Historic Communal Registers Provide a Window onto Centuries of Jewish Civil Society

By the 17th century, the Hebrew word pinkas, meaning notebook—a rabbinic-era borrowing from the Greek pinax, or writing tablet—had come to refer to the registry books kept by local Jewish communal institutions. These would be alternately reviled as signs of backwardness and praised as repositories of folk history. In fact, writes the historian Adam Teller, they were neither:

European Jewish society in the early modern age (about 1500-1800 CE) was a complex web of institutions—from the small, local guilds to the great countrywide councils such as the Lithuanian Jewish Council and the Polish “Council of Four Lands.” Pinkasim or fragments of pinkasim from these different institutions have survived over time, giving the distinct impression that maintaining a pinkas was an integral part of early modern Jewish organizational life.

The vast majority of entries dealt with highly technical matters, such as taxation and other economic issues that fell into the purview of the kahal, [the council that governed every significant Jewish community up until the 19th century]. Major events in the community’s life were recorded only insofar as the kahal had to make decisions or regulations to deal with them.

Crucial topics such as the question of population control through the granting or retraction of residence rights (ezkat ha-yishuv) were included in a pinkas. This was sometimes connected with regulations concerning dowries since only those wealthy enough to pay handsome dowries would be able to settle their children in the community.

The management of the annual elections to the kahal was another issue that would be included. Other issues dealt with by the pinkasim include the management of communal charity, the employment of community officials—cantors, slaughterers, doctors, midwives, teachers, etc., but especially the rabbi—and relations with the non-Jewish authorities.

Read more at National Library of Israel

More about: Civil society, Jewish community, Jewish history

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict