The Qahal (Hebrew: קהל) was a theocratic organisational structure in ancient Israelite society, according to the masoretic text of the Bible[1]. In later centuries, Qahal was the name of the autonomous governments of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe[2].

Etymology and meaning

The Hebrew word qahal, which is a close etymological relation of the word qoheleth, comes from a root meaning of convoked [group][3]; its Arabic cognate, qala, means to speak[1].

Where the masoretic text uses the term qahal, the Septuagint usually uses the Greek term Ekklesia[1], which means summoned group (and literally means they who are called out)[4][5]. However, in one particular part of the Priestly Code the Septuagint instead uses the term synagogen[6], literally meaning gathering[7], where the masoretic text uses qahal[8].

Thus, the usual translation of qahal into English is congregation or assembly, although asuppoth[9], atsarah[10], 'edah[11], mo'ed[12], mikhra[13], and sod[14], are also usually translated like this[1].

In particular, the Biblical text consistently distinguishes between 'edah and qahal[1]. One passage especially makes the distinction clear[1]; part of the Priestly Code discusses what to do if the whole Israelite ['edah] commits a sin and the [qahal] is not aware of it...[15]. Scholars conclude that the qahal must be a judicial body comprised of representatives of the 'edah[1]; in some biblical passages, 'edah is more accurately translated as swarm[16][1].

Biblical exclusions

The Deuteronomic Code prohibits certain members of the 'edah from taking part in the qahal of Yahweh. In particular, it excludes mamzers, and men who have been forcibly emasculated[17]; their descendants, up to the tenth generation, were also prohibited by this law code from taking part in the congregation of Yahweh[17].

The Greek term spadones is usually used to refer forcibly emasculated men, but it is also used in the Septuagint to denote certain foreign political officials (resembling the meaning of eunuch)[18]. This category does not include men who were born without visible testicles (conditions including cryptorchidism), or without a visible penis (conditions including hermaphroditism)[18]. There is dispute, even in traditional Judaism, about whether this prohibited group of men should include those who have become, at some point since their birth, emasculated as the result of a disease[19]

No explanation of the phrase mamzer is given in the masoretic text, but the Septuagint translates it as son of a prostitute (Greek:ek pornes)[20]. In the Talmud, it is suggested that the word mamzer derives from mum zer, meaning a strange blemish[21][22], and thus suggesting illicit parentage in some sense. There are differing opinions in the Talmud as to what this consists of, but the universally accepted ruling[23] is that it refers to the offsping of adultery (defined as relations with a marries woman) or incest, as defined in Leviticus. In the Talmud, there is fierce dispute about whether or not the term mamzer included a child who had a Jewish mother, and a father who is either non-Jewish, or a slave (or both)[24][25]; although the Talmud eventually concludes that this is not the case[26], a number of scholars now suspect that this was actually the original definition of mamzer[27]. Abraham Geiger, a prominent Jewish scholar and rabbi of the mid 19th century, suggested that the etymological origin of mamzer might be ma'am zar, which means belonging to a foreign people[28].

The Talmud interprets the exclusion of certain people from the qahal as a prohibition against ordinary Jews marrying such people[18]. Additionally, the biblical reference to the tenth generation was interpreted, by the classical rabbis, as an idiom meaning forever[18]; thus the Talmud forbids all the decendants, forever, of these people from being married to ordinary Jews[18].

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "assembly", a publication now in the public domain.
  2. Encyclopedia of Ukraine, (1989) volume 2, entry for Kahal
  3. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, number 6951
  4. Oxford English Dictionary, entry for ecclesiastical
  5. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, entry for ecclesia
  6. Numbers 20, LXX
  7. Oxford English Dictionary, entry for synagogue
  8. Numbers 20
  9. as for example, in Ecclesiastes 12:11
  10. as for example, in Nehemiah 8:18
  11. as for example, in Numbers 20:11
  12. as for example, in Numbers 16:2
  13. as for example, in Isaiah 1:13
  14. as for example, in Jeremiah 6:11
  15. Leviticus 4:13-14
  16. Judges 14:8, where it refers to bees
  17. 17.0 17.1 Deuteronomy 23:2-4 (verses 1-3 in some English translations)
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "marriage laws", a publication now in the public domain.
  19. Jacob ben Asher, Eben ha-'Ezer, 5
  20. Deuteronomy 23:2-4, LXX
  21. Kiddushin, 3:12
  22. Yebamot 76b
  23. Maimonidies, Mishneh Torah, Sanctity, Prohibited Relations, 15:1
  24. Yebamot 23a
  25. Yebamot 45a
  26. This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article "Bastard", a publication now in the public domain.
  27. This article incorporates text from the 1903 Encyclopaedia Biblica article "Mamzer", a publication now in the public domain.
  28. Abraham Geiger, Urschrift und Übersetzungen der Bibel in ihrer Abhängigkeit von der innern Entwicklung des Judentums [generally referred to in academic theology simply as Urschrift] (1857), pages 54-55

Further reading

no:Kehillaru:Кагал yi:אידישע געמיינדע

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