemerirs that had no yeshiva
should be charged with rhe maintenance
of yeshiva students during
vacation periods. or whether communities
were obliged to accept students from orher kehilot ar orphans Irom other me dinot 26 Even though
the implementation
of the ruling fell ro rhe sarne bodies who were
financially affected by it, the authority of the issuing institution
was
probably sufficient ta ensure obedience. Without such a decision. matters of this sort would have been left to chance-to
the detriment of
the students and orphans.
where

kehila.

In other cases where implementation


was the task of the local
bodies. the decision of the central organization
served to protect the
public against a roo-powerful individual. Prohibitions on farming the
custorns tax in Poland or calls for supervision of tariff levies in Moravia
were rulings implemented by others, but we may assume Eram the tact
that the councils took the trouble to issue thern that these ruli gs had
some impact.V They strengthened
the position of the community visa-vis powerful individuals.
arid providecl at least partial protection
against arbitrary acts an the part of the latter.
One of the most important functions of the centralleadership
was
simply to bolster the authority of the kehila leaders in matters thar
the latter could presumably have accomplished entirely on their own
initiative. It was kehila functionaries
who carried out the decision of

ii:'

TRI\()ITION

I\NO

CRISIS

t he lvlcravian medina
ta allow collccrion of a MaMRalv1E (promissory
note] even if it lackcd the legally required endorsement
of signatures2S
The exccution of this decision required the use of Iorce and occasionally
cven cruelty, going as far as rhe quick sequesrration
of rhe defendant's
horne and property. This and similar rules governing bankruptcy, which
we ha ve ulready discussed. were issued wirh the intention of ensuring
confidence among businessrnen.
But even though these stringencies
were recognized as important public necessities, their actual execution
was likely ta be difficult. parricularly
in srnall communities
whose
mernbers werc all linked by blood and friendship. The decision of rhe
central organization
presumably
served ta dispel doubts and ta bolster

rhe law.
Similorly. we [ind rulings explicitly designed ta combat individuals
feelings of compassion in cases where the public good required severity.
Pau pers roaruing Irorn place ta place were a virtual plague for the [ews
of Europe, as for the rest of European sociery. In an atternpt ta restnct
th e poor ro their own locales, the Lithuanian
council called an lcehTia
leaders not ro assist wandering beggars and not ta allow rhern to stop
even temporarily.
It is clear Irorn their wording that the authors of
rhis decision saw [ewish cornpassion as the main factor inhibiting the
implernentation
of their decisions.?"
Clearly. we are witnessing
a broad sociologica! phenornenon:
Within the Irarnework of a many-Iacered
sociery tliere was an increasing rendency ta institute adrninistrative
and judicial measures withaut
rcgard tu rheir eHect upon the individual.
The srnall SOCl~ty of the
medieval kehi! was not capable of developing abstract principles of
this sort, but neither had it required thern. Problerns of this kind were
resolvcd on an ad hoc basis. But onee rhe isolated kehi/a became part
of a socicty with wide-ranging
reciprocal relationships,
rhe leadership
was forced ro develop an overall, abstract system. From this poi~t on.
problems were considered as they af:fected the existence and weltare of
the society as a whole. The fate and suffering of rhe individual seem
ta [rave become irrelevanr ta those who formulatcd and executed the
laws. This was both the strength and the price of the supra-communal
lorm of organization.

The Family

et us now go Irorn a description of the framework that society


imposes upon the individual-that
is, rhe kehila and the supra/cehi/a-ta
the institution of rhe Iarnily, into which the individual is
placed at birth by narure. This transition Irorn rhe coercive institutions
of government
to the Iarnily, rhe instirution that provides the individual's needs, is somewhat arbirrary. But our treatment of the farnily at
rhis point at least has rhe advantage of presenting the opposite end of
rhe spectrum of hurnan social exisrence. Frorn rhe formal and organizational. we move ta the inrirnare and personal. AII orher religious
and educational institutions existed between these two poles of coercion
on the one hand and primary care an the orher. 1

St r u ct ur e a n d Co m p asitio n of the Family.


The Jewish Iarnily in our period was, in sociological terrns. of rhe small type. It was
composed of ilie rnarried nucleus~that
is, husband, wife, mutual offspring, and any children from earlier marriages living with thern. Family members shared a single housing unit. Assets upon which the family
drew for its sustenance were rhe legal property of the husband, whether
the Iamily was extraordinariIy
wealthy or had only the barest amounts
necessary for daily survival. The wife had certa in rights ta use this
properry:
She took care of regular household expenses and certain
religious and ethical expendirures.
such as the giving of chariry in
acceprable and custornary amounts. Ta the extent that it was custornary
for the wife to participare in her husband' s busiriess. she was his fuU
equal in daily economic activities. Ori occasion, part of the burden of
supporting the family. ar rhe entire burden, was borne by the wife,
while the husband devoted his time to the study ofTorah.?
Children
were considered dependent on their parenrs. and especially on their
Iarhers: they were withour economic, legal, or political independence."
The nuclear family was not infrequently
joined in its living arrangements
by secondary relations:
for instance, rhe husband's
or
wifes parenrs. The rights of parenrs to be supported in old age by their

.II.!

ehildrell

sornenrnes

TRAOITION

AND

CRISIS

by borh cusrorn and [aw." Orher relarives, and


even unreiared orphans. might also be supporred, out of
jcwish ch.iriry anei loving-kindncss.
Sons- '1Jld duughtcrs-

wus gllaranteed

rraditionu]
in-law living with rhe Iarnily during rh e fil'st few years of rnarriage
occupicd a somewhar intermedia te srage: They were primary relations
but rheir participation in rhc family was derermined by a contract thar
prorniscd support for rhe young couple for a predl'lermined
nurnber
nE vcars. o A cornpletcly conrrncrual relationship
with 110 familial element govcrned the status of yet orher mernbers of the householdnamely. rhe mule anei fernale dornesrics. the cook. and rhe wet nurse,
and cven the rencher (mclomed),who
of ten served as a household rutor

in rhe wealthy horncs of the day. Ii


This Iarnily. monogarnous
and patriarchal, wculd appear ta be typieu! of urban, burgher sociery as it had developed in European culture.
True, rhere ari? certuin [eatures unique ta tlie jewish family and ta
underlying [ewish artitudes toward family life. But it is not our purpose
here ro compare and contrast familial structu res: we: shall conrent oursclves with trying ta understand the [ewish Iamily per se-its
structure.
its functions, and the nrmosphere rhat pervaded it. lE one may be so
bold, we are trying tu grasp rhe spirit rhat gave the jewish family life.

Crl'otioll
of t h e [omil!!:
Betrothal
a n d Marringe.
The first
poinr to notice abour any familial structure is the mechanism by which
it is creared. In our pericd. rheIewish
farnily was creared by an agreement between rhose considered the coupl es logical representativesthe parents OI', if they were no Ion ger among rhe living, rhe couple s
relatives or publicly appoinred guardians. It is truc thar the formal bond
of mutrimony
(islwt), the bond that could be severcd only by a biJl of
divo rce, was established only through the direct action of the couple
themsclves-by
the rnnn's aer of betrothal am! rhe wornans voluntary
acceptancc. This bond rock effect under rhe marriage canopy UHlpO)
whcn rhc rnarringe ceremony was actual] y perfonned.
(This differed
trom the usual practice in the Midclle Ages, when it was custornary ta
have rhe ber rothul precede rhe rnarriagc cerernony by severa] months,
or cven years.") Sr ill, betrothal was always preceded by the writing of
t./lo'im
(coneIitions)-a
contract in which the parries cornmirted rhernselves ro the marriage arid specified other rerrns. such as the amounr
of rhe dowry, rhe time of the weeIding ceremony, and the couple's place
of rl"sidence. As il rule, the couple had no voiee wharsoever
in formulating thcsc terms. Only in a second marriage, where the particip,lIll'swere
alre'1dy domestically
independent,
or in nul' Glses where

H EfA

1\11 L Y

marnage was delayed until rhe participanrs


had reached social and
economic indepenclence, were rhese tna' im determined
by rhe couple
rhemselves. R Ancl evcn in rhese cases, formal signing was deJegated,
as a marrer of convenrion, to the parents or other representarives.
As noted, rhe signing of rhe tna'irn did not creare a marrimonial
bond, nor did rheir cancellanon require a bill of divorce. Bu t for ali
practical purposes, rhe tn a'im contained guarantees
of sufficient substance that rhe couples future might now be seen as entirely setrled.
no less rhan if an actual betrorhal had taken place. Firsr, each agreed
ta pay a heavy forfeit-usuaIly
half rhe dowry-for
vioJaring the
contract. Second, and more important, rhe agreement included a herem ,
a decree of excornmunication,
on anyone who broke the agreement and
abused the good narne of the orher family. This ban was undersrood
ro be a "ban of the /cehi/at"-i.e.,
il decree eIating back to the ancient
Sages. In Germany it was sometirnes alIowed that the ban would be
lifted upon payment of a fine, but in Poland the tna'inl explicitly stated
that the herem would appl y even after the fine was paid. The seriousness
of rhe relationship forged by the tnu'im was supported by public opinion, which frowned. upon any abrogation. The tna'im were written ar
a public cercmony in the presence not only of family mernbers but also
of communal officials such as a rabbi or preacher, 'a scribe, and witnesses. q Since rhe march had nor been based on "irrational"
considerations of a personaj and inrimate nature, any abrogation necessarily
implied thar there was something wrong with rhe marriage partner or
his or her family. Hence. anyone who broke the agreement
without
first receiving permission from an appropriate rabbinic courr would nor
only ha ve ta suffer the consequences by paying a Iorfeit. but would
also be held in conternpt. and their chances of again making a suita ble
match would be diminished.

TIu Rale of Parents


in Arranging
a Match.
The enormous
degree of control thar parents exerted over the match reflects the fact
that the engaged parties themselves were expected ta be youn .Tacking
in experiente, and unable ta know their own minds. And indeed, marriage at as early an age as possible was typical of rhe era. This tendency
sternrned, first, from the parents' desire to settle their children's future
while they, the parents, were stil! alive. But beyond any personal and
material concerns, we have here a reflection of the traditional religious
and ethical norms regarding sexual activity. Ali. sexual contact and
erotic satisfaction was forbidden outside of monogamous marriage. The
ideal of sexual pllrity applied equally to both men and women. In fact,

li.

mrrms

-IU;

TRI\DIT[ON

sinful thoughts

AND

were considered

CRISIS

worse in arnan

THE

than in a wornan,

for

rhcy mighr lead him ta nocturnal ernissions or masturbation.


Sil1S for
which there was almost no atonement except through difficult and birter
sclf-mortification.
This concept of sexual ethics was drawn from the
Talmudic litcrarure. Contemporary
musai (ethical) works elaborated
and populariz ed it, adding also the particularly
strict views of sexuality
rhar they drcw Eram the Zahar and orher kabbalistic rexts.!? On the
other hand, that very sume literature.
Irorn the Talmud arid Midrash
righr down to the contemporary
musar books. was keenly aware of the
intensity of sexual ternptarion. Talmudic Judaism was far removed from
the optimism of Carholic sexual ethics, which believed in the power of
rhe individual to overcorne his desires. Nor did it share the liberal
tendency ta gloss over the problem and minimize its imporrance. [ewish
halakhic and 111usar litera ture stress in unambiguous
terms that he who
is without a wife has almost no hope of withstanding
the temptations
of rhe flesh. A [ew who had grown up with this view was left with no
choice but to arrange as early a marriage as possible for himself and
his sons. At most he might delay marriage for a few years in order to
study iIl il yeshiva an rhe grounds that "his saul Ionged Eor Tarah."
BUl cven for Tarah scholars,
the ideal was ta marry firsr and ta study
Terah altcrward "in purity."ll

Ase of Marriage.
There were thus many incentives for early
marriage, and anyone who could, fulfilled this ideal. Sixteen was considcred the proper age for a girl, and eightecn at the latesr for a boy.
Parents were never eensured-indeed,
they were praised-for
arranging a match for daughters of thirteen ar fourteen and sons of fifreen
ar sixteen, and even for marrying
off their children at such young
ages. L!

Tli e Fu n ct i o n of Dowries.
But it wouleI be an error ta suppose
that ali members of society were married sa young. The age of marriage
was dclayed for sorne, although not by the sort of subjective Iactors
operative in societies where marriage depends ona personal attachment
between rhe parties. The great majority
of matches were arranged
through the agency of orhers, and every eligible person was rhe target
of marriage proposals, especially Erom professional
marriage brokers
(shadkhllJ1im) operating on the local, inter-cornrnunal,
ancl even inrernarional leve]. 13 We may as sume that anyone who had the necessary
qualifications
for marriage was able ta meetsuitable
eandidates of the

FAMILY

117

opposite sex. But fulfilling these "necessary qualifications"


was sornerirnes rnuch more difficult than we might imagine, andmarriage
might
consequently be delayed. The establishment
of a family was considereci
the faundation of a new economic survival-unit,
True. the new couple
would commonly live with one of the sets of parents for two years ar
more, but this was never intended as a permanent arrangernent.
This
period was eonsidered an extension of the boys edueation. He would
either continue his Talmudic study ar home ar in the local beit midrash,
or else he would be given his first lessons in commeree or sorne other
common traeIe of rhe day. Once the fixed time of supporr was passed,
the new couple would leave the parenrs: hornc and begin establishing
their own household.!"
In order to make this economic independence
possible. one ar both families oHered a dowry to the couple. If the
families did not have the wherewithal ro provicle 8 dowry, they would
resort ta other sources: relatives, altruistie parrons. charitable associations rhat were sometimes specifically designated for this purpose. ar
even the coffers of the eommunity and supra-cornrnunal
institutions.">
The willingness of many ineIividuals and public bodies to aid in che
marrying
aH of poor girls is proof of rhe religious value that was
attaehed ro getting young people rnarried as early as possible. But it
is also an expression of the universal assumptian that marriage required
economic means thar eould serve as rhe basis for establishing a horne,
and in general would also be the Iirst tool for independent
economic
activity. The prime prerequisite,
rherefore, for marriage was the existen ee of a sui table dowry. The larger the dowry offered, rhe greater
the ehanees of obtaining a suita ble match.

Other Factors for Marriageability.


The dowry was nor, of
course, the only valul' ta be considered in deciding an a match. The
new couple would have to obtain a residence permit in a community.
If one of thern was heir ta such a righr. and it that right could .~xtend
ta the other partner in the rnarch, this might be a first-rate marriage
opportunity.
It happened on more than one oceasion thar a marriage
was delayed by rhe eommunities,
which, wishing ta lirnit the number
of competitors in a given area, forbade marriages for a specified period
of rime, limited rheir number, ar made licenses to marry dependent
upon rhe property of the candidates: 16 In other places it was neeessary
ta buy the residence permit from the local non-Iewish authorities,
and
the obligation of one of the parents ta purchase this lieense was made
a precondition
of the match Erom the srart.V Sometimes
the couple
was promised a salaried communal position by the brides parents.

THE
TRAPIT10N

AND

F:\MILY

1J

CR1S1S

DUI'illg the pcriod whcn rubbinic positions were sold in Poland. this
1V.1S appa rently
somerimes a condition for J rn.uriage. although it was
scarccly cver explicirly stated in rhe formal t naim. '" Marriage into .1
hmily with social and economic contucts was considered valuable even
without ::\I1Yexplicit premise of irnrnediate profit. Simibrly,
a certain
value was ascribed (albeit a relarively
limited 011(', .15 we shull see in
rhaprer 19) ta Iineagc (yiJ.llts)-that
is, to descent hom Torah scholars
or lamous men of the past. On rhe other hand, a familial blemishsexual [icontious ness ar apostasy
occurring
arnong the proposed
spouses reletives-e-was
il negative
valul' thar hac! ro be balanced out
by orher. posirive assets.!" Ancl finally, there were also personal marri'1g.: values: the young mans scholarship ar the young wornans etIiciency (if onc was dealing with a gir! who hac! alr eady hac! sorne
cxpcrience running a householcl or helping in a Iirst husband's business}. Beaury arid good nppearance were also considerecl, alrhough rhey
werc nor as important
as they woulcl be in a socie tv rhar based its
marital system an frec choicc.?"
It was thus possible ta estimate how welJ and how soon a person
would marry ham the degree ro which he ar she possessed the socially
approved rnarriage qualificanons.
Mernbe rs of the wcalthy. scholarly
ruling rlnsses woulcl likely marry in ro Iamilies or rheir own class,
usually at an early age, in accordance with the contemporary
ideal.
Thc high degree of mobiliry thar characterizeel this class allowed marriages to be arranged between prospective brides and grooms from quite
distant places. somerimes even Irorn c1iHerent countries, rhe only limit
bcing the social anei cultural frontiers of rhe Ashkenazic Jewish worlcl.
Mernbers of thc lower classes were more lirnired. in both the quality
of march ro which rhey could aspire. anei the age at which rhey could
expert ta rnnrry. Similarly, rhe geographic area ham within which a
rnatch would be proposed ta rhern was also more lirnited. Their marriagcs were essentially local afEairs and occurred at a larer age.
Of course. the personal qualities of the candidates also aftecred their
l11arriageahiliry. A widow ar widower. a srarus quire com.mon in rhose
days of early mortaliry,
would perforce be content with a mare ham
a lower class than the one to which he OI' she could normally aspire.
particularly if the widowed pers an was left with a number of chilelren.
This was eWIl truer in rhe case of a persoll with a physical deformit;y
OI' in whose
(amily there hac! been some sort of scandal, even through
nn l3ult of his own. 21 Conversely, anyone possessecl of learning, physical beau ty, Of outsranding
economic skills could use these ta marry
il1to a higher elass. Such people, however, tendecl ro delay their marriage until their skills or attributes reachecl full maturiry-the
talentecl

student unti] he had attracted rhe attention of senior .scholars arid the
el1trepreneur until his business ventures had borne fmit."2 111fact, only
mernbers of the highest classes who possessed borh learning and wealrh
couid afford the luxury of marrying oH rheir children ar a very young
age wirh no rhoughr ro better opportuniries
in the hiture. Their very
c1ass guaranteed rhern a suitable match. Members of rhe lower classes,
on rhe other hand. had ta carefully balance their present prospects
against luture possibilities before making a decision.
Even rhe weight atrached ta the religious ideal of early rnarriage
varied with the individual arid elepeneled an that person s elegree of
loyalty ro religious values. lvtusor works reflect this tension when rhey
warn against delaying marriage in rhe hope of obtaining
a betrer.
wealthier rnarch later an. The middle c1asses were particularly
subject
ta rhis dilernma. The destitute lower classes, an the orher hand, were
largely subject ta forces over which they had n o control: rhe charity
of others, finding a dornesric position that did not interfere wirh mainraining a Iamily. securing a permit to li ve in a particular place, anel 50
Iorrh. In such ~ases rhe religious ideal of early marriage operared more
through its inHuence on cornrnunal institutions
that Iacilitated marriages than through any direct impact an the personal aspirarions of
the individuals.
Th e SlIpprc$sion
of Erotic Co n s i d e r a t io n s . The outstanding
characreristic
of this societys approach ro marriage was rhe extreme
rationalisrn with which it calculatedthe
chances of that "proper match"
ta which each aspired in his own way. Such criteria as personal cornpatibiliry, nor ro speak of romantic atrachrnents,
were not consielered
ar aII. This does net mean that young people did nor rneet. ar least in
the course of everyday life. and falI in love. In many places there were
even opporruruties for contacts rhat possessed a elegree of erotic tension,
such as dances and excursions an the occasion of celebrations ar holidays, But even sa, erotic atrraction was nor allowed ta determine ones
choice of a mate, even ii a person hac! been "caught in the web of
desire." Love was certainly never consiclerecl a necessary pr:requisite
for a match. Even if, by chance, personal attraction had c1etermined
the choice of a mate, a matchmaker
(shadhan) would stiH be used for
appearance' sake, and the negotiatiems anc! rhe writing of rhe tna'im
woulcl certainly be hanclecl over ro the parents or rheir substitutes.23
Every effon was macle to give the impression that the match had been
arranged in the usual manner. Finally, it was virtually 3xiomatic rhat
the young collple woulcl forgo their love match if their paTents objected.
They would not have fO~lI1c1it easy ta go against their parents' wishes

