Historic Communal Registers Provide a Window onto Centuries of Jewish Civil Society https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/uncategorized/2019/06/historic-communal-registers-provide-a-window-onto-centuries-of-jewish-civil-society/

June 21, 2019 | Adam Teller
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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 on National Library of Israel: https://blog.nli.org.il/en/pinkasim/