Rethinking Rabbinical Leadership // JQR Blog

posted September 14, 2017

Although JQR contributors write primarily for a scholarly audience, the information they uncover and the insights they produce often also speak volumes to a learned layperson, and have the potential to alter the general understanding of Jewish history or texts. In order to share their work more widely, we free up one article in each issue for download without a subscription. 

This issue (Summer 2017), we feature Yaron Ayalon’s “Rethinking Rabbinical Leadership in Ottoman Jewish Communities.” In diagnosing an ongoing scholarly misconception about a particular 17th- and 18th-century context, Ayalon challenges what might be a more widespread popular sense that rabbinic authority was monolithic and unassailable in the premodern Jewish world. Far from a world in which an esteemed rabbinic leader governed a unified Jewish community set starkly apart from the majority Muslim population, Ayalon illuminates one in which rabbis competed with each other for influence. He shows that rabbis’ official authority was less well defined than it is usually taken to be, and their capacity to impose halakhic observance limited. Ayalon problematizes the very idea of “head rabbi” itself, showing that titles were often improvised within the complex landscape of overlapping legal and cultural orbits in the Ottoman Empire.

This essay will be free for download for six months. See the full table of contents for JQR 107.3 here.