120

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

in <1I1Y case. The responsa litcrature Irequently discusses cases of "secret


marriage."
in which a youth was betrothed ta a girl in the presence of
witncsses but without prior matrimonial
negotiations.
The rabbis usually annulled such marriages on formal grounds-the
witnesses had
been unfit, the gir! had not given proper consent, etc.-oI'
insisted that
a biJl of divorce be issued, No halakhic scholar ever sllggested thar the
couple's marriage be recognized and accepted. Marriage wirhout prior
formal ncgotiations
was already in Talmudic times seen as somehow
morally blemished. In OUl' period public opinion condemned such marriages as an attempt by socially irresponsible
individuals ta usurp the
parents' legitimare right ro decide their children's fate. Moreover, such
surprise marriages were condemned because rhey broke down the b~riers berwecn the classes insofar as they provided a mecharusrn
y
which ,1 ruembcr of a lower class could trick his way into a match beyond his srarion.?"
This final considcration wiJl help us to understand one of the reasons
for the opposition to marriages ba sed on free choice. This society. as
we shall sec, was ba sed on rigid class divisions but It lacked adequate
means ta differentiate
berween the social starus of the various classes.
Frorn a purely halakhic point of view, "every family was assurned ro
be fit,"2;' arid was rherefore a\lowed to intermarry
with any other. On
rare occasions such inter-class
marriages actually occurred. But precisely its theoretical openness meant that the society could not allow
the choice of a spouse to be deterrnined by chance encounters .. It was
in rhe nature of life in isolated communities
that members of different
clusses would occasionally rneet. Mernbers of the sarne class, on the
other hand, who on the basis of objective criteria could be considered
su itable marriage partners,
were often gcographically
dispersed and
would mcet only ii rhe matter was deliberately arranged beforehand.
Of course, the rejection of love matches sternmed frorn more than
class considcrations;
it was also intimately bound up in the society's
understanding
of love and sexualiry. Alrhough, as we have neted, the
power of the sexual urge was clearly recognized an~ openly ~cknowledged, there was never any deliberate cultivation ot the erotic life 1I1
which rhe individual might find release from rension or even roorn for
self-exprcssion.
Sexuality-indeed,
any form of eroticism-belonged
exclusively within rhe strict confines of married life. And even in that
context, sexual activiry was limired by the religious laws relating ro
rhe menstrual period inida], which added approximately
one week of
ritually enforced absrinence ta the monthly period during which physiology ruled out sexual intercourse.
It is true that sexual activity wirhin
marriage was nor totally subjugated ta rhe formal religious purpose of

THE

FAMILY

121

Iulfilling the commandment


ta "be fruitful and multiply."
Inrercourse
between man and wife was allowed even when conception could not
possibly result. as, for instance. if the wife was already pregnant or
was sterile.26 The moralists a11 found ways ta resolve the apparent
contradiction
between rhis lenienr approach and rheir strict censures
against "spilling ones seed in vain, "27 The very strictness of their rules
against any sexual contact or thoughts outside of marriage is what
forced them to allow satisfaction at least within the permitted framework of marriage. It is interesring to note in this connection that the
halakhic and musar texts seern ta consider the wornans
needs even
more than the mans. Thus, any tendency ta encourage asceticism on
the part of the husband and to limit his sexual activity to the minimum
was counterbalanced
by the husband' s halakhic obligations toward his
wife. And their mutual relation inc\uded an erotic component.
The
wife was cornmanded to try to attract her husband s attention ta the
point of exhausting his sexual appetites, while the man was commanded
ta approach his wite out of genuine affection and tendemess.
He was
at least required ta take her feelings into conside ration and not ta see
her as merely a means through which ta satiate his Iust or to fulfill a
commandment.I"
Kabbalistic works, such as that of R. Isaiah Horowitz,
even taught rhat there was a spiritual dimension ro the erotic life wirhin
marriage by popularizing the norion thar the sexual joining symbolized
parallel processes in the divine sphere.F" And it was certainly accepted
that the degree of mutual sexual satisfaction achieved was a valid eriterion by which ta judge the success of a marriage.
It was always understood
that sorne marriages worked and sorne
didnt. It was nor, however, assumed that attachment
or love before
marriage would in any way guarantee the eventual success of a marriage. Success was guaranteed, people felr, by objective conditions, such
as the sort of homes in whichthe couple were raised. To rhe extent that
personal attributes such as physical beaury were taken into considerarion, even these were not left up ta the personal eye of the beholder
but rather were given over ta experts who had both experience and
aurhoriry. Hence the marriage of two young people who had dtet each
orher only shortly before their wedding was not considered a denial of
rhe young peoples rights. True, this sort of arrangement
was generally
Iimited ta the wealthy, scholarly classes, who brought their spouses
frorn afar; among the lower classes it was often the custom ta bring
the engaged couple together in an intentionally
erotic context.P" But
even in the latter case, rhis occurred only after the rnatch had been
arranged, and it is doubtful whether this erotic tension was rneant as
a test of inutual cornparibility. In any case, even when there had been

12.1

T I{ A D [T ION

AN D

eRI SIS

opportuniry
to get to know one another in advance of tlie wedding,
rhe young couple did not see their rights as having bem violated. As
in everything else, orice aii rational efforts had beeri expended to achieve
the gaal, aher others had dane everything in rheir power ta choose rhe
best possible mare, one could orily hope for luck arid pray to Him in
Whose hands rnuns fure was always entrusted.:"

110

Restrllillts
0/1 Divorct'.
Nor would one generally break up a
ma rriagc cxccpt in G1SeS of clea r and absolu te Iailure: total sexual
dysfunction;
ndulrery (especially on the part of the wile]: barrenness:
OI radical incomparibility
(as displayed in constant, open quarreling),
etc. Pcople had not becn raised ideologically to expect happiness, and
thc ubscnce of romantic satisfaction in a marriage would not lead to
divol-ce.:12 Thcrc were, moreover.
tremendous
hardships involved in
divorce. The husband had tu consider the economic cost. The ktub a
wus stil] in Iorce in rhis period-that
is, the legal document that spelled
out the couple' s mutual obligarions and whose main pu rpose, according
to the Tnlmud. was "that it not appear easy in his eyes ta divorce her."
The amounr of rhe huba was proportional
to rhe arnount of rhe
d()~ry,.J-and
that money had usually been invested in such a way
rhat its withdrawal would have destroyed the family business. Women,
on the orher hand, knew that divorce would leave thern with a much
reduceti status. A divorcee' 5 chances of remarrying were slim. especially
if she had been rhe cause of rhe divorce, whether because she had
produced no children. OI' because she was suspected of adulrery. or
bccause she was obviously argumentative.
Independence was in no way
an advanrage to a woman in this society. Only a widow with children
to raise could be seen as, in effect, substituting
for her husband and
could thus maintain rhe economic and social status of the family~as
occurred in thc G1Se of Gli.ickel of Harneln. But it was doubtlul that a
young divorcee could find el viable economic role for herself; rhere was
ccrtuinly no independent social role for her. Of neccssity she was forced,
therefore, ta seek refugc in t he house of others by returning
to her
purcnrs ar relatives. Of, for the lower c1asses, by taking a job as a

household

dornesric.

for rhese reasons divorce was generally rejectee! as a quick solution


to I.irnily tension. In many cases, halakhic authorities
were asked to
find a way for a murriage ta continue even though, according to the
Iettcr of the law, rhe husband was obligated to divoree his wife, as, for
insmnce, when she had not given birth within ten years of marriage.3'1
The sccondary economic anei social functions of marriage were 50 im-

THE

FAMILY

portant in this society thar they were of ten suffieient to sustain a march
that was no longer fulfilling its primary erotic and biological function.
Sexual
Deviance.
Despite the tremendous
pressure ta marry.
however, there were obviously some who remained single. There was
no positive social value attached ta remaining single; even someone
who had losr more rhan one mare to divorce or death would try to
marry yet again. Still, the sarne factors thar often delayed marriage
could also prevent it altogether. 35 Hence, rhe problern of sexuali ty, and,
even more 50, of eroticism, was not completely resolved. The possibility
remained ofrhe
type of sexual activities thar the society labeled as
deviant to a greater or lesser degree. It is dilficult to determine
the
exrent of such activity, but its occurrenee is not open to doubt. The
takanot of the major communities
establish policy roward deviance,
and the responsa lirerature deals with real eases in every generation
and in each loeale. The source of such deviance was, as neted. enforced
bachelorhood:
young men and wornen who had not yet faune! rheir
mare. male and female domestics whose situation precluded marriage.
widows and widowers who were left without Iarnilies, aguno: (grass
widows) who had given up on their missing husbands, bachelor teachers
who had left their hornes in search of a living, wandering merchants
and traveling charity collectors. Because of their life-styles, all of these
were suspected of lieentious behavior.:" and they were a constant source
of temptation ta such behavior for others. For that matter, marriage
itself provided no irnrnuniry from the "evil desire." As the Talmud
puts it realistically: "There is no guardian against unchastity"
(Kt!lbot,
foI. 13b).
Hence even this society had ta fight against licentiousness.
But at
least we can say rhat everyone in the society, even the promiscuous,
shared in rhe battle against perversion-their
own, and that of others.
Devianee did nor derive from an ideology of licentiousness:
it was
universaily considered a blemish and a sin even by the deviants. Hence
we find frequent requests in the responsa literature
for methods to
atorie for sexual sins, sins varying from the "spilling of seed in vain"
to adultery with a married woman. The terrn baal tshuv~ (penitent)
was restricted almost exclusively to sinners in a sexual sense. Only
accidental hornicide and apostasy (by choice or enforced) were treated
with the sarne severity. This society had inherited a rich legacy, an
entrre code of rules regarding peniterice for each and every sin from
rhe rhirreenth-cenrury
German Pietists (Ijasidei /vshkenaz.
The seventy of punishment
and personal degradation
connected with repentance went far beyond what we would consider reasonable
or

12.1

T R A OlT

ION

A Noe

RIS 1 S

humanly bearable roday.:" The fact that the deviants themselves requested these punishments
in order ta atone for their sin-and
there
arc cases in which rabbis assigned more stringent punishments
only
in order ta appease the petitioner-indieates
that even if sexual purity
was not absolute, it remained the ideal, both limiting deviation and
rcstoring equilibrium
should such deviance oeCUL

The Extended

Family

he family inevitably fulfilled an entire range of secondary social


functions, which can be understood in detai! only aher we have
analyzed the various religious and educational institurions
of the 50ciety. For now it is enough ta note that the family served as rhe base
for a significanr portion of aIl social activity, anei provided the setting
for a number of religious ceremonies. It was the primary and "natural"
tool by which each new generation was socialized.

Relations
Based o n Familial Bonds.
Beyond the nuclear fami!y, a formally defined and recognized social institution,
there lay a
less formal set of relationships based on borh blood and marriage, which
linked uneles and cousins, in-Iaws and in-Iaws of in-Iaws, into what
was accepted as an extended family. If rhis extended family was not
institutionalized
and if it did not bind its members as formally as it
wou!d have in societies based upon ilie rribe. neither was it totally
ignored. The extended family seems to be a universal hurnan phenornenon rooted in the individual's need for social relations of graded intimacy. The primary inrirnacy of the nuclear family is transferred
through connecting links-my
father is your brorher, his wife is your
mother, and sa forth-to
family members with whom the individual
does not live on a day-ro-day basis. The extended family may thus be
seen as an anthropological
phenomenon
that varies with sociological
circumstances.
And the analysis of aur society wiIl nor be complete if
we ignore the ties of kinship that applied within it.

Legal Defini t i o n of Kins h ip . Traditional [ewish society understood kinship inclusively, both as ta whom it encompassed and as to
the obligations that relativeshad
to each other. The Halakha defined
kinship in the context of deciding which relatives were forbidden to
marry ar were disqualifed ta serve as witnesses. Marriage was prohibited only within rhe inner cirele of relatives: a brother and sister,
an aunt and nephew (but not an uncle and niece).l Even great-uncles
and cousins (whether male ar female) were disqualified from bearing

126

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

THE

witness and from serving as judges in cases involving each other, with
no distinction made between ties of blood arid those of marriage: men
were disqualified even if they were related only through their wives.?
This definition served also as a basis for disqualifying
relatives Irorn
serving together on the governing bodies of the kehi! and supracommunal organizations.
In legal and constitutional cases. the intention
was to maintain a distance between relatives and a fixed legal definition
of kinship was required. On the other hand, when rhe intent was to
obliga te the individual through feelings of family solidarity, no such
limiting definiticn was applied. The Talmud had understaoe! Isaiahs
admonition
(58: 7) "nor ro ignore yom own kin" as an expression of
the obligation ta help cnes relatives when possible. In our society. it
was considered as applying ta ali relatives, whatever the degree of
kinship."

The Obligation
ta S~lpport Relatives.
Aid ta one's relatives
meant first of all financial support in the event of economic failure or
true poverty. That relatives had priority aver other poar people was
already accepted in the ancient Halakha." But in our period it was
further accepted that kinship obligared one actually ta give more than
ane would normally have been ready to give ta others of the needy. s
The obligation of financial suppart was especiaUy ernphasized with
respect to marrying off daughters of relatives, during the lifetirne of
their fathers and al! the more so aher their death. The raising of a
poor orphaned relative and the arranging of his or her marriage was
considered an especially meritarious
religious deed, which charitable
persons took pride in fulfilling."
Contemporaries
accepted the cal! ro support their relatives-each
individual in accordance with his generosity-as
a recognized social
norm. Family honor and sta tus was, at most, a secondary consideration,
for as we shall see, no family, including the wealthiest, could hope ro
maintain even an approximately
uniform socioeconomic status for all
of its members. The fundamental precondition for this-namely,
property of permanent value, such as real estate-was
tatally absent. The
nature of Jewish business and the conditions under which it was carried
out led tO constant ascents and descents on the socialladder.
Even the
richest families kepr their poor relations in rnind: they cauld perhaps
save them from destitution
but they could not provide thern with a
Iirrnly based sociaeconamic position. 7
Familial
{its.

Ties

The social norm

Provide
requiring

Economic

and

Political

aid ta the extended

family

Benederived

EXTENDED

FAMILY

127

ultimarely from rhe real function thar kinship ties served in this society.
As we have already seen, Jewish society profited economically from its
unity despite geographic dispersion-in
other words, from the fact thar
Jews could use their shared language and culture to maintain contacts
with other [ews living in distant lands. Kinship ties among even distantly related individuals provided funher such advantage when it came
to competition among the Jews themselves. And there were norieconomic advantages as well. Familial ties were also useful when common
political issues arose, wherher they involved intercessions
with the
non-Iewish authorities or negotiations with one of the internal Jewish
organizations.
Such contacts in orher places were useful in many circumstances.
The Talrnud student traveling from center to center in
pursuit of his studies, the rabbi who accepted an appointment
in a new
kenila, and even someone seeking a match in a distant city alI required
local supporr. if only to provide them with information
and the like."
The socierys need for inter-urban
contacts far exceeded the means
available through existing institutions.
Only the "natural"
ties of kinship could answer this need.
Within the kehilct, too, factions in rhe struggle for power, economic
advantage, or social status often formed around patterns of kinship.
Here too, the reason was, in the first place, negative; thar is, there
were no ideological or class bases strong enough ta serve as poles around
which such factions could crystallize. The contests were usual!y between economic, social, and ideological equals who struggled over which
of them would acquire thar power, sta tus, honor, and prestige that the
society could offer its members. Under such conditions, it was natural
that factions wauld form according ta primary kinship ties. and we find
in the history of contemporary
kehilot that entire families struggled
with each other, sometimes rernorselessjv.?
We are now in a position to refine our definition of the social
conditions that fostered Jewish familial solidarity in this period. We
have before us a society whose economic, political. and social activities
had reached a high enough level of differentiation
and diversification
rhar belonging to secondary associations offered real advantages. These
conditions led, as we shall see, to the rise of confraternitfes,
which
fulfil!ed the need for secondary association on a local level. But even
before thar. rhese conditions strengthened
the existing "natural"
tendency to association through the family.

Governmental

an d u dici a! Functions
Tr a n sc e n d Family
The obligation for members of the family to aid each other was
accepred as an unquestioned
principle. The individual obeyed this prin-

Ties.

