ELITES IN THE JEWISH KAHALS OF THE COMMONWEALTH DURING THE SIXTEENTH-SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
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The authoress claims that during the sixteenth and seventeenth century two conditions determined affiliation to the kahal elites of the Commonwealth: education (basically Jewish religious) and prosperity. The most important expression of membership was a kahal office. Educated persons, headed by the rabbi, were appointed to posts associated with religious rites and services traditionally linked with religion: conducting prayers in the synagogue, contracting marriages and divorces, supervision over the ritual mykvah, schools, legal advice and the resolution of disputes upon the basis of the Law, control over the ritual slaughter of cattle, and the confirmation of the kosher nature of food. A specific sub-group within the educated elite was composed of the kahal medical doctors, graduates of secular medical academies. The financial elite, on the other hand, was appointed to offices whose competence embraced administering the kahal, managing its finances, and representing it vis-a-vis external authorities: state, in the case of royal towns, and dominion in private towns. The heads of this group of officials were known as parnas. She stresses the fact that prosperous families tried to assure their presence in both types of elites by designating some of their members to religious studies, others - to offices, and still others to economic activity (mainly trade). Hence not all the members of wealthy families held kahal posts. Other important attributes of belonging to the elite included expensive clothes and ornaments, lavish banquets, the right to occupy honoured places in the synagogue, and reading the Torah during prayers. A specific form of gaining or confirming high social position and prestige was involvement in various foundations.
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