By Fred Kogos
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Extra resources for 1001 Yiddish Proverbs
It is obvious that both the patriarchate and the exilarchate had all the basic features of hereditary monarchy. Although the prerogatives of the Jewish leaders, unlike those of other oriental potentates, were curtailed by competing powers of scholars and of individuals who wielded influence at various courts (the so-called shtadlanim), one can hardly speak of a democratic regime at any time in this long epoch. In medieval and early modern Europe, on the other hand, the frequent concentration of wealth gave a preponderant share in communal administration to a few families, which often determined communal affairs against the clear wishes of the majority.
The growing intelligentsia demanded that a large body of the law be confined to writing — a practice recorded as early as Isaiah — which likewise tended to increase legal uniformity. Social abuses, often combined with miscarriage of justice, could be more effectively checked if an appeal against a local judgment could be carried to a 52 THE JEWISH COMMUNITY superior authority in the capital, more likely to be free of local entanglements. 13 Neither did the centralization of sacrificial worship at the Temple of Jerusalem seriously interfere with the selfgoverning life of the smaller communities.
It seems that the frequent references to seventy such elders in local as well as national councils7 reflect reality 44 THE JEWISH COMMUNITY insofar as this number was found to represent a wide group in the population. Very likely these seventy men delegated certain specific functions to a smaller group or committee, and at times appointed a special executive committee, the members of which may have had the distinguishing title of princes (sarim). One may perhaps explain the existence in Succoth, in the days of Gideon, of 77 princes and elders as referring to 70 elders and 7 princes.