THE

128

TRAOITION

ANO

CRl515

ciple, whether or not it was ta his own benefit. But inevitably the
realities of social life dictated that loyalty ta one's Iamily would also
lead ta some degree of conflict with other principles. Farnily obligations
existed alongside, and functioned within the framework of, larger public
institu tions. These institutions,
whether legal, administrative,
or economic, were, by their very nature, established on a basis that transcended rhe Iamily. and they therefore
had to serve members of
different families and operate irrespective of family connections.
The need ta separate public institutions and family ties was evident
in the case of the judiciary. The Jewish court was a public institution
that had been consciously and as a matter of principle withdrawn from
the familial context that bound mernbers of the society. Talmudic law
transcends the Iamily and does not recognize any rights of the individual derived from a Iamily relationship between the judge and the
j udged. In this regard, jewish society of our period was based on a
clear tradition that came into being under conditions similar to its own.
For already in the mishnaic and Talmudic periods (although, in certain
respects, not the biblical period). justice was based on this public concept, which went beyond mernbership
in a Iamily or dan. In Iaer. as
the Halakha developed, it tended to react ta expanded notions of the
Iarnily by becoming even more strict about nor allowing people related
by blood or marriage ta judge each other."? In any case, there was
absolutely no ambiguity about the radical separation of legal process
and family ties. Anyone who transgressed the instructions of the law
concerning the makeup of the court ar who judged a case according ta
family considerations
was, in his own eyes and in those of orhers,
deviating from the principles of Halakha and ethics and behaving
irnproperly.
The situarion was somewhat different with regard ta administrative
institutions.
In principle, the kehila and the supra-kehila organizations
were also perceived as standing above family ties. Hence we find takanot
forbidding relatives from serving tagether in these institutions,
on the
kehila administrative
body of parnasim and tovim, or on the committees of the various provincial and national councils. This was especially
stressed with regard ta the assessment boards that assigned the individual's tax burden. In fixing the degree of Iamily relationship
permitted, the takanct rei ied upon the accepted tradition with regard to
judicial institutionsll
But it is dear that there was no fixed and clear
tradition concerning this rnatter. Hence differing customs grew up and
disputes arose concerning
the degree of relatedness thar was ta be
permitted
in secondary public institutions.
Were relatives ta be forbidden ta serve only on the administrative
body of parnasim and tovim,

EXTENOEO

FAMILY

129

or were they also to be forbidden on wider communal bodies. such as


the board of electars-that
is, rhe committee that was set up ro choose
the parnasim and tovim 712 A similar question arose concern ing the
rabbi and his congregants.
In many places the selection of the rabbi
was ma de conditional on the fact that he not come from the community
or ha ve any relatives there.P It is possible that in this the communities
were trying to ensure that the rabbi would be able ta serve as the head
of a court in any dispute that arose among their members. But it seerns
also that the general position of the rabbi as bearer of supreme authority
within the cornmunity led people ta seek for this position a man who
stood above the conflicts that. as we have seen, periodicaIly arose along
Iamily I1I1es. However, even this rule concerning the rabbi was nor
universally or systematically
enforced. Not aII kehilot insisted on it,
and even where it was enforced, it often applied only at the start of a
term of olfice. If the rabbi subsequently
rnarried into a local Iamily,
he did not thereby Iose his posr.:" And the same was presumably also
true with regard to the holders of administrative
offices; if mernbers
of two different Iarnilies rnarried, they did not therefore Iose thei r
positions. It was never possible to establish a cornplerely
clear-cut rule
against relatives serving together on admirustrative boards because such
administrative
insriturions.
unlike judicial ones, were not defined by
strong halakhic traditions. Even where such a principle was accepted
in theory, there was no sufficient guarantee rhat it would actually be
carried out in practice. People certainly were not as careful about preventing relatives Frorn serving together in administrative
institutions
as they were with regard to judicial ones.
o The lack of a straightforward
principle concerning separation of
family and cornrnunal interests can be seen in other areas as well. As
we know, the kehila guaranteed its members equal opportunities
for
making a living, while strangers and nonresidents
were given only
minimal nghts. Merchants Irorn outside the community were allowed
ro trade only ta the degree that this did not harrn the livelihood of
locals. Theoretically this restriction should have applied to alI foreigners, whether or not they were related ta mernbers of the cornmunity.
On the other hand, the livelihood of many was based specifically on
family ties that created the economic contacts necessary in trading
berween different localities. If the comrnunity were ta Iorbid, for example, receiving goods on comrnission from foreigners on the grounds
that any sale would profit the nonresident,
did this ban apply also ta
a brother or Iather who lived elsewhere? The trans-familial
principle
upon which the community
was based suggested forbidding such an
arrangement.
But the deep family ries, rooted in group consciousness

13

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

and reflecting real economic needs, militated againsr corisisrency in this


matter. In some places the kehi/ot tended to enforce rhe trans-family
principle and Iorbade giving any advantage ta nonmembers;
elsewhere,
the ten sion between rhe two principles led ro a compromise even in
theory. Compromises
were certainly worked out in practice everywhere.!?
Thus. rieirher the kehila nor rhe orher supra-familial
instirutions
completely abrogated the principle of family ties; indeed, there were
cases in which they used it in order to transfer their own responsibilities
onto the shoulders of the family. This is clear with regard ta the support
of those who had failed in business and the poor. The supra-familial
institutions
felt obligated to care for these people. but required that
the individual first try to get help lrorn wealthy mernbers of his own
family. If one of the pauper' s relatives was capable of supporting him.
rhe community
no longer Ielr obligated ta help h irn.!" Thus. rhe very
kehila thar sought to base itself on the principle of rranscending the
family used the family when it was ta its own benefit, while rhe individual was required ta support his own poor relatives and the poor
of his city as weJl.
Just as contemporary
economic activity had a unifying effect on
the extended Iamily. it also had a disruptive and isolating impact. For
the most part, Jewish economic acrivity in this period was based on
money, or at least on goods that could be evaluated in terrns of money.
Because of this. each nuclear family unit stocd on its own independent
economic base. Once they had received their dowry, sons and daughters
ceased ro be economically
part of the family except insofar as they
entered into a formal partnership in the family business. (In this case,
of course, the relationship
was fundamentally
no different from that
which applied between any other business partners.) Aher the sertlement of the dowry, the only economic ties existing on the basis of
family relationship
were those of inheritance and rhose of SUPPOft in
times of need. On whatever level such support was extended-whether
it amounted
to ourright
charity or special help ta a relative in
business-this
family relarionship did not eliminate in any way the
distinctions drawn between the individual families, each of which stood
economically on its own. And the more economic activity moved in
the direction of anonymous
credit transactions.
the more calculations of profit and 1055 becarne impersonal.
The promissory
note
(MaMRaMe)
that was passed from hand to hand would eventually be
collected by someone other than the person to whom the borrower was
first obligated. Once the note entered the marker. the lender could no
longer forgive the debr even if he wanted to do 50. To an ever-increasing

THE

EXTENDED

FAMILY

131

extenr. the individual confronted not people he knew but rather a large
market thar encompassed also ali of his relatives and friends. And since
each nuclear family formed an independent economic unit, the primary
feeling of economic responsibility
was felt toward this unit. A farreaching concession to others could destroy the equilibriurn
of th is
independent economy. The Talmudic adage "Your life takes precedence
over that of your fellow" (Bava Me;;i' a, foI. 62a) was interpreted
in
rhis period as applying to family members as well. 17
In summary, in rhe economic context the family played a positive
role as link and intermediary
and in providing aid. But the primary
fact of economic life was the independence of the nuclear family, and
rhe individual arid his household were left ta their own luck and skills.
Despite the well-known closeness of the Jewish family, we are dealing
with a sociery in which the responsibility
of individuals ta each orher.
and even ro those family members who did not live within the sarrie
household, was quite lirnited. The true fighting unit in the struggle
for survival was rhe nuclear farnily, and in tirnes of need it could rely
only on more or less weak supporr Irorn members of the extended
family.

..

CONFRATERNITIES

Confraternities

and Social Lite

ntraditional Jewish society the life of the individual was inevitably


defined by two institutions:
the Iarnily and the kehiia. Born into
the former, he was forced to accept the dominance of the latter because
of its powers of enforcement
and contro!. But there was also room
outside these two spheres for forms of social activity in which not ali
members of either the family or the kehila participated. These ranged
horn friendships between individuals to the formation of groups dedicated to specific economic, political, religious, or social purposes. Such
social activity could be merely temporary in nature, but sornenmes the
grouping recurred often enough ta became a permanent,
defined association separa te from the family and the kehila. In such cases we
may speak of a secondary group within the kehila. If the associanon
was formally organized, with defined goals and rules of procedure, and
especially if there were criteria of eligibility for membership, a formal
division of tasks, and rules about relations among members, then we
may speak of a confraternity
(havura). The confratemity dilfers from
the kehila in its restrictedness:
only those who wished ta do 50 would
join. and nor everyone was accepted for membership.
..
There was presumably some room for free social act!Vlty and temporary social association in ali cornmunities,
however smal!. But formally organized confraternities
are a prodirct of population mcrease
and social differentiation,
as occurred among Ashkenazic-Polish
Jewry
during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. In the smaller cornmunities, even spontaneous
group activities seem to have rernained
within the institutions
of rhe kehila. This was true, for exarnple. of
Torah study among adults.! On the other hand, in communities numbering in the hundreds of thousands,
the overall organization
of the
kehila was, in the first place, too large to serve as a framework for
social-religious
activity by its mernbers. Second, with the increase in
the number of people in the comrnuniry, the iikelihood also arose that
individuals would find others who shared their own interests and level
of ability and that they would join together in activities that set them
apart from the rest of rhe community.

ANO

SOCIAL

LIFE

133

Synagogues
as a Divisive
Factor.
The first split in a cornmunity might well derive from necessity rather than conscious choice.
As population grew, rhe local synagogue would simply no longer be
able to hold ali the worshipers. More recent immigrants and those who
had newly reached adulthood would be forced, against their will. ta .
find a new place in which to pray. In places where people of different
ethnic origin and customs settled, rhe liturgy in rhe new synagogue
might differ from thar in rhe old. But even if exactly rhe same liturgy
was used, and no new essential religious split or variation was expressed,
a social split was created de facto. Firsr, a different social status was
attached to each synagogue, based on seniority ar other factors. 2 Moreover, the frequent daily contact among members of a given synagogue
was likely to create a social division vis-a-vis rnernbers of the orher
synagogues.
The significance of rhis distancing becomes dear if we
rernember rhe sociological importance of religious ceremony for the
participanrs. As we shall see in chapter 17, the daily religious cerernorual
could provide a framework for group identity. Undoubtedly, different
custorns developed ex post facto in the different synagogues.
Even if
these were merely minor variations with no halakhic importancediffering runes, the addition of specific chapters of Psalms, a change in
rhe rime of prayers (such as waiting after the afternoon prayer in order
to say rhe evening prayer on time or reciting the shrn a at dawn kevatikin) and the like-they
would foster a sense of uniqueness among
the mernbers of each synagogue and crea te divisions even within the
intima te sphere of religion. Of course, there was even more of a tendency ro social differentiation
wherever truly new approaches to the
essence of prayer took hold and different patterns of behavior and new
customs arose-in
the East as a resulr of the spread of Kabbala and
the rise of Hasidisrn. and in the West with the beginnings of Reform.
But individuals and smaU groups had even earlier sought ta creare
separare minyanim (small prayer circles) for themselves, and the cornmunalleadership
had beeri powerless to stop the process. 3 The religious
variation implicit in the rise of Hasidism and Reform only completed
the weakening of the kehila framework already underway.

The

Burial

Society

(ljevra

Kadisha)

a n d Its Fu n ct i o n s .

The organization
of the prayer service and the development
of the
synagogue provide one of the rnain thernes in the history of the social
differentiation
of Iewish communal life; the social element is hidden
behind the ostensibly religious facade. This was also true for most of
the formal associations thar organized around specific objecrives. The
association's right to exist derived Irorn its identification with one of

134

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

the accepted social values: the study of Terah. charit y, or the performing of various types of gmilu: nesed (acts of loving-kindness).
The
value of providing proper burial for the dead, referred to as hesed shel
en,et (Iiterally: an act of true loving-kindness)
was the first to take on
separare. institutionalized
Iorm." The members of rhis association,
eventually called the neora kadisha (holy society), took it upon themselves to care for the dead arid sometimes also ro provide bedside care
for rhe sick and dying. Even though there is already evidence for such
confraternities
in the Talmud and the writings of the medieval jurists
(rishonim), the confraternities
of aur period were more than continuations of past institutions.
The small Ashkenazic community
of the
Middle Ages had not required such a division of tasks within society.
The existence of rhe confraternities
is the product of life in large cornmunities such as Prague arid Frankfurt, in which the very size of the
populaticn prevented rhe members of the cornmunity Irorn relating ta
the concerns of the individual. Once they were established in the big
cornmunities.
these confraternities
spread also ro the smaller cornmunities. which might nor have otherwise needed thern.
The heora kadistia answered two sets of needs: those of its mernbers
and those of rhe cornmunity
ar large. an the one hand, the society
guaranteed its rnembers that in their own hour of need they would a11
be raken care of in accordance with the Iull ritual traditionally prescribed
for death and burial. an the orher hand, rhe existence of the society
allowed for the transfer of ar least the essential core of the obligation
ta provide hesed shel emet-that
is. ro bury ones Iellow [ew in a
[ewish cemetery-from
the community ta rhe confraternity.
But even
when aU of the kehila's responsibilities
relating to burial were transferred to the confrarernity.
the latter did not therefore becorne a part
of the kehila administration.
Members retained certain special rights:
They were buried in a desirable Iocation. the funerary ritual was conducted with special care for rhern, and so forth. Therefore the heura
kadisha remained a closed society. and membership in it depended, at
least in theory. upon possession of appropriate personal qualities. The
mernbers of the society saw themselves,
and were seen. as a sort of
ethical social elite.

Other Religious
Confraternities.
The other associations al sa
justified rhernselves on the grounds of one ar anorher of the religious
ideals accepted by society. There were associations for study that sponsored Torah classes at various levels of expertise. charitable societies
that were concerned with the needs of the poor in general or with the
particular needs of a specific group, such as dowering brides of good

CONFRATERNITIES

ANO

SOCIAL

LIFE

1.35

but poor farnilies or providing heating fuel to scholars." There were


also talmud tora societies, which cared for the education of the poor
or of al! the youth of the kehila. Al! of these were tasks rhat in essence
beionged ro the general kehila organization, and in the absence of special
confraternities
they were carried out to one degree or another by the
kehila.

Artisans'
Associations.
An apparent exception ta what we
ha ve said here would appear ta be provided by the artisans associations
found in Moravia, Bohemia, arid Poland-Lithuania
beginning in the
seventeenrh century. These confraternities
were devoted to maintaining rhe economic sta tus of their members by the typical methods of
the time: protecting the interests of [ewish artisan s vis-a-vis their
Christian competitors,
systematizing
relationships
among the J ewish
artisans themselves, controlling competition among thern and keeping
out anyone nor recognized as a craftsman. supervising production qualirv. and ensuring propriety in relations with the custorner. 6 In this
sense, membership
in these associations was nor voluntary.
AU practitioners of rhat craft were required ta belong.
But this is the exception that proves the rule. Contemporaries
saw
no justificarion for any association that did nor engage in realizing one
of the religious and ethical values of the society. Thus these associations
also defined themselves and functioned as promoters of social values
-offering
public prayers, maintaining a rabbi or teacher, helping those
of their fellows who had fallen on hard tirnes, and generaIly coming
ta each other 5 aiel in Iife. and sornetimes even in death. The economic
motivation that led ta the initial formation of these associations on a
craft basis was insufficient ta justify their existence. Only deelication
to rhe practica] religious obligations typical of the other confraternities
lent public approval to the artisanal associations. We have here more
than merely ex post facto rationalization:
The founders anei members
saw it as legitimate to refer ta these artisanal associations as "holy"
confraternities,
just as was done with regard ta the other associations.
Economic interests anei religio-ethical values were intertwined frorn the
start. The latter not only justified the existence of the lssociations;
they also aideel in maintaining
the groups by providing the identity
symbols anei by creating the atmosphere of mutual interrelations
without which the association would probably not ha ve been able ta survive,
for ali its clear economic purpose. 7
Incidental
ternities

Activities

always functioned

of the Confraternities.
The contrain more than one area. Even if its ostensible

136

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

purpose was promotion of one of the sacred traditional values, each


confraternity
came incidentally ta fulfill other functions as well. The
members of buhai and charitable societies also established fixed times
for study tagether, while a study group often served ta provide mutual
aid to its members. There were also confraternities,
such as the society
for providing firewood ar the one for distributing
free zizi: (ritual
Iringes}. whose declared purpose was no more than a sort of pro forma
justification ta crea te an organization whose major activities were along
such "incidental"
lines, such as organizing study groups Of maintaining
a synagogue." The confraternities
also engaged, whether sporadically
or an certain Iixed occasions, in totallv secular activiries. Every confraternity
sponsored celebrations and -banquets for its members-as
when a new Tarah scroll was installed in the synagogue,
rhe group
study of a Talmudic tractate was completed, ar the "society din ner"
was held ta commernorate
some event in rhe hisrory of rhe associarion
or an important date in Jewish tradirion. Thus the dinners and celebrarions were accepted as legitimate because rney couid be associated
with the general air of sanctity that justified all of the confraternities'
activities, and in this way they were spared the erhical suspicions that
applied to aU social entertainment
that had no link to a religious-ethical
purpose.
Leg i ti m iz i l1g 5 o ci a 1 Re creatia n. The need ta impose a
religio-ethical
context on essentially "neutral"
social activity is typical
of this society. Social activity per se-that
is. gathering together for
the sake of simply enjoying being in a group-was
considered religiously and ethically dangerous.
rhe grouping included men and
women, the danger was an erotic one. As we already noted in chapter
14, the regnant sexual ethic required males ta remove any thought of
sin Irorn their heart and ta distance themselves from anything that
was likely to stimula te the senses erotically. Social diversions involving
both sexes were therefore considered an intentional incitement ta sinful
thoughts.?
There was even sorne erhical suspicion concerning social
gatherings of members of the same sex. These were considered temptations to the sins of gossiping, malign ing, and quarreling.

The Religiaus
Obli g at io n ta Study
Tarah versus
"Wasting" Time.
On anorher level, social gatherings
were also rejected
as a waste of rime. ldeally, a man was ta use his time only for Torah
study. Any tirne, however brief, that remained after the performance
of the obligatory commandments,
earning one's livelihood, and taking
care of the other necessities of Iife was to be devoted to thestudy
of

CONFRATERNITIES

ANO

SOCIAL

LIFE

137

the Torah. In practice rhis ideal was actually achieved only by a few
special individuals who devoted their time totally to the Torah. But
the theoretical obligation remained an unquestioned
parr of the social
consciousness anei was promoted even by the popularized halakhic and
ethical works aimed at rhe masses. This widely accepted ideal further
discouraged any activity that was merely social entertainment.
Any
social diversion, even a friendly meal or the invitarion of a lriend to
ones house withour an ostensible religious justification, was considered
a waste of time and a distraction from study-aside
from the other
concerns it rai sed .10
Of course. there was agreat difference between rhe demands of
principle and the realities of life-more
50 here rhan in mosr orher
areas of religion and ethics. The ideal of total devotion to study was.
Iirst of all. innately dilficult to fulfil!. But even beyond thar. there was
a tremendous
difference in ability berween those who espoused the
ideal and those expected ta fulfill it. While Torah scholars were capable
of devoting their time exclusively ro independent
study, individuals
with !ittle Torah education had to be content with following a lesson
taught by someone else. They could "fix times for Terah study" in
their homes or within the framework of public institutions,
but this
stillleft time-a
litrle or a lot, depending on circumstances and social
c1ass-that
had to be spent in some way.
Social diversion was not tatally absent from the comrnuniry: rather,
it was limited, restricted, and, to some extent, frowned upon. Walks
on the Sabbath and holidays. dances on vacation days, and games such
as cards and chess were ta be found almost everywhere.
Cornrnunity
takanat limited such diversions ta specific days and events; for instance.
a woman recuperating
from childbirth was allowed to play cards with
her female neighbors.!' But social entertainments
and other neutral
forms of association were never tatally eliminated. Nor was there really
a clear and decisive desire to do 50.
Religiaus
Meals.
In the end, the need to socialize could not be
satisfied by means that involved circumventing
recognized prohi itions.
Those who aspired ta live up ta the high ethical demands of the religious
ideology and Halakha could never be satisfied with such artificial rationalizations.
For such people, and thus for the entire society. the
solurion lay along a different path: the intertwining
of social diversion
into the network of institutions
whose religio-ethical
function camouflaged their secular aspects. The family and the confraternities
provided the framework
for alI social activity. Actually,
even these
institutions
were not enrirled ta sponsor social events per se, but in-

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

their capacity as the accepted social framework for religious cerernonies.


they provided opportunities
for legitimare socializing as welI. People
tended ta take advantage of this license and ro expand it as far as
possible. A family occasion such as a wedding, for exarnple, expanded
into many parties. A long series of festive meals carne both before and
after the main wedding meal. 5imilarly a circumcision was anticipated
by a party the evening before as well as by the zukh ar party an the
preceding 5abbath eve. In some places. there was yet another meal. on
the third day after the circumcision.
There were also those who held
a party upon naming a baby daughter and in honor of the new morhers
first leaving her house and coming ta the synagogue. The ceremony
for redeeming a Iirsrborn son was everywhere a reason for inviting in
friends. A meal in honor of a Bar Mitzva was, in this period, a fixed
custom. ta celebrare the first time a young man was called ta the reading
of the Torah. There were those who added ta it a party an the 5abbath
when a boy. a t an earlier age, was firsr honored with the reciration of
the reading from the prophets in the synagogue. The building of a new
house justified a house-warming
party. 12 The halakhists tried. in their
way, ta fix which of these parties were ta be considered se' udat mizua
(religiously
obligatary
meals) which the Talmud perrrutted. and in
which even scholars were allowed ro participa te. They tended ta expand
rhe category aud to include within it even meals that the Talmud and
early codifiers had not mentioned
or had not considered se'udot
miz;va 13 In the popular consciousness. ali such meals ceased being
"optional" -that
is. mere opportunities
for socialization-even
if the
halakhists did not find any basis to aurhorize rhern as se' udat miz;va.
The leaders of the kehilot and other organizations
aspired ro limit such
socializing. Their motives were both economic and social: They sought
to limit the waste of money on the consumption
of luxuries and ta
limit social competition among individuals and between social classes. 14
But rhe takanot of communities
and other organizations
never tried
ro forbid such parties outright; they sought only ta limir their size and
ta ensure that the guests were closely related to the family.
These takanot assumed an ascetic character only during periods of
great public mourning. as, for exarnple. aher the pogroms of 1648-49,
when the Lithuanian Council made the usual restrictions much more
severe and forbade, inter alia, the playing of musical instruments
"even
for the entertainment
of the bride and groom ... except at the wedding
ceremony itself and at the ceremony of veiling the bride [bedeken]. U1S
But this prohibition
was limited right Irom the start ta a rhree-ycar
period, and the basic concept rhar the institution of rhe family legi timized social diversions was not abrogated.

CONFRATERNITIES

AND

SOCIAL

LIFE

139

The sarne was true with regard ta the confraternities.


The learned
societies held parties upon completing a Talmudic rractate, arid these
meals were considered se 'udat mizoa, that is ta say, re!igiously obligarorv.!" But the annual banguets of the orher confraterruties.
especially
those of the burial societies. could not rely an the traditional sources
for legitimation. There is some evidence that rhe custorn of bangueting,
as, indeed, sorne of the ceremonial detail involved in these banquers,
was taken over from local Christian confrarerruties.!"
But the parricipants were normally unaware of the histarical origins of these rituals.
The meal was lent a [ewish. and indeed a sacred. character by the fact
that it was preceded by a day of fasting and by linking it ta a date of
some significance in the Jewish calendar-the
seventh of Adar, the day
of Moses death, or the Iike. And of COUI"Se,everywhere the rneal was
capped by a scholarly discourse on the Torah. an edificatory address,
and the singing of Psalms and hymns. There were even atternpts ta
draw upon the [ewish tradition in order to lend a metaphorical meaning
ro the rituals practiced. 18 The participants felt that the meal was divested
of any day-ro-dav. secular associations. At the same rime. it served as
a rime of fellowship for the rnembers. arid distinguished
between them
and the rest of the kehila who did not belong to the society. With less
ritual, but with an approach very close to that of the burial sccieties.
the mernbers of the orher confraternities
celebrated their particular
holidays. The overall function of these parties was ta satisfy the need
to socialize under the aegis of accepted values and institutions.

The Midd/e Cl a ss e s an d the Conjraternities.


To complete
aur sociological analysis of the confraternities
we must now ask in what
way they conrributed ta the maintenance of the society as a whole. ta
preserving its srrucrure and values. We must seek the answer to this
question in the fact that the emergence and growth of the confraternities
was linked to the growth and expansion of the kehila. A kehi! of
hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of mernbers could not transmit
the feeling of direct belonging that the individual needed. Moreover.
rhe positions of leadership in the central kehila institutions were guite
limited in number; most rnembers of the society had no I1pportunity
for public activity. These two factors encouraged individuals ta establish
or join confraternities.
The confraternities
were established and functioned under'the control of the central leadership. and in sorne instances a part of the
association: s leadership was appointed directly by the kehila. 19 At leasr.
the elections among the members of the confraternity
were held in the
sarne fashion as in the institutions of the kehila itself. 20 It seems that

140

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

the Iounders of the contraternities,


and those who were active in thern,
were members of the middle classes who were capable of public activities
but who could not hope for a role in the central leadership of the
community.
The "rniddle-class"
nature of the confraternities
is clear
when we note that their spiritualleaders
were always preachers (magidim and darshanim) rather than halakhic scholars of the first order.
The same was true with re gard to the lay members: The most experienced and wealthiest Jews were normally drawn ro the central administration, while the middle ranks had to be satisfied with leadership of
rhe confrarernities.

The

Confraternities

as lnstruments

of Social

Control.

Even though there was sometimes


tension and even real struggles
between the confraternities
and the central kehila administration.
on
rhe whole th e kehila profited from the existence of these societies. The
fact that a large number of people were thus provided with opportuniries
for communal activity prevented excessive competition
for positions
within the primary leadership. On the other hand, young people and
those of the middle class found a way to test their mettle in communal
activity on a lower level, prior to assuming responsibility for leadership
of the entire congregarion.F' The societies also served as socialloci for
mutual control, something
that was difficulr for the larger kehila to
provide. While membership
in a closed confraternity
lent prestige, it
also demanded that rhe individual live up to the values that the society
espoused. Sometimes
this responsibility
was explicitly stated in the
sociery's takanot. The members of the confraternity
might be threatened with fines if they did not appear for prayers or classes.P The
leadership of the confraternity
reserved the right to expel any member
who was Iound not to live up ro its particular values and to those of
sociery as a whole.P But the control was exercised primarily
not
through formal mechanisms but through the creation of a framework
by which members of the societies could identify with the values represented by their group. And guaranteeing
loyalty to the particular
values of the confraternity
meant also guaranteeing
loyalty to the
values of society as a whole.

Religious

Institutions

our
n description of ]ewish society, we have repeatedly carne across
religious concepts and institutions affecting aII aspects of life: reiations with rhe gentiles, economic activities, communal adrninisrration,
organization of the family and society, and, as we shall see in the next
chaprer. education. Everywhere, religious values set the goals and encouraged or forbade given actions. Indeed, the traditionalism
thar we
have labeled as the defining characteristic of this society was religious
in content, and religion provided the justification for preserving aII
aspects of that tradition. Even halakhicaJly trivial details such as ones
style of dress or one's language were granted ar least a secondary
religious basis, iE they were not brought fully under halakhic imprimatur.'
But the all-pervasiveness
of religion should not be understood to
mean that there was no specifically religious sphere or that there were
no specifically religious institutions.
Even in this so-to-speak
cornpletely religious society there were areas in which religion was the
ultimare purpose of an institution and net merely a background factor
in its governance. Both the synagogue and the rabbinate were explicitly
aimed at satisfying religious needs-the
former as a place for public
worship and religious cerernonial. and the latter as the judicial and
regulatory authority deriving its legitimacy lrorn religious law. While
it may be true that in practice the synagogue also served as a social
gathering spor and the rabbinate as an adjunct of the communal governrnent. these functions were secondary and ex post facto.
Let us look first at the rabbinate and the way in which ft fulfilled
the religious functions for which it was primarily designed. We use
the term "rabbinate"
here in a somewhat different sense rhan we did
when discussing the kehila. Then, we were speaking of an office granted
formal recognition within the kehila structure.
The local rabbi was
given the authoriry to regulate and decide any matter that could be
defined as religious. As a result of holding this aurhority.
the rabbi
became a sort of representative
symbol of the kehila vis-a-vis borh
[ews and gentiles. Thus, the rabbi's authority derived from the kehila,

TRADITION

ANO

CRISIS

just as the kehila was strengthened


by the religious legitimacy of the
rabbi even in economic and Hnanciai spheres, where religion played a
regulatary
role at best.
But the rabbinate existed in [ewish society independent of rhe kehila
organization.
As a religion of positive precepts (ar, ar leasr. as one
including positive precepts). [udaisrn required an authorized body ro
rule on questions that were likely ta arise and rhat the layman was
incapable of deeiding. A [ewish education and participation in rhe Iife
of the community
usually gave the average Jew sufficient knowledge
of the tradition ro conduct his daily life. But circumstances
changed
and rhe unusual or unexpected arose on an alrnosr daily basis. Question-s
about the dietary laws, worship, or the prohibition
of work on rhe
Sabbath and festivals were always likely ta arise. No one could know
what was expected in every situation solely on the basis of comrnon
practice, especially if the issue was one over which even the more erudite
halakhisrs disagreed. Questions occasionall y arose for which even the
learned did riot have a ready answer. Such cases called for a decision
by qualified persons who not only were thoroughly versed in tradition,
but also regarded themselves as authorized ta interpret it and ta apply
accepted rules ta new circumstances.
Those who, in fact. fulfilled this rabbinical role were the scholars
and recognized halakhic aurhorities,
whether or nor they held olficial
kehila appoinrrnents.
In this sense, the existence of the rabbinate did
not derive Irom, nor was it dependent upon, the kehila organization.
It stemmed, rather. from the essential nature of Judaism. We can be
more specific. The rabbinate emerged out of both aspects of the tradition: the tradition as it was expressed in social insti tutions (the family,
the synagogue, etc.). and the literary tradition, which could be mastered
only through purposeful study and inquiry. The Jew could "act as his
own rabbi " only ta the extent that he had acquired traditional knowledge and mastered its decision process. He had ta "acquire a rabbi" ro
the extent that he had ta ask orhers ta decide religious-halakhic
questions for hirn. It was irrelevant wherher the rabbi in question held a
formal position or was simply serving as a scholar and reacher. Indeed,
during our per iod, the right ro decide what was permitted and what
forbidden in halakhic terms was never restricted to holders of rabbinic
office.
Though there were certain prerequisites.
of which we shall speak
below, rhe title morenu(our
teacher) was conferred on anyone who
had attained a certain level of halakhic scholarship, and it authorized
the recipient to hand down halakhic decisions whether or not he held
rabbinic office at rhe time. It was not even absolutely essential that he

RELIGIOUS

INSTITUTIONS

143

hold the rirle morenu. If no one with this title was available, anyone
who was versed. or felt that he was versed, in the relevant sources
might lay down the law. Only in such very weighty halakhic issues
as divorce and haiiza (levirate marriage) was it regarded as essential
that the authoriry be ordained. or even that he hold an official rabbinical
post.?
In any case, the function of deciding the Halakha was in fact concentrated in the hands of those who were ordained and held office, even
if nor necessarily rhe office of kehila rabbi. Judges, heads of yeshivot
(who were nor always rabbis). preachers, and even teachers were aII
assumed ta be competent ta issue rulings. each in accordance with his
level. To whorn an individual directed his question was a function of
the faith he had in the ability of a given Iigure ta decide rhe marrer.
Whether the authority would answer the question himself or redirect
it to a higher authority depended in turn an his own conscience and
his view of his own abilities. There was a sort of unofficial hierarchy
of scholars qualified ta rule on Jewish law even though its ranks were
not clearly defined or marked. "Sponraneous"
public opinion in the
kehiia, in the supra-kehila, or even within the Jewish world at large
determined
the place of each jurist in this hierarchy of halakhic authority. Obviously. opinion was not always unanimous in evaluating
different rabbinic figures. As a result. the spontaneous hierarchy could
nor guarantee authoritative
rulings, much less could it institutionalize
judicial review of "Iower" courts by "higher " ones (though rulings
were sometimes set aside if they were questioned by a higher recognized
authority}.'
The existence of casuistic literature and SUIl1mary codes such as
the Snulhun Arukh would appear to have simplified the task of issuing
religious rulings, but in fact did nor render the rabbinate superfluous.
Mastery of dus litera ture required halakhic training, and though halakhic learning was widespread in this period, authoritative
knowledge
remained the property of a small minority. In Iaer, the increased nurnber of teachers and scholars implied not only that more individuals
could rule ori issues clearly decided in the halakhic literature but also
that there would be more questions deriving from rheir study and Irorn
an education directed at detailed observance of rhe commandments.
Such questions would never have occurred to rhe average [ew, who
lived according ta a tradition learned through daily practice. No one
could ever be so expert in the tradition that he would by definition
never have ta ask the opinion of others. Unlike those of a Catholic
priest, a rabbi's rulings were not issued ex officio on the basis of institutional aurhority. It was the rabbi's knowledge of the Halakha and

144

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

his ability to deduce a new ruling from existing precedent that lent
authority to his decisions. If the rabbi was unable to make up his mind
definitely, he was not competent ta judge. A sense of modesty and
reluctance ta decide for fear of making an incorrect decision sometimes
kept even leading rabbinic authorities
Irorn handing down judgments
on rheir own. Many responsa penned by leading authorities conclude
with the proviso that their conclusions should be considered valid only
if orher authorities concurred.
IntelJectual certainty and a sense of religious and ethical responsibility were what determined
the lirnits of a rabbi's authority.
Only
rhe mystics (or. better, those who had undergone a mystical experience)
saw rheir intellectual certainty as strengthened
by transcendental
inspiration. For thern, the stock phrase "Thus did they instruct me Irorn
heaven" became a concrete expression of their state of consciousness."
But this transcendental
source was never seen as providing more than
psychological support for the individual's judicial abiliries or an explanation for the rapidity with which a decision had been reached. Transcendent certainty remained irrelevant when it came to determining
the halakhic basis of a ruling, and certainly in fixing the institutional
authority of the jurist. The influence of the mystical experience was
perceptible only between the lines. ar on rare occasions frorn external
evidence. In its public and communally
recognized role. the rabbinate
functioned as interpreter
of, and advisor on, [ewish law. Its authority
derived directly Erom that law. A rabbis official and personal charismatic status were only psychological supports for his intrinsic authority. In terms of the norm rhat governed the rabbinate and determined
its standards, that institution derived its status and effectiveness only
frorn administration
of the law and loyalty to it.
In addition ta interpreting
religious law. the rabbinare. in the
broader sense that we have been using in this chapter, was charged
with the task of public exhortation ta the observance of the law. Unlike
the issuing of halakhic rulings, which the rabbi did only when specilically asked. this urging and exhortation
were spontaneous
functions
that the rabbi initiated on his own. The formal justification for such
activity lay in the commandment
"Thou shalt surely reprove thy neighbor" (Leviticus 19:17). In other words, Jewish mutual responsibility
with regard to religious precepts was not limited in any way, either
by geography or by dass. In theory, nothing prevented anyone from
rebuking his fellow man for misconduct; ta the conrrary, everyone had
a dear obligation ta do 50. In practice, however, [udaism differed from
other religious denominations
in never developing "lay preachers" who
would emerge from within the community and publidy point out the

RELIGIOUS

INSTITUTIO,'S

145

sins of co-religionists."
The reason for rhis lies, again, in the natu re of
Judaism-a
religion of practical deeds and of casuistic ethics. Ignorance
was regarded as ar least as great an obstacle ta the fulfillment of religious
obligations as perverseness of heart. And while the enthusiasm
of a
lay preacher might be even more effective than the sermon of a seholar
in correcting perverseness of hearr. only a person qualified ta lay down
the law could cure ignorance. Aptness at administering
reproof was
not enough.
Indeed, the rask of preaching had always becn reserved for members
of the scholarly class. The aim of their serrnon was as much ta teach
as it was ta admonish and inspire. Instruction in the sermon ranged
from practical rulings on specific questions of religious law to truly
abstract halakhic disquisitions. Talmudic casuistry, or pil p ul , was then
in its final and most radical stage of development.
Even non-halakhic
serrnons included a sprinkling of biblical, midrashic, and Talmudic citarions. This was true even in the popular serrnons delivered ta the
general public by professional or arnateur preachers. Since rhe sermon
had ta impart knowledge, the position of preacher was reserved for the
knowledgeable expert who had been trained in a beii midras]: (house
of study) or yeshiva.
The role of preacher and the task of regularly admonishing
the
cornrnunity on moral matters fell, at leasr in theory, ro the av bet din
(official kehi! rabbi}, who in this period represented the author ity of
the Torah in rhe life of the community.
He was cxpected ta deliver a
sermon on at least two Sabbarhs a year-oll
Sh aoa! ha-Cada/ (the
Creat Sabbath), immediately preceding Passover, and on 5habat Tshuua
(the Sabbath of Penitence). between the New Year and the Day of
Atonement."
The 5habat ha-Cada/ serrnon exernplified the instructional function of the rabbinate. The cornmunal rabbi instructed his
congregants
in those special laws relevant to the upcoming holiday,
and admonishments
entered only as asides. On Sh abat Tsh uua, on the
other hand, the need of the hour was to rouse the people ro repent and
rhe sermon was devoted ta ethical exhortation and chastisement.
Both
of these major sermons were linked, in content and tim ing, ta the
ancient tradition.
But depending on the size of the communiry.
the
individual rabbi's talenrs, and local custorn, there mighr also be serrnons
on the festivals or on other special local and national occasions."
In Iaer. the institution of preaching expanded to such an extent in
our period that the local rabbi was no longer able to handle the role
on his OWIl. In the larger kehilo), official preachers were appointed
whose principal function was to deliver serrnons at fixed times and on
special occasions." Throughout
this period there were also itinerant

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS
RELIGIOUS

preachers, who held no regular position but wandered Irorn place ro


place, They were paid for their sermons out of kehila and privare lunds. 9
Since rhe sermon did nor involve binding halakhic rulings, the right
ta preach was nor made dependent on rhe rirle morellu-that
is, in
effect, on rabbinic ordination. There never was ordination for preachers
(as there was. for exarnple, for ritual slaughterer s). Some preachers
were, of course, scholarly men, and in the larger kehitot, the position
was often filIed by individuals who were destined to become the halakhic
leaders of their rime. But in principle. specific reguirements of training
01' knowledge
were never spelled out for preachers. The preacher had
only ta prove that he eould speak intelligently and well.?" A measure
of public control was reguired ta prevent the possibly unbalanced,
immoral, or heretical lrom appearing before rhe public. This was especially necessary aher the rise of Sabbateanism and Hasidisrn, deviant
movements
whose spokesmen of ten used preaching as a method of
publicizing their views. But the need for control was Ielt even earlier,
particularly with respect ta itinerant preachers, who lacked any fixed
institutional
tie.!' Still. such control was not exercised Iorrnally. A
written recommendation
Irorn some authority,
or an inrerview wirh
rhe local rabbi or lay leadership. was enough ta open the doors of the
synagogue to rhe preacher, unless there was a regulation that limited
the right ro preach ta a rabbinic incumbent or the like,12
The existence of rhe institution of preaching, as we ha ve said, should
be understaod in terms of its fundamental religious purpose: ta fil! the
need for public exhortation.
The preacher exploited the religious atmosphere of the synagogue and rhe inspiration of the Sabbath or festival
service in order ta remind the people of rhe system of values ro which
society adhered. The preacher used the yardstick of fundamental values
ta evaluate the behavior of his audience, ar else he aeted as the voi ce
of public opinion in criticizing rhe community's
institutions and leaders.
The congregation
and its leaders here allowed themselves to be reproached and did not respond, but we need nor assume rherefore that
they actually put the preachers words into practice, Though preaching
was an institution
of public criticism and control, it was not revolutionary even in the sense of seeking extremist consistency in the realization of accepted ideals.P
There were some preachers
whose
presentations
were marked nor just by emotionalism
but by an ecstaric
tone that gave the audience a sense of exaltation and of having undergone a deep religious experierice. These preachers sometimes succeeded
in persuading their listeners ta lead changed lives, confess their sins,
and adopt self-imposed castigations to atone for their sins.!" But as a
rule, preaching played no revolurionary
or refonnatory
role. It acted

INSTITUTIONS

147

rarher as an emotional safety val ve, something in the nature of a pu blic


catharsis intended more to preserve the customary way of life rhan ta
inspire real change.
Aside from these fundamental
religious and moral functions, the
preacher incidental!y answered orher needs as well. His listeners gained
intel!ectual pleasure from his exegetical insights. If on the practical
leveI the preacher merely reminded his audience of things they had
forgotten, on rhe academic level he was expected to come up with new
ideas as introductions
to his ultirnate moral message,15 It was the
premise of some surprise thar kepr rhe attention of the congregation
over a long period. The pilpulisric or casuistic approach, which had
then established irself in rhe field of halakhic learning, also affected the
style of preaching. On the one hand, rhe method made it easier ta
come up with new insights, often no more than the "discovery"
of
some imagined meaning in a verse or rabbinic saying, ar an association
between guite-distant
concepts or verses. Ori rhe otlier hand, the widespread familiarity
with the pilpulistic rnethod of study trained the
auclience ta follow the complicated argument on which the sermon was

based,
At the height of the development of homiletics in the seventeenth
and eighreenrh centuries, outstanding preachers achieved amazing arristry in the construction
of their se rrnons. An opening theme would
serve as a central thread joining al! sections of rhe talie Sometimes
rhat theme would disappear as the preaeher wenr off on quite tangential
matters, but suddenly it would reappear and give the audience a satisfying sense of coherence. Finally, the preacher would conclude by
returning ro his point of departure and offering a solution to the original
problem thar he had deliberately
lefr operi.I" The Iisteners who had
fol!owed these mental gymnastics derived aesthetie pleasure from the
tension and its release. Moralists guestioned the legitimacy of rhis
rnerhod of preaching, arguing thar it used the words of the Holy Writ
for amusemem
and ma de an entertainer
of the preacher, whose real
task was the moral guidanee of his congregarion.!"
As we shall see,
rhese same arguments
were used in slightly difterent terms against
pilp ul in Halakha. Entertainment in sermons was suspeeted of not being
conducive ta eorrect aetion; entertainmenr
in study was suspected of
diverting the student from discovery of the rruth. In both spheres, we
see religious values foreed ta do battle on their own territory with
secular rernptation. 18

Next to the rabbinate, the second c1assic religious institution


was
the synagogue, rhe institution dedieated to publie prayer. No Jewish
community was without one. Here, too, in attempting
to understand

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

the functions and structure of the institution, we must concentrare first


on extracting the significance of its basic function-public
worship.
This function was clearly a religious one. Prayer may be emptied of
content if faith is undermiried
and the attachment
to transcendental
values weakened. But so long as prayer exists, it is nourished by the
human need to approach God, to petition for one's needs, to confess
sins, to seek communion
with, or bond to, God (that is. to achieve
duekut , in the various senses in which rhar term was used). ar even
simply to leave the mundane sphere and enter the realm of the sacred.
The goals of private and public prayer varied even within traditional
Jewish society in accordance wirh the religious convictions that lay
behind it. But differing views concern ing rhe nature and function of
prayer did not prevent worshipers
from participating
in a common
service. Only the devoted mystics gave public expression through the
prayer service to their special views by changing rhe words of the lirurgy
or the way in which it was pronounced and by establishing their own
places of worship.?" In general, however, fixed traditional patterns for
prayers reigned supreme.
These patterns had been handed down since the mishnaic period
and even earlier, with a few minor elements added in the Middle Ages
and through local usage. A Jew who moved from one place to another
might encounter difterent melodies, variant readings, and unfamiliar
customs in the new congregation,
but these did not affect the basic,
overall structure of the service. Within the territorial confines of a
single center, such as the German-Polish
one that we are discussing,
distinctions
were nothing more than slight variants that would not
have prevented rhe newcomer Irorn immediately, ar guite soon, feeling
comfortable in the new prayer setting.
Traditional Jewish prayer is public prayer, not only in its content,
but even more 50 in the manner in which the ritual is performed.
Halakha does reguire the individual to pray thrice daily, even when he
is on his own, and such private prayer is considered complete fulfillment
of one's obligation even when it would have been egually possible to
attend a public service. 20 But in our period-in
contrast to the mishnaic
era itseH-private
prayer was seen as a last resort. The desirable and
usual form of worship in those communities large enough to maintain
a regular minyan (a guorum of ten males aged thirteen and over) was
public prayer in the synagogue, the beit midrash (house of srudy), or
a private home in which one or rwo rooms had been set aside and
eguipped for the purpose by rhe installation of an Ark with a Torah
scroll. Such improvised synagogues were the rule in towns with small

RELlGIOUS

STiTUTIONS

149

Jewish populations,
and they were later resorted ta also in the large
cities, when the decomposition of the communal Iramework began. But
during the apogee of the traditional kehila, srnall and mediurn-sized
kehilot had a single synagogue proper, while large kehilot would have
a number of parallel synagogues as well. Even these auxiliary synagogues, however, preserved their public character arid were subject ro
ali local customs and to rhe authority of the community.I'
Somewhat
more detached was the beit midras}i of the rosh yeshiva, where the
rabbi prayed together with his studen ts whenever he was not obligated
to appear at the kehila service.V Only the kabbalists of the Lurianic
stream established truly secluded batei midrash or kloyzim, attended
only by adherents of their specific Iiturgical tradition.
That public prayer was preferable ta private was stressed even in
Talmudic tradition. The [irst ten men to a rrive ar the synagogue were
deerned especiaIly meritorious, for they had ensured that public worship
would be possible on that particular occasion. The superiority of public
prayer even received tangible expression by the addition of the kadish
and kdush a prayers, which could nor be recited unless there were ar
least ten rnen present. Because of their guasi-mystical
content and
exclusively public characrer. these selections were accorded particular
attention by rhe commentators
and were considcred especially important by the worshipers.
Anyone who did not attend public prayer
forfeited the reward thar religious belief accorded such participation,
and was in Iaer deprived of a religious experience.P
But one way 01'
another, the obligation ro join the congregation
in prayer 35 often as
possible was based on the [ewish conception of rhe nature of prayer as
it was traditionally
practiced: Prayer was not simply composed of private entreaties. In certain passages where the cantor acted as a substitute
for the congregation or as its leader, he would recite the prayer and
the congregation would sirnply respond "arnen." In other passages, the
cantor would read the opening or closing lines, and the congregation
would follow his tempo. Through his emotional exaltation and his
awareness of his own role, the cantor became the representative
of the
community before God. His role was to project this sense of exaltation
by rendering the liturgica! melodies thar were Iixed by custom but that
stil! left room for varied emphases in accordance with his own ability
and taste. 24
But alongside-or,
better, at rhe very heart of-the
shared public
ritual of the prayer service there also lay fundamental
elements of
private prayer. This was not merely a case of the individual sponraneously pouring out his heart in the middle of the service. Rather, the

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS

individual was ta concentra te carefully on the literal meaning of the


liturgy or dwell upon secondary interpretations
of the prayers that he
had gleaned from the commentaries
on the prayer book. The apex of
such individual prayer was reached in the shrn a and the silenr, individual recitation of rhe amida. At this point, the public context of
prayer served only a preparatory
function. The individuals
readiness
and ability to concentra te on the meanings of the words and on their
associated implications were enhanced by the earlier shared parts of
the service and by the awareness that he stood within a congregation.
The danger that one would cease to pay attention to a well-known,
even too-farruliar,
Iiturgy was recognized, and worshipers were repeatedly warned to train themselves to concentrare on rhe meaning of
the prayers and ta bear in mind the special concepts (kavanot)
embedded
in them2S Reciting ones prayers in a group in rhe synagogue was
always considered one of the best mechanisms
to ensure this. Paradoxically, rherefore. the emphasis on personal prayer became a major
motivation for encouraging individuals not to absent themselves from
public prayer and nor to be satisfied with praying in private.
The individual' s desire to perform his duty in the best possible
fashion was not the only factor behind public prayer. The congregation,
as an organic unit, regarded itself as responsible for the maintenance
of public worship. The right that rhe Talmud granted mernbers of a
congregation
to force each orher ta erect a synagogue was later extended. with some qualification.
to the right to force each orher to
maintain a quorum in the synagogue for daily prayers. Of course, this
was even more the case with regard to prayer services on the Sabbarh,
Festivals, and the High Holy Days. Public prayer was equated with the
tamid, the daily offering in the Temple, and failing to hold public prayer
was therefore tantarnount
to abrogating that daily offering.26 A cornmunity that had not been able to maintain this shared obligation saw
itself 2.5 guilty nor only because. as individuals, they had failed ta fulfill
a precept, but also because. as a cornrnuniry. they had lost something
that in a sense legitimized their existence. The erem-the decree of
excommunication-derived
its power from the individuals
sense of
obligation to participa te in public prayer. The first stage of herem was
ta deprive the offender of the righr ta participare in the service. Conversely, rhe irnportance of public prayer lent power to victims of injustice, who could interrupt
the service and thus compel the
congregation
to attend ta their grievance.'? In the case of herem, the
individual felt himself excluded Irom the ranks of those privileged to
take part in the cardinal obligation of public prayer; in the case of

RELICIOU5

IN5TITUTION5

interrupted
prayer, the entire congregation
was prevented frorn performing rhis duty and saw itself as discredited and, 50 to speak. condemned before Gad.
As we mentioned betore. the importance of praying with the congregation varied with the importance for the individual and the cornmunity of the specific day on the [ewish calendar. Even Mondays and
Thursdays.
though weekdays, were marked by extra prayers and by
the reading of the Tarah, which could not be duplicated in private
prayer. Through rheir emotionally charged ceremonials, Sabbaths, Festivals. and of course the Days of Awe became occasions when the
individual was almost totally identified with the community,
even
though the specific obligations that these days entailed-hearing
the
shofar on the New Year and fasting on the Day of Atonement,
for
example-did
nor require one to garher with the congregation.28
Public prayer had a social, as well as a religious, aspect. Social
circumstances determined the extent to which this religious ideal could
be realized. while the ideal itself also helped to shape social realities.
For example, we need only recall rhar the daily obligation to participa te
II1 public prayer, morning and evening, implied that Iews live in compact
neighborhoods,
that they engage in types of work that did nor require
rheir continuous presence, and that the general conditions of production
and existence did not yet demand that every moment be exploited in
order to gain economic success. Synagogue attendance was tacilitared
where rhe workplace-a
srore or workshop-was
located on the sarrie
premises as the home. When the menfolk were away-and
it was only
the men whose attendance was required in the synagogue7the
women
could subsritute for them. At least it was not necessary actuali y to
close the storc ar prayer times. Under such conditions, one could very
well formulare a halakhic demand thar the entire congregation assemble
for public prayer twice a day and expect it to be implemented.
The
concentration
of homes in one area also made it possible to announce
the hour of prayer. and the beadle knocking on doors to summon
worshipers was a characteristic feature of life in the J ewish quarter in
this period. 29 Similarly, synagogue attendance was also easily subjected
to mutual control, and the admonitions
of the rabbis and Preachers
were supplemented by the informal criticism of the congregation itself.
In the small kehilot, this control was exercised by the kehila leaders
themselves, while in the large kehilot, it was accomplished through the
haouroi (confraternities),
which obligated their members to attend services and even maintained a certain measure of control in this regard. 30
Even so, the ideal of the entire community
attending synagogue

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS
RELIGIOUS

twice daily was never realized completely.


Certain occupations took
some individuals away from the Jewish quarrer. particularly at the hour
of afternoon prayer during the short winter days. Servants, paid ernployces, and artisans were tied to their work at prayer times. The
moralists and authors of t ak anot tended to make fewer demands of
such people. insisting only that they attend synagogue on Mondays
and Thursdays, when the Torah was read, or at least on Sabbaths and
Iestivals.:" The greater the significance of the day, the less need rhere
was to encourage and demand synagogue attendance. There is ample
evidence of preaching and moralizing regarding the importance of participation in public prayer on weekdays. But there is no trace of such
sermonizing
with regard to Sabbaths and festivals. Attendance was
assured by the stronger drawing power of the synagogue on those days.
and because the Iactors thar stood in the way ofthe would-be worshiper
during the rest of the week were now absent.
. .
And just as social circumstances
determined rhe extent of partlClpation in public prayer, the emphasis on public prayer shaped social
realities. The synagogue was given multiple secondary funcrions as
parr of the communal administration:
It was there rhar warnings were
issued, decrees of excommunication
pronounced, and oaths taken, and
it was exclusion from the synagogue that constituted the punishment
of the disobedient.
The synagogue
itself required organization
and
management.
These functions were entrusted to gaba'im (V;ardens),
who discharged them in person or rhrough beadles. The gaba lm were
appoinred in the same way as other communalleaders
and sometimes
the post of synagogue gabai served as the stepping stone to advancement because of rhe experience in leadership it aHorded. And the synagogue also fulfilled less obvious social functions. As a regular meeting
place for members of the cornmuniry, it provided an opporturuty
for
purely secular conversations
and even for business negotiations.
Adrnittedly.
religious law forbade discussion in the synagogue of
any matter that did nor concern the prayers themselves.V But precisely
because of the frequency of meetings in the synagogue, this rule was
no longer observed in our period. Indeed, the leaders thernselves tock
advantage of the community gathering for their own purposes, and the
rank and file foIIowed their example. It is unlikely thar they had any
qualms about discussing business in the synagogue at those times when
absolute silence was not required by the Iiturgy. But the principal SOCIal
use of a visit to the synagogue was simply as a setting for light conversation, which arose in the course of the constant contacts among
the worshipers. Even the formal Halakha distinguished between various
parts of the service and required absolute silence only during the central

INSTITUTIONS

prayers and major ceremonies. As for the rest, the prohibition of talking
in the synagogue remained somewhat vague and ill-definedJ3 Strict
and thoroughgoing
moralists sornetirnes attempted to prohibit alI secular talk within the confines of the synagogue.
But the frequency of
contacts between members of an all-inclusive congregation
mi!itated
against acceptance of this stringency.H This demand could be realized
only in the synagogues of groups of ascetics, which arose spontaneously
within the cornrnunirv
In addition to fu1filling its central task in the life of rhe cornmunirv,
the synagogue also provided a method of marking off the social srrara
within the community and of fixing the distincrions between various
levels. Seating arrangements
provided an opportu nirv for expressing
these distinctions. Proximity to the Ark. the reaciers desk, the rabbis
seat, or rhe platform Irorn which the Torah was read all reflected ones
relative importance. In addirion. a seat in the row nearest the eastern
wall (mizra~) had a value of its own. This was because those who sat
there at times faced the congregation.
Seats were purchased outrighr
by the mernbers of the congregation and they sometimes passed from
father to son. It may well be that the seating arrangements
did not
always reflect the actual state of stratification, since it was quite common
for social sta tus to change trom one generation to the next. The sons
of good families held on ro their honored seats even if orhcrs had
meanwhile eclipsed them in terms of property or star us. If a fal1lily
were totally impoverished,
however, they were usually stnpped even
of their synagogue seats.r"
The synagogue offered the well-ro-do various methods of displaying
their wealth. Rich Iamilies could donate Terah scrolls. curtains for the
Ark, and ritual objects. In a manner typical of the period, such gifts
did nor become an undifferentiated
part of the public property: The
donors name was inscribed on his gift. and he and the members of his
family were honored every time their gift was used ar the appropriate
time. More than once, a quarrel would break out over rhe question of
whose gift should be used on a particular occasion.:"
Anorher guide ro a person's social rank lay in which aliya (being
called to "ascend" to read a portion of the Law) he was given. Here,
roo. there were gradations, depending on the importance of the day
and other considerations.
Aliyot were purchased, the buyer either taking the honor for himself or bestowing it on someone else. Theyalso
served as an opportunity to announce contributions
to charitable causes
and. at the same rime, as a means of publicizing one: s financial capacities. Nevertheless,
rhe honor of an aliya did not depend solely on
financial considerations.
The kehila and supra-kehila regulations re-

, 1'54

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS
RELIGIOUS

served certain aliyot for those who represented other comrnunal values:
The local rabbi, the district rabbi, other scholars. and local or regional
community
leaders were also guaranteed an aliya in accordance with
their status. The minuteness
with which rhe rules were set Iorth in
the regulations of both kehilot and supra-kehilot37
is evidence of the
sensitivity of people with regard to fixing a person s place on the social
scale. The synagogue ritual afforded the principal opportunity for public
demonstration
of this status.
The assembly of the cornmuniry on Festivals and Holy Oays offered
other opporrunities
to exhibit ones wealth not specifically linked to
the service itself-through
the clothes arid jewelry one wore. Men
could adorn themselves with silver atarot, ar collars an their prayer
shawls; women found the best opportunity
for displaying their wealth
and position in the luxurious items they wore to rhe synagogue. Surnptuary laws regulating the use of luxuries sornerimes specifically exempted synagogue
artendance,
ar were ar least more lenient in its
regard. Traditionally.
the honor of the Sabbath and Festivals required
one ta be well dressed, and this could serve as a pretext for displaying
social status.P" Even if the intention of the individual was sirnply to
observe the precept of glorifying rhe Sabbath or Festival, the fact remains thar each person' 5 appearance in public, dressed in keeping with
his purse, served as a means of social classification.
The phenomena described above are secondary social functions that
became attached ta the religious institution,
not always in accordance
with its original aims and at times even in explicit opposition to thern.
Be that as it may, the chief social function of the synagogue was not
in these incidental demonstrations.
The synagogue served ta maintain
the society precisely where, and ta the extent rhat. it avoided all involvement in social goals. The congregation thar assembled for prayer
united insofar as it succeeded in forgetting itself and communed,
in
accordance with its religious consciousness,
wirh irs God.
We have already observed that the more the religious ceremony
was charged with sentiment and focused on the worshiper' s experience,
the more the individual was tied ro the congregation in his worship.
At the climax of Jewish public devotions, on the New Year and the
Day of Atonement, when the likelihood was greatest rhar the individual
would turn his thoughts away from his own interests and social ambitions. he was likely to be absorbed alrnost cornpletely in his society
and community.
This experience of fusion, albeit temporary. must have
left a lasting impression. The internal cohesiveness of the [ewish cornmunity was undoubtedly
nourished by the deprh of the ever-recurring
religious experience of the ritual. Durkheim' s judgment on rhe unity

INSTITUTIONS

of religion and society is substantiared here, although not


that religion loses its independence
and becomes a mere
society. Only where religion lives on its own independent
Olan facing God-is
it unconsciously
and paradoxically
formed inro a primary social preservative.

155
in the sense
function of
resourcesalso trans-

EDUCATIONAL

Educational Institutions

ntil now. we have treated traditional [ewish society as static and


unchanging.
In that way, we were able ta esrablish a "base
reading" as a starting point for our investigation.
But the picture would
remain incomplete were we nor now to add a description of rhe transformations and development
rhar the society characteristically
underwent over tirne. Change is inevitable even in traditional societies not
enamored of change per se. Generations
corne and go, the aged must
retire and rhe young must be incorporated into the social fabric. Every
society must both consider, and actively prepare for, irs future.
The fact thar Jewish society was a traditional one-that
is. that it
based itself on knowledge and values drawn from the past-does
not
mean that it ignored the future. Rather. the jews' strong attachrnent
to the past meant that the present became less important;
the [uiure,
on the other hand, became a time when, it was hoped. the values of
the past would be restored. Future generations-and
sometimes the
one immediately
to come-became
bearers of this hope for the renewal
of society. It was vital ta involve the next generation in the effort to
reform the future-paradoxically,
through maintaining
the tradition.
As in every other idealistic society forced to compromise with realiry,
the hope for fully realizing the ideal was transferred
to the coming
generation.
While it marured. the new generation
was temporarily
exempt from rhe struggles of life and did not have ta resort to the
compromises that reality imposed on the active members of society. It
was logical that educational institutions
became the chief representatives of society's values vis-a-vis the rising generation.
In traditional
[ewish society, informed by the ideal of fulfilling the religious heritage
in its totality, educational institutions served to promote the traditional
values and to transmit them ro the new generation.

Family and Synagogue.


The education and "socialization"
of
the new generation-that
is. the introduction
of the young inro the
framework of sociallife-was
nor carried out only by those institutions
specifically designated for the purpose. The other institutions of society

INSTITlITIONS

157

shared in this function, each within its own sphere. Though created
ongmally to carer ta the needs of rhe existing society, they were also
charged with the auxilia rv task of serving the requirements of the risin
generanon.
g
The foremost of these secondary institutions of education was of
course. the family, which, ar least in one sense. was defined as a mechanism for providing for the needs of rhe next generation.
But the
larnilys educational role derived from more than biology. The traditional Jewish family served as a primary educational institution because
of the role ascribed ro it by society ar large, because of the cultural
values which it was assigned, and because of its interna] structure.
It
was in the framework of family life rhat rhe chilel absorbed the armosphere typical of traditional society as a whole. The structure of the
family paralleled that of society. The father headed the family by virtue
of the traditional values he represented.
The mother was close ta him
in status, though not in authoriry. The children and the orher members
of the family each occupied a position in accordance with their age and
ability.l The child who grew up in such a Iamily was trained to think
in hierarchical terms and was accustomed to a discipline in which rhe
young obeyed their elders.
The family becarne a bearer of religious values because it was the
locus for cerrain religious ceremonies, especially at rneal times: daily,
to the extent thar rhe family dined together and recited the blessing
before, and the grace aher, meals: and rhen of course on Sabbath eve
and at the Passover Seder.? The childs psychological attachmenr to his
family gave an emotional dimension
to the religious experience of
participating in the ritual; both religious and family ties were strengthened and values were transmitted ta rhe new generation.
The larnily similarly served. almost unconsciously,
as an instrument of education as it fulfilled its various social functions. Through
it, children participated in the principal framework for adult social
activity, accompanying
their parents on visits and receiving guests in
their homes. Presumbly it was in these early-childhood
experiences
that the foundations
of broad family solidariry were laid. The child
could observe the close relations and inrimacy thar existed between
mernbers of the extended family. Finally, to the many ways in which
the family provided a "teaching environmenr"
for children. we can add
the expressly pedagogical tasks incumbenr at least initially on irs adult
members: The child would learn good manners and moral behavior as
well as the elementary
custorns of religion and tradition-prayers,
benedictions.
and the like-from
the older mernbers of the Iamily,
either through formal lessons orby simple and repeated imitation.:'

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

The services at the synagogue occupied second place among the


auxiliary educational institutions.
From their earliest years, children
attended the synagogue wirh their parents or. as we shal! see, under
the supervision of their teacher. The service was conducted by adults,
and until they were altnost thirteen, children played no active part.
Still, they joined the congregation
in reciting the prayers and in responding "arnen." Through daily exposure, they learned the customs
connected with the service, the text of the prayers, and the accompanying melodies. 4 Through direct participation in the prayer services on
Sabbaths and holidays, the child acquired thar total spiritual attachment
to the religious community
that gave life to the rnyrhos through immediate contact with rhe divine. Similarly, it was in the synagogue
that he acquired a portion of his knowledge of the ritual aspect of the
tradition and absorbed, by Iistening to sermons and debates, at least
part of what was formally taught in the educationaJ institutions.
In rhis broader sense, al! the kehila instirutions
must be regarded
as mechanisms
for educating the new generation.
Under rhe crarnped
conditions of exisrence. with the activities of rhe public institutions as
intertwined with one another as they were, it was obviously impossible
to keep rhe children from seeing and hearing everything that took place
in the cornmuruty.
The life of the community
was carried on as in a
public arena, before the eyes of young and old, and childr.en absorbed
whatever they were intellectually
capable of absorbing. Thus, even
though one could actively participa te in communal government
only
from a relatively advanced age, and even though there were almost no
special institutions
in which younger people could gain political training,5 effective leadership of rhe kehi/ot arid other organizations
was
assured from generation
to generation.
PresumabJy,
young people
gained an understanding
of the problems of government and leadership
through observation
of the actions of the leaders. and they gained
experience by gradually taking on tasks of greater and greater responsibility once thcyhad
attained the age then deemed appropriate
for
public activity. Of course, sons arid sons-in-Iaw of theleading
families
had an advantage in this respect through their personaj contact with
those who already held office.

Practical
Education.
The child was prepared for making a living in a similar fashion. Here, toc, there was no formal training of
any sort. At the very most. we might argue that learning to write
Yiddish or Hebrew and mastering the basics of arithmetic. either in
the heder or elsewhere, were tangentially preparatory for earning ones
Iiving. The children of rhe rich also had the opportunity
to srudy the

EOUCATIONAL

INSTITUTIONS

159

local vernacular or the language-often


Latin-used
by the governmenr, under private turors." A knowledge of these languages made it
easier to deal with the authoriries, and a person with such knowledge
had a better chance of winning the post of sht adlan and of exploiting
his direct contacts with government
representatives.
The knowledge required for running
a business was acquired
through practical experience. A good opportunity
for this was offered
by the first years of marriage, when the couple lived with one or another
set of parents. The commercial rnethods in vogue among both [ews
and non-jews in this period made such a rnerhod of training feasible.
The merchants
expertise was of a practical sort and did nor involve
systematic conceprualization
or require prior theoretical training. The
economic and financial considerations
involved in successful business
operations were nothing more than practical rules that anyone with a
business sense could learn from an experienced guide. The same was
true of the manual trades. The apprentice learned his trade by helping
his master, observing hirn. and imitating hirn.? The training for orher
vocations-rabbis,
preachers, teachers. and sextons of all types-was
even less formalized. It is true that. with the exception of the sextons.
these latter relied on knowledge they had acquired in a formal fashion,
as we shall see below. But how to apply thar knowledge in practicein halakhic rulings, serrnons, and classroom teaching-was
learned by
personal experience. At most, a rabbi might serve for a period as "clerk"
ta a well-known halakhic authoriry. and a teacher might assist someone
more experienced than he. But as with the apprentice craftsman, this
is training through service and observation.
In this period, it was not
customary ta train anyone formally for any social role.

The He de r a n d the Financing


of El e m e n t a r j Ed u ca t i o n ,
We must now define the rnerhods and content of the heder and the
yeshiva-the
society's two formal educational
institutions.
These
sought to teach only that knowledge that constituted the essential value
system of the society. Their principal function was to transmit [ewish
tradition at various levels of difficulty and abstraction. The heder supplemented the knowledge of rradition that the child absorbed
irectly
from the society (via the farnily, rhe synagogue, the street, etc.) with
the basic knowledge stored in the peoples religious literature. In keeping with its broad-ranging
communal
function, the neder was entrenched throughout
the Iength and breadth of traditional
lewish
society. Even the isolated Jew Iiving in a remote village tried to keep
a tutor for his children or to send them to a nearby town where they
might be familiarized with the Iundamenrals
of Iudaisrn." Nor did

1.60

TRADITION

AND

EDUCATIONAL

CRISIS

overty usually stop parents from providing at least an elementary


:ducation for rheir children. By religious law, it was the Iather's duty
to educa te his children ar his own expense. The extremely wealthy
sometimes employed a private turor for their children; the tutor lived
with the family and served as both teacher and mentor ta the children.
with whom he stayed ali day long.? But on the whole, education was
carried on in an institution
that, while not directly created by rhe
cornmuniry,
was subject to public supervision.
Though the primary
obligation ta educate the child fell ta the Iarher. education was regarded
as more than a priva te duty. By [ewish law, hiring a teacher was one
of the duties thar members of a community
could force each other ta
support. In this per iod matters rarely got ta rhat point. For the most
part there was an ample supply of teachers offering their services. The
kehila thus did nor bear the expense of instrucrion, and usually did not
even have ta organize the educational system. Its task was limited ta
supervising the teachers and providing for the education of those children whose parents could nor afford to pay. In the srnaller kehilot,
these functions were entrusted directly ta the kehila leaders. But in
kehi/ot large enough to allow for differentiation
in the allocation of
duties, special trustees, known as gaba' ei taimud tora, were appointed
for this task. In other I,ehilot, there were special associations, known
as heurot talmud tora, whose officers were responsible for supervising
the teachers and, especially, for ensuring the education of the poor.
Fulfilling this function required considerable financial resources. Accordingly, certa in sources of income were specially allocated ta rhe
talmud tora fund. Part of the general contributions
ma de in the synagogue were set aside for this purpose. The talmud tora trustees were
also permitted to solicit donations on certa in occasions. In some localities. a tax was levied on the members of the kehila ro cover the
education of needy children. Special teachers were employed, and occasionally, special premises were set aside for this purpose. EIsewhere
the poor were given direct aid ta help thern pay for private lessons. In
yet other places. private teachers hired for the children of the well-todo were required to teach a poor child free of charge or at a reduced
fee. Except in the smallest kehilot, where there were not enough families to support a private tutor. it was not common for the community
itself ta hire a single teacher for ali the children.I?

Public Supervision
of t h e He der,
Education was
"public" responsibility
nor in an organizational
or financial
only insofar as the comrnunity
supervised and controlled
cornmunity' s supervisory role did not include the selection

therefore a
sense, but
it. But the
of qualified

INSTITUTIONS

teachers through prior examination. Since there was no formallicensing


system for teachers akin ta rhe smikha for rabbis or kabala for ritual
slaughterers, nothing could prevent any local resident from hiring hirnself out as a reacher through a private arrangement
with aparent. Only
nonresidents,
who would anyway have been watched by the communiry, were required to obtain official permission to practice rheir profession. And even in such cases. supervision was more a matter of deciding
whether or not ta let such newcomers live in rhe town than of any
real judging of their professional abilities as educarors. Only if such
foreign teachers becarne a serious threar to rhe livelihood of locals were
they asked ta demonstrate
their pedagogical abilities, sornerhing rhar
could justify employing them even though they carne Irorn rhe ou tside
arid did not hold the hezkat yishuv. Sometimes such proof of ability
was 01150 demanded of locals, as in cases where it was decided that only
those who had been granted the title "hauei" from the local rabbi
might serve as teachers. Even so, such a tirle attested only to the
individual's personal learning and ta the fact that he had followed the
accepted path of formal education by spending a number of years in a
yeshiva.11 Thus, such control as did exist applied. at rhe very most,
only ta the teachers knowledge, while his pedagogical abiliry could be
proven only in the ,course of actual teaching. The success of a teacher
was rneasured byhis pupils level of achievernent.
It was custornary
for the pupils to be exarnined periodically by public officials: the rabbi
or sorneone acting for him, the gaba' ei ta/muci tora, or sorneone else
specifically appointed for the purpose.V
Supervision was aimed primarily at ensuring the conditions necessary for successful teaching. The teacher was not allowed ro take on
more students than it was considered possible ta teach. he might not
reduce the nurnbe r of instructional
hours, and he was not to engage
rhe children in non-educational
tasks.P Supervisors also looked in ro
fee schedules, the times of payrnent, the method of collection, and the
prevention
of unfair cornperirion when the supply of teachers was
greater than the demand.!" Supervisors also ensured that parents did
not put their children ta work Of place them as domestics atan age
when it was custornary to have thern at school. The minimum working
age varied from place to place, but it generally ranged between thirreen
and fifteen.1s
Thus, elementary education in rhe heder was enrrusted. in essence,
to teachers distinguished
by neither knowledge nor formal training for
their job. Even though society placed a high value on teaching, the
me/amdim who actually perforrned this task were given neither status
nor prestige. They were rrapped in a job that demanded ali their time,

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

paid little, offered no chance for advancement,


dependent on the goodwill of others.

EOUCATIONAL

and left thern

totally

The Curriculum.
It was a religious dutv to educare ones child.
and the community
cajoled and pressured its members to fulfi!! this
obligation. Consequenrly.
almost everyone in the society had a traditional education, and what was absorbed during those first stages of
heder education became rhe basis of the national and religious consciousness of the entire community.
The earliest years were devored
to Bible study-at
firsr in translation inro rhe local vernacular, and
rhen wirh the commentary
of R. Solomon ben Isaac (RaSHI)16 The
special status of the [ews as a chosen people. the essenrial and mythic
distinction between Jews and the orher narions. an understanding
of
the fate of the Jewish people in exile, and a belief in rhe peoples ultirnate
redemption-all
of this penerrared the childs consciousness through
rhe popular homileric illumination of RaSHI's comrnentary, itself originally written with a didactic purpose in mind during a period of grear
religious tension and awareness in the Middle Ages.17 Children rhus
acquired the fundamentals
of their faith through srucly of the c1assic
rexts, particularly
rhe Pentateuch with RaSHl's comrnentary.
While
rhe teachers might also review and ernphasize these fundamental principles. there was never any attempt at reaching thern systematically.
The lack of systematization
and comprehensiveness
in pedagogical goals
was a rypical feature of this educational system. Even in teaching rhe
Penrateuch. rather than following the biblical srory consecutively,
the
teacher would begin the section to be read that week in the synagogue,
even if he had nor finished the portion of rhe week before.!"
There was a close tie between the school ancl the synagogue dating
back to rhe very beginnings of [ewish schooling in antiquiry. a Iink
thar was strengthened
by the neecl to prepare rhe stuclents for participation in the main prayer service ancl Torah reading on the Sabbath.
This link took precedence over an y clesire to establish a pedagogically
logical course of study based on the narure of the material i tseIf. Even
the practica! requirements
of the halakha were taught only as rime
would permit and as the need to know them arose in the life of the
congregation.
Aside from laws needed on a daily basis by the children
(blessings, the laws of phylacteries just before the boy reached the age
of Bar Mitzva. etc.}, the laws of the holidays were studied only as the
specific holiday approached.!?
By any rational criterion, rhis merhod of teaching must be considered unsatisfactory,
and the system had its critics-notably
R. Iudah
Loew (MaHaRaL) of Prague. Despite the consiclerable public attention

INSTITUTIONS

paid to education. there were those who never learned to read, much
less ro write or even ro sign their own name. Even those who did absorb
what the heder had to offer were left with only fragmentary
knowledge.?? Srill, from the point of view of social function. this education
achieved what was required of it. Anyone who attended a heder, even
if only for a few years. would ha ve absorbed rhe rudiments
of the
tradition and could help ro preserve it. Even if he did nor know its
details. he knew what it required of him. His knowledge and religious
attachment were sufficient for him to join the congregation
in prayer
and folIow its major cusroms.
Crities of the heder attributed its academic shortcomings
in part to
the fact that teachers failecl to acljust the curriculum to the pupil s age
and mental capacity. Farniliarity with the Bible and training in Mishna
were seen nor as accomplishments
in themselves but only as preparatory to the ultimate educational goal: creating a talmid hakh am who
had extensive knowledge of the Talmucl and halakhic codes. Obviously
onlya small minority of students coulcl hope to attain this ideal-those
with the ability ancl the desire to devote many years ro their srudies
at a yeshiva,
traditional
society's highest educational
institution.
Nevertheless.
the neder, an institution apparently designecl ro serve the
general public, was" also made subservient to the arnbitions of the minoriry. Pupils were introduced to Talrnud before they had acquired a
fundamental
knowledge of the Bible or even of the Pentateuch.
The
melamed was evaluated primarily with respect to his achievements
in
rhe area of Talmud. Clever teachers. whose livelihoocl depended aher
aIl on making a good impression on parents, perfected techniques. such
as rate memorization,
that led to remarkable accomplishrnents,
which
were iIlusory and even harmful in the opinion of some of the best of
their critics.?' Ultimarely. however. rhe heder was simply a reflection
of the system of values upon which aII of Jewish society was built.
Even if only a minoriry coulcl actuaIly engage in it, study of the Talmucl
was a primary value for the entire society. The educational goals for
the people as a whole, knowledge of the fundamentals
of [udaism and
the fulfillment of its precepts, were considered as no more than byproducts of an educational system directecl at developing- Talrnudic
scholars.
The heder was only a first, preparatory stage in the journey toward
this ultimate goal. The educational setting for the training of Talmuclic
scholars was. the yeshiva. This institution depended, first of aII, on the
presence of a rabbi who was himself a talmid hakh am capable of teaching Talmud and the halakhic codes. He had not only to know the
material; he had ro be able to genera te new insighrs into the sources

TRAOITJON

ANO

CRISIS

on his own. Of course. rhe level of ories knowledge and originality


cannot be defined in exact terrns. What was expected would vary from
place to place. There was no formal license for the head (r05h) of a
ye5hiva (as there was for a rabbi), nor was there any institutionalized
supervision of the ye5hiva (as there was of rhe heder). An individual's
suitability ta head a yeshiva might be raised formally during rhe appointment process of a new communal rabbi (in those areas where he
served also as rosh ycshiva), but ultirnately, suitabiiity was decided by
whether or nor he was accepted by the broader society of rhe learned
and wherher OI' nor he could attract students. As students would come
and go, moving from one yeshivn ta another. the reputation of specific
scholars would spread and a consensus emerge about their relative
merits. Though of course it was always possible to inAuence and direct
public opinion in an "illegitimate"
manner, it is reasonable ta assume
that this sort of free public criticism usually managed to keep the level
of study as high as possible.

Supra-communal
As p e crs of the Yeshiva.
This brings us ta
one of the most outstanding
characreristics of the yeshiva. Unlike the
heder, a local institution thar did not serve people from outside the
town except in cases where such children were sent ta live with local
families, the yeshiva was an institution
that provided education to
individuals Irorn a nurnber of different comrnunities.
sornetimes quite
far apart.V This is partly a function of the age of the pupils. The
melamed taught students up to twelve or thirteen years of age; after
rhar poinr, srudents would usually enter a yeshiva. These teenagers
were both capable of living outside rhe family setting and eager to do
so-to
leave their family and spend their adolescence among people of
their own age in the cirele of a specific rosh yeshiva. It was not only
a matter of wan ting to study with a teacher on a level higher than
what rnighr be available locally-Even
youths from large communities
who had fine teachers at hand would nevertheless leave home and travel
elsewhere. By cutting himself off Irorn his family and associating cornplerely with his educational insritution,
the young man was able to
devote his adolescence totally to the development
of the Iife of the
spirit. He was freed from any worries about making a Iiving and uninvolved in the daily activities of the society. He took no part in its
economy, politics, or even volunteer activities. In return, he was assured that if he had the requisite intellectual ability and moral character.
he would eventually become one of the spiritual leaders of that cornmunity. Society was sufficiently differentiated to allocate leadership to
a defined class, that of talmidei hakhamim, or talmudic scholars. Hence

EOUCATIONAL

lNSTlTUTIONS

the development and transmission


of spiritual values had to occur in
institutions cut off Irorn other aspects of life. In such insritutions. which
brought tagether pupils from around the region, we see clearly articulared the internal cultural unity of each area within the Diaspora. In
this sense, the wanderings of the yeshiva students c1early defined the
cultural-geographic
extent of each center.
It was the out-of-town
students who lent the yeshiva its particular
character. The nucleus of the yeshiva would be formed by rhose pupils
who depended for their right of residence, their local ties, and even
their daily bread on the rabbi.P Onee that nucleus had formed, local
elernenrs might join: pupils just beginning their studies, young men
living with their in-Iaws. and other householders
and scholars who
came to hear the lectures at the yeshiva24 But even though loeals of ten
formed a significant part, and sornetimes even the majority. of rhe
student body, they remained on rhe periphery of the institution-the
reverse of the situation with al! other communal institutions,
which
were always dominated
by the local [ews. The "Ioreign" students
formed the heart of the yeshiva because only they fulfilled the criteria
of total dedication to learning and absolute and perfect dependenee on
the rabbi, rhe representative of the value system rhar they had gathered
toabsorb.
Hence, another prerequisite for the existence of the yeshiva was a
method of providing for the needs of the out-of-town students. Because
the general cornrnunitv placed a high value on Torah study, it solved
this problem through both communal and supra-cornrnunal
institutions. A rabbi who intended to maintain a yeshiva would general!y
make it a condition of his contract that the community agree to supporr
a fixed number of students.P Direct responsibiliry
for the support of
rhe youths lay with the cornrnunirys
appointees, who were sometimes
given a special ride: gaba' ei hu-kupa (wardens of the fund). Just as in
the case of the heder, fundsfor
the yeshiva would be raised through
serni-volunrary
levies on the householders,
Sometimes
individuals
would spontaneously
make donations to the yeshiva or establis.h endowments on its behaif. But the wardens also had the power to require
householders to participate directly in maintaining the yeshiva by opening their homes to the students and providing thern with roorn and
board on weekdays and, even more 50, on the Sabbath and holidays.?"
For their part, the supra-comrnunal
institurions would constandy encourage the local cornmunities to fulfill their obligation in supporting
yeshivot, and they would sometimes lend support ro. or at least define
standards for, those aspects of the yeshiva thar were beyond the authority of the local cornrnunity. They were involved, for exarnple, in

166

TRADITION

ANO

CRISlS
EDUCATIONAL

dividing Up rhe students such that their nurnber in any one yeshiva
did not exceed the financial capacity of the local community to support
them. The supra-communal
instirutions likewise sought partial support
for the yeshivot from those communities themselves too small to maintain one on rheir own. Such smaller comrnunities
were required to
raise money at fixed times for the yeshivot, and in fact they would
actually support the students directly, since during "intersessions"a nor-insigruficant
period of time-the
students would take up residence
in these settlements.
Here, too, rhe supra-comrnunal
institutions tned
to sysrernatize matters by dividing up the leviesfairly
and by assuring
the educational needs of the migrant students.?"
The elite of the [ewish in tellectua] world was trained in our period
in the yeshivot. There was a large stratu m of yod'ei sefer-that
is. of
individuals educated in the heder who were familiar with the customs
of [udaism and could understand
the basic texts [the Pentateuch, the
Mishna, and aggadic anthologies such as the Un Yaakov) or at least
followa rabbinic talk abour them. This grollp formed the middle stage
between the Talrnudic scholar (talmid hakham) and the ignoramus (am
ha-are?:). But it was the yeshiva that provided the highest degree of
intellectual training available for the Talmudic scholar in our period.
The yeshiva students
training was at such an advanced level of cornplexity and acuity that anyone who had nor spent a number of years
in intensive study in a yeshiva would not be able to follow a lecture
by, or even the conversation of, these talmidei !wkhamim.

Pil p ul an d Hil ukim . This situation resulted [rom developments


in the manner in which halakha was studied. Especially aher the publication of the Shulhan Arukl1, halakhic study had separated into two
streams: those who were interested in elucidating the practical irnplications of the law, and those whose goal was purely speculative study.
Practical halakhic decisions were arrived ar, for the most part. through
reliance on earlier aurhorities. The study of primary sources was merely
an opportunity
for exegesis and development of the halakhic mentality
for its own sake. This separation of study of the prirnary sources Irorn
any practical halakhic concerns encouraged
the tendency ta overintellectualize and to indulge in logical games withour defined purpose.
In its most radical lorm, such developments, from the sixteenth century
on, led to the development
of the well-known system of "bilukim."
Practitioners
of this style of argument raised admittedly hypothencal
problerns in the Talrnudic text and in the commentaries
and resolved
them an the basis of logical assumptions of admittedly doubtful value.
Their method of study. which neither led ta the discovery of tru th nor

INSTITUTIONS

guided [ews in practice, was justified with the pedagogic theory that
preoccupation with such hilukim sharpened themind and prepared the
studen ts for fu ture study of a more desirable sort. 28
In fact, students spenr only a part of their time in such study.
There were two zmanim (terms) lasting three arid one-half monrhs
each: in rhe summer Irorn rhe first of lvar ta the fifteenth of Av
(approximately
late April ta late [uly], and in the winter from the firsr
of Heshuan to the fifteenrh of 5hvat (approximately
early October to
late January). These were subdivided further. During the firsr half of
each term, in the summer through Pentecost and in the winter through
Hanukkah.
studies were conducted in rhe pilpulistic fashion, which
culminated in the presenration
of the hilu]: by the rabbi or someone
else whom he decided ro honor. During the second half of the term,
the students would devote themselves to the poskim-halakhic
codes
-both
early and late.29 Here the need to determine how the final
decis ion was derived from the sources and to see how to apply the law
inevitably'limired
the students' tendency ta unrestrained
casuistry. But
even here, the manner of understanding
the early codes was also quire
complex, such that only a number of years of study in a yeshiva could
provide one with the ability to participare actively.
Th e Titles of Ho u e r a n d Morenu.
One way or another. ongoing and continuous
preoccupation
with ones studies became the
prerequisite
for being considered a talmid hakham, Teachers in the
heder could not prepare their pupils for this .. Even in the yeshiva,
students were divided in two groups: bahurim, or "young men." who
studied Talrnud an their own. and naarim, or "lads." who still needed
help from others. In return for the financial support that they received
from the director of the yeshiva, the bahurim were obligated ta teach
the naarim-that
is, to help thern prepare for the rabbi' s lecture.>? The
basic study of the text, and presumably
also a review of the rabbis
insights, was conducted in small groups of a "teacher" and two or three
students. These groups rnet in their separare rooms for most of the
day and carne into the beit midrasn (study halI) only ro hear the rabbis
lecture 3"1

Even continuous study in a yeshiva at the rank of bahur did not


necessarily make one a talmid hakham. At approximately
eighteen,
the student would usually leave the yeshiva ro marry. If he continued
to study, on his own or at a local yeshiva, for at least another two
years after his marriage, he would be given the basic title of hauer,
possibly by the local authoritv rather thanby his own teacher. Further
years of study were needed before one was given the title of morenu,

TRADITION

ANO

CRISIS

which authorized
one to decide halakhic questions.
The number of
years of study required for eacb of tbese titles was fixed in the t akanoi
of the communities
and supra-communal
institutions.
That the community and supra-communal
organizations
supervised the al!ocation
of such titles was no mere coincidence; alter al!, these titles brougbt
with tbem a special status and privi lege within the communiry
with
regard to taxation, officeholding, etc. This is why, even though training
for these titles went an completely wirhin rhe framework of the yeshiva,
rhe titles themselves wer e granted by communal!y
appointed rabbis,
sornetimes under the direct supervision of the communal and supracornrnunal leaders.F
Th e Rosh Yeshiva
as t h e Lm b o d i m e n t of Va/ues.
The yesh ioa of the Iifreenth tbrough eighteenth centuries was distinguished
not only by its approach ro study but also by its characteristic linking
of the functions of public teacher arid intellectual-of
rabbi and rosti
yeshiva. As in al! periods of its history. the yeshiva was devoted to
educating the masses of the Jewish people; the great scholars bad always
seen it as their special duty to teach publicly and to cultiva te large
student followings. But it was not enough just to teach the views of
earlier scholars. Psychologically
the scholar obviously benefited Irorn
having an audience to whom he could describe the results of his own
studies and thinking as well, This linking tagether of rhe functions of
intellectual creativity and public teaching marked the rosh yeshiva as
superior ta the melamed or heder teacher. Since knowledge of the
Torah was nor presented in instrumental
terrns. the rabbi also was
more than a transmitter
of mere information.
Vis-a-vis his srudents.
he became the very embodiment
of those ideals that he presented ta
them in inteflectual rerrns. Personal attachment to the rabbi was further
encouraged by the fact that the students who formed rhe yeshiva's
nucleus were young people with no other local institutional
ties. These
conditions allowed for the emergence of a uniquely intensive educational setting.

Th e Limits of t h e Yeshiva.
Stil!, it is unlikely that this potential was realized often in our period. The merging of the functions
of communal rabbi (av bet din) and rosh yeshiva decreased, rather than
increased, the likelihood of this. Caring for the yeshiva was, aher ali,
only one of the many tasks of the rabbi. True, the rabbi would see in
rhe yeshiva a kind of "escape" from his public duties and struggles.
Here he was in his own element, and he exerted virtually total control.
Frorn here as well derived the prestige that he carried with him into

EOUCATJONAL

JNSTITUTIONS

ali other spheres of his activitv.:':' His scholarly aecomplishments


werc
measured by the number of students he had and the closeness of their
ties to hirn. The attitude of the community
toward its rabbi. often
complex and rense. was balanced by the special prestige deriving Eram
his rate in the yeshiva. The honor accorded hirn as rosh yeshiva and
teacher. roles that were universally respecred. strengthened
the rabbis
hand also as bearer of rhe moral authoriry of the entire community.
Nevertheless, it is also true thar the educational Iunction was therefore
carried out by someone whose major function lay in another sphere.
The limiting of the school year ta seven months was nor 50 much an
accommodation
ta students needs as it was an acknowledgment
of the
Iimits of the rabbis rime and of the supporting
community's
resources.?" The long inter-session
and the wandering of the students
Eram yeshiva to yeshiva weakened the contacts between the rabbi <lnd
his pupils and prevented the total identificarion of pupils with specific
reachers.P By rhe end of the seventeenth
century we lind the supracommunal institutions arid moral preachers warning rashei yeshiva not
to turn rhe yeshivot into SOUJces of private incorne by taking tuition
Irorn the students.:" This is a clear indication that the educational
functioning of the yeshivot was being lirnited.
Despite the decisive role of out-of-towners
in cstablishing rhe yeshioa, the institution was an integral part of the local community
that
supported it, and there is no indication that the ycshivil of this per iod
Ielt itself religiously superior ta the rest of rhar comrnunirv.
Larer.
when the unifying power of the kehi! was in declinc. the yeshiva took
upon itself the responsibility
for maintaining
and developing the tradition. In our period, however, rhe kehiia was sti Il responsible for this
function, and the yeshiva was essentially one of its institutions.

STRATIFICATION

Stratification and Mobility

P to this point we have deseribed traditional Jewish society as a


single functional unit, within which eaeh insnrution had its own
vital role to play. In rhis "functional"
approach, no attempt was made
at ranking the social roles of institutions
and individuals, sinee each
was necessary for the complete picture of the society. Admittedly, this
egalitarian approach to social funetion was sometimes resorted to by
ruembers of the society itself. especially when they sought to appease
those who played low-status
roles in the community.
Soeiety was
compared to a living organism, as in the ancient Roman parable. and
people were rold how important each task was and how mutually dependent the various classes were.' In tact, however. al! such reasoning
implicitly recognized that distinctions
did exist between the various
social functions; the very need to jusrify anei appease indicates how
sensitive rnernbers of society were to the sta tus of their social role. and
despite the efforts at appeasernent,
there was a constant struggle to
attain those roles that were considered of elevated status and importance. Unless, therefore. we are willing to treat this society in merely
static terrns. with no inrerest in its interna! dynamics, we must now
turn our attention to the hierarchy. or hierarchies. of funetion within
it, and trace the paths along which roles and sta tus were transferred
among individuals and groups. In orher words. we must explore the
extent and direction of mobility within the society.

St r a t i i ca tio n . Social stratificaricn. as well as constant fluctuations in hierarchical position. did exist within traditional Jewish sociery.
True, the Jews formed only one division within society as a whole,
thus limiting the opportunity
for stratification.
Nor could occupation
provide a basis for stratification
since rhere was no wide-ranging
occupational differentiation
among [ews. Only artisans tended to Iorm a
kind of circumscribed
vocational group whose status almost at the
bortorn of the social ladder was determined
by the nature of their
oecupations. But even this collective body never became anything like
a closed, hereditary caste. Whether or not one was allowed to join the

ANO

MOBILITY

vocational association and thus ro practice a craft depended upon the


extent to whieh the other mernbers feared increased cornpetition.
On
the other hand, there were never any rules thar prevented the individual
trorn leaving a given craft for another vocation if he was capable of
doing so. No ideology ever appeared to justify the separation of the
arrisan group; earning ones living through the crafts was never seen
as anything more than an unfortunate
necessity and no one was prevented from bettering himselt.?

. Po lit i c al Po io e r an d Social St i ari ica t io n . Nor could polirleal power serve as a basis for fixing the social hierarchy permanently,
either due to the [ews' relationship with the non-Jewish authorities or
through the performan-ce by Jews of political tasks assigned to thern.
The [ews dependence on the authorities had a decisive impact on his
status within his own society. If he gained his residence privileges
duectly from the authorities (rather than through the comrnuniry) arid,
even more 50, if he performed some economic or administrative
funetion for the government,
his status rose also within [ewish soeiety. In
some places. rhe authoriries doled out privileges to the [ews according
toa sliding scale: Some received a permanent residence privilege, which
mighr be inherited by their heirs. while orhers were granted residence
only for rhernselves, or for a limited period of rime. Yet others were
merely tolerated or were dependent on the residential righrs of fellow
[ews, thus becorning, at least de jure, the retainers of the [ews who
enjoved protection, even though they sometimes used their supposed
dependence as camouflage for engaging in business on rheir own 3 Still.
their lack of any personal residence privilege also impaired the status
of these [ews even within Jewish society.
. The Jew could acquire influence and even real power in non- [ewish
societv. but he could never convert this influence and power into a
social posrnon within that society because of the deep divisions, both
communal and cultural, between the [ewish and gentile worlds. The
indi:idual's
power could be expressed in social terms only internally,
vIs-a~vIs jewish societv. There was no objection on principle to the use
of this external source of power to buttress ones position interrially:
"closeness to the authoriries"
(kirva la-malkhut) could, after al! be
seen positively as a form of informal representation
of the interests of
the [ewish community
and of [ewish individuals ro the government. 4
lf one Iulfilled this runction as the ideal dernanded. one gained legitimate honor and prestige within Jewish society, Only iE one sought to
use one' s personal relationship with the authorities to break the bonds
of [ewish society-as,
for instance, by trying to obtain communal office

TRADITION

ANO

CRISIS

through

the government-was
such power seen as i!legitimate, and
equated wirh abuse and treason. or mesira (literally:
informing)5
In such a case, external political power lost its social legitimacy; even if society did not succeed in routing the "abuser" or
"inforrner."
the esteem ordinarily due him would be converted on
social and ethical grounds into contempt and disgust,
Considerations
of the possible misuse of power aside, political inIluence could serve as an openly recognized, legitima te base for stratihcation, and in those areas where individual [ews enjoyed differing
righrs. one can speak of classes alrnosr tantamount
ta estares within
)ewish society. These externally derived distinctions were more rhan
de facto; they were openly recognized by the authoriries as lega!ly
binding. and it was this sort of legal basis that lent an absolute and
permanent
character ta divisions between estates, as opposed ro rhe
more rransient divisions of class. In rhis sense, social dillerences in
[ewish society were given bases no difterent from rhose operative in
rhe surrounding
sociery."

kiroa la-malkhut

Status
Could Not Become Class.
But another fact must be
noted that weakens this comparison: The privileges that a Jew might
acquire from the authorities
never became permanent and hereditary,
as did those of the indigenous nobles. Even the highest ranks attained
by a Jew remained "acquired"
positions that the authorities granted
ta anyone able ta pay the price. Only in exceptional cases were privileges granted to [ews because of some personal service they had given
the government,
as in the case of certain Court jews. But from the
point of viewof ]ewish society, even these were "acquired" positions
rhat in principle had no value status and were therefore never marked
by external trappings, a justificatory ideology, or an aura of ancestral
privilege and status. Vvhereas the high status of cornrnunal leaders and
scholars was rransferred
in part to the coming generation,
political
prestige, including kirva ia-rnalkhut, remained a purely personal matter. Elevated political position rernained, in Iaer, nothing more than a
convenient
base of operation for other activities; it never achieved
intrinsic value in its own right.
Similar conclusions can be derived horn examining rhe internal
government
of the [ewish community
and its leaders. As we saw in
our analysis of the kehila and sllpra-kehila
institutions,
officeholders
enjoyed material advantages and were distinguished
Irorn the masses
through badges of honor that symbolized the importance of their task.
There is no doubt that people were willing to fulfill these hincrions in
part because they sought the elevated status and honor associated wirh

STRATIFICATION

ANO

MOBILlTY

thern. Cornrnunal office thus provided a basis for the stratificarion upon
which the social hierarchy was constructed.
It is equally dear that
dimbing this hierarchicalladder
was not an option available ta alI. The
exclusion of the poor was given an explicit institutional
expression in
regulations that limited rhe electorate ta taxpayers and scholars. At
times the various communal and supra-communal
offices were monopolized by a limited cirele, and the process of appointing new officers
was no more than a mechanism to regulate the reshuffling of positions
among a limited circle of candidates."
But none of this implies that officeholders constituted a ruling class
that excluded ali outsiders. Rotation, even if only among a small minoriry of kehila members, did prevent any vested c1aim ta permanent
office. Moreover, a relatively large group participated in political activity rhrough voting or working ta influence public opinion in favor
of one candidate Of anorher.
Hereditary
appoinrrnent.
the c1assic
method by which a minority deprives the majority of a chance at
officeholding, was never a real possibility. The fundamental
fact remains that the twin conditions for joining the electorate-property
and
learning-could
be acquired by anyone. An individual who was exc1uded frorn officeholding by these prerequisites did not therefore regard
himseJf and his descendants as permanently
barred from the positions
of leadership.
He might himself one day accumulate the necessary
financial means; no miracle was required for a rnan entirely withour
rneans to rise ta the top of the ladder under rhe dynamic economic
conditions of rhe rime." And the family could acquire learning either
direcrly. if the sons were academically gifred, or indirectly through
money, if the daughters were married off ta outstanding scholars.

Transience
of Economic
Power.
We have argued that the
circle of those enjoying political privilege never became closed because
rhe acquisition of capital in this society was never totally class defined.
Just as with regard ta those who held political office within the kehila
and those who relied on political power from outside, 50 also in the
economic sphere, those who had power and privilege were neve] able
to insula te thernselves behind exclusive dass barriers. This was a result
of the political conditions that deterrnined the Irarnework of [ewish
society's existence. The jews' inability and even unwillingness
ro acquire real estate meant that even the highest economic achievements
would continue to be linked to liquid capital. This fact reduced the
assurances that capital could be transferred
from one generation
to
another. Political insecurity-i.e.,
the possibility of unrestricted levies
and even of outright expropriation
by the authorities-was
not the

174

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

only source of danger for [ewish capital. The very fact rhat the Jew's
capital was liquid put its stability over a per-iod of generations
into
question. Sudden impoverishment
as a result of unsuccessful business
ventures was a common occurrence. Conversely, the swift accumulation
of wealth through good luck and business acumen was not unusual. 9
Yet anoth~r result of this situation was even more important horn the
point of view of class differentiation:
Even the greatest lewish capitalist
could not give his economic achievements
qualitative expression by
investing his commercial profits in real estate. Ouring this period. many
non-Iews did exactly rhis, nor only gaining stability and security for
their property but also giving a different qualitative expression to their
economic power and thus giving themselves a social status quite different horn those who held only liquid capital. Since this path was
blocked for [ews. even the tremendous
differences in personal wealrh
that existed within [ewish society in rhis period remained merely
quantitative.

Lin e age a n d Le a r n ing as Bases for Stratl[icatlOn.


The
third principle [alongside polirical power and economic wealth] that
commonly serves as a basis for stratification in human societies, lineage,
was similarly almost entirely lacking in the religious-sacral
sphere of
Jewish society. )udaism did disringuish. it is truc, berwecn rhe sacredness of Priests, Levites. and lsraelites. This distinction was based in
theory on the respective real roles rhese groLips had played in the
Temple service, am! it had once given thern definire and tangible privileges and obligations in daily life. Moreover.
maintaining
this distinction in the post-Temple
period was undoubtedl y linked ro the
messianic hope for the rebuilding of the Temple and everything which
that implied. But in fact, this sacral distinction made little practica!
difference except for a few restrictions on whom a Priest might marry
(he could not, for example, marry a divorcee}, his exclusive privilege
to fulfill certa in ceremonial religious functions (the priestly blessing
and the redemption of the firstborn), and his precedence when it carne
to the allocation of public honors such as being called up ro the reading
of the Torah.!? But all of these rights and obligations affected each
Priest as an individual and never brought al! Priests together into a
social group; in the post-Temple
period. one cannot treat the Priests
or Levites as a social grouping in any real sense of the phrase.
Once the real basis for the sacral distinction between Priests, Levites, and Israelires had disappeared, no similar basis for stratification
emerged. We do find, it is true, a certam clairn to hereditary privilege
among descendants
of outstanding
religious personalities-pietists,

STRATIFICATION

ANO

MOBlLITY

175

kabbalists, or Torah scholars-to


whom spiritual or magical power5
were sometimes attributed. The claim could easily be put forward that
these charismatic qualities were hereditary, and the way was thus open
for establishing a new basis for sacral-lineal stratification.l1
But, ar least
until the rise of Hasidisrn, this possibility was never actualized as a
new basis for stratification even over a few generations.
The essential
condition for this was lacking: an attachment of the dynasty ro some
kind of temple, or at Ieast to sorne stable center of worship. The conditions of existence in the Diaspora-geographical
dispersion, politica]
insecurity.
and the absence of a strong bond to one s place of
residence-undermined
the value of lineage as a stabilizing factor that
could be passed on to future generations.
Existing conditions were far more tavorable to the scholarly type,
the talmid haknam, whose religious authority rested upon the acquisition of knowledge rhat was portable and independent
of time and
place. The scholars had inherited the role of the Priests ever since the
destruction of the Temple, and they held it unti] the period of Hasidism
and the Haskala. Scholars were in a position to guaranree their sons a
superior "head start" in life by giving thern an outstanding
scholarly
education and providing an atmosphere of learning from youth. But
even they could nor bequearh their learning ro their sons or block the
rise of the sons of the uneducated.
In theory, at least. positions of
religious leadership remained accessible ta the entire community.
In
practice, no one was disqualified absolutely on an ascriptive basis,
though there were various rypes of obstacles to be overcome. Those
ritual or ceremonial functions that J udaisrn retained aher the destruction of rhe Temple, such as kosher slaughtering
and serving as cantor
or reader of the Torah, were likewisedependent
on knowledge that. in
principle, was accessible ro aII. 12

Concentration
of Strati[ication
Factors.
Thus. lrorn ali
points of view+-occupational.
politica], economic, and religious-traditional [ewish society appears to be an open society, or ar least not
one in which certain positions were reserved on principle ta specific
indivieluals or groups. But saying thar [ewish society was ope'n does
nor, of course, irnply that everyone had an equal chance of achieving
each anei every position. No rnatter which yardstick we use, there were
great gaps between those at the top and those at the bottorn of this
society: wealth and poverty, learning anei ignorance, politica] power
and powerlessness,
distinction of pedigree and complete absence of
family prestige-all
coexisred in extreme form. Admittedly, there were
no symbolic barriers to keep individuals lrorn aspiring ro any status:

TRAOITION

ANO

CRISIS

STRATlFICATlON

indeed. in rhe Iield of scholarship the individual was actually cornmanded to strive to reach the top. Even 50, we must be extremely
cautious in assessing rhe extent of mobility within the sociery. Restrictions. absent in theory. existed in practice. Sources of power tended
to become concentrated in the hands of the same individuals. Political
office went hand in hand wi th wealth: without wealth one could net
attain political oftice and political power likely led to increased wealth.
The other two bases for status-scholarship
and family connectIOnstended also to be linked with rhese. The sons of the rich could afford
to continue their studies until they attained the high level of scholarship
necessary to become rabbis. And once they reached that stage, their
wealth, rheir family connections, and sometimes even their influence
at court helped them to find appointments
as kehi! rabbis and thus
express their learning in an institutionalized
fashion.13 Someone who
was financially independent could also more easily obrain a posltIOn as
ros]: yeshiva, even when this was nor linked to appointment as rabbi
of a community.
This was even more true if the individual or his Iamily
could help support the needy students as well.!" Sometimes this linkage
of scholarship and wealth occurred in the reverse direction: Rabbis here
and there managed to accumulate capital lrom their incornes, and heads
of yeshiva were sometimes showered with 50 many gifts from their

ANO

MOBILITY

and, of course. about any position held in the keh i!, rhe supra-kehila,
or one of the local associations. The official titles given to scholars. as
well as the public discussions among thern. gave authoritative
indications of their respective merits. Even pedigree arid family ties could
not be hidden in a society in which, at least at the lIpper levels. everyone
knew everyone else. Finally, the community could estimare the individual's economic position quite closely, even if precise informat ion
was nor always available. Assessment of taxes was public, charitable
contri.putions were announced in public, and even the amount of dowries given one's children was publicized, rhus providing people with
rhe means to iden nly each mernbers place in rhe hierarchy.!"
Co m p e t itio n for St a t us . One sees in aii this an excessive sensitivity ro class. which, incidenrally. characterized contemporary
non)ewish society as well. This sensitivity expressed itselt in the dernand,
expressed in moral terrns. that each person be given rhe respect duc
him according to the surn of his positions on rhe various scales of
srrarihcation.!"
Calculation of this surn was nor, of course, merely
mechanical. Even if one's position on each scale was known clearly,
there was no objective. certain standard by which to evaluate the various
scales, one against the other. It was relatively easy to rank two scholars,
two leaders, or rwo rich men, but it was much harder to find criteria
according ro which aII of these might be ranked on a single scale. This
problern of ranking rhe different criteria for status is found in aII 50cieties, but it was intensified among [ews because of the absence of
secondary social structures that could provide a framework for those
who possessed each type of sta tus. Because of the restricted sphere of
[ewish life-physically,
occupationally.
and socially-such
structures
could develop only in the most rudimentary
form. A mans wealrh or
politica! influence could likely be disregarded in the house of srudy
during a discussion of Halakha, where knowledge of Ha!akha alone
deterrnined
ones starus. But unlike learning,
the other bases of
starus-wealth,
official position, and lineage-did
not each have a separate milieu in which they could be expressed. Those possessed of any
of these marks of status were constantly competing against each orher,
especially in the synagogue, the cornmon meeting point of the entire
community arid the place that provided an opportunity
for public dernonstrations of social differentiation.
A good illustration of this is provided by the question of precedence among rhose to be caJled up to the
reading of the Tarah, something that caused no little friction in cornmunallife.
Similarly, ar the sessions of the supra-cornmunal
councils
where representatives
of various public bodies carne together, rhere

admirers that they became wealthy.!"


Scholarship and wealth might also be linked in an indirect fashion.
u an unlettered person married into a family of scholars, he could bask
in the reflection of their glory. Generous financial support to scholars
earned one the reputation
of "cherishing
the Terah." arid tradition
equated the merit of such arnan
with rhat earned by the scholar
himself.I" The k+inim-the
Court Jews of Germany in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries-resorted
to this approach extensively. They
established foundations to support houses of study (kloyzzm) and their
students.17 They also gained honor from the reflected glory of Torah
study by assisting scholars in publishing their books. Hardly a book
was printed in Germany during this period whose urle page did not
mention the name of a kazm whose support had made its publication
possible.
Concentration
of the various sources of power in the same hands
serves as an indication of the steep structural srrarificarion maintained
at ali times in this society. Each person's position in the social hierarchy
was known not through visible signs of class, but through the verdict
of public opinion, which set a value on the position of each individual.
In this. rhe public opinion was based on well-known and available lacts.
Everyone knew the extent of a person's influence with the authorities

:~

TRADITION

AND

CRISIS
STRATIFICATION

were constant problems in determining


precedence in being called ta
the Terah, in giving serrnons. and even in seating. Those who prepared
communal bylaws made considerable efforts to arrive ar acceptable rules
for such occasions.?? But, of course, t akanot could only lay down general rules; they could not provide a clear-cut solution for each and
every eventuality.f'
Friction over sta tus continued in rhe synagogue
and at the general councils.F There are grounds for assummg that the
multiplicity of synagogues, especially in the eighteenth century in the
larger cornrnunities. must be attributedin
panta the desire. especially
of rhe very wealthy. ta avoid this social lriction by buildirig pnvate
synagogues of their own.23

Social Mobility.
If the absence of mechanisms through which
ta express each of the various forms of elite sta tus tended ta increase
the friction between mernbers 'of the elites. it also Iacilitated SOCIal
mobility overall. Marked pluses in one area could compensate for nunuses in orhers and make possible an astanishingly
rapid social nse.
We see this expressed clearly in the custorn of waiving for scholars the
usual restrictions governing the right to vote or to stand for communal
and supra-communal
office. Scholarship, in this insrance, served as a
substitute for such things as wealth and residence righrs.?" This same
compensatory
system also applied in arranging marriages. A person: s
prospects in making a match were determmed
by his status on the
various scales of srratification. Money or scholarship could compensate
for lack of pedigree, and vice versa.2S In this way, paths of upward
mobility were created. Not ali paths upward were egually fast. Wealth
could raise a persons
status ta astonishing
heights within his own
lifetime. Scholarship and lineage, on the other hand, could be consolidated only in the course of a number of generations--:-with
a son or
son-in-Iaw at the earliest. Even so, when compared with truly classdefined societies even this was easy. As 500n as even one generation
of a family excelled in wealrh. in public leadership, ar in learning, the
succeeding one benefited not only from improved opporturuties.
but
also from therefJected genealogical glory. The rise of a nuclear Iamily
indirectly affected the status of its entire extended family; not only
could they provide direct assistance of the sort that we have already
discussed, but they also shed an unquantifiable
distinction on everyone.
On the other hand, no family was able-or,
for that matter, even
tried-to
shut itself behind a class barrier. Because those attributes
that determined status were of a "personal"-or,
to use the sociological
terminology,
achieved,
non-ascriptive-nature,
families could not
guarantee a substantial share in them ta aII their members. Learned

AND

MOBILITY

179

men could hardly make scholars of ali their relatives. Even the wealthy
could do no more than support and help their poor relatives; they could
not guarantee rhern riches or even a comfortable living. The "distinguished family" of ]ewish society was not the same as its counterpart
in aristocratic sociery, all of whose members shared the social standing
deriving from its status. When we say thar a family had statu s (yi~us)-whether
of wealrh or learning-we
mean only rhar there were
sorne wealthy or learned people in the family. But alongside the scholars
and the wealthy men there were always relatives lacking these qualities
who merely hung on, with more or less success, to the family's more
lortunare members. Hence, Just as there was no uniform level of status
among the members of "distinguished
families," there could be no
complete segregation from undistinguished
families. Some exceptional
individuals
possessed of a specific attribure-such
as intellectually
gifted persons or the newly rich-could
always penetrate into even the
best families. Even children of distinguished
families might have ta
resign thernselvs , ta marrying persons withour special yihus or pedigree. For example, it often happened thar a widower with a number
of smaJl children could not aspire to a wealthy or pedigreed gir], but
had to settle for a capable, hardworking wife frorn an ordinary family.
Thus, the picture of social stratification
that emerges is one of a
society steeply strarified and with trerneridous gaps between its peaks
and valleys. What made up for this gap, even between those most
differentiated from each other in the structure-was
the Iaer that there
was no insuperable barrier between them. He who aimed ta reach the
peak had a long, steep road ta clirnb. but if he had rhe strength, the
abijitv, and the will, nothing would prevent him from achieving his
desire.
.