Igumen Hevrah Kadisha

There is a reference on the website of the Russian based Jewish Heritage Society (www.jewish-heritage.org) to an item from Igumen in their archives collection of Pinqasim, or communal records:

or. 60, n. 32. Pinqas shel Hevrah Kadisha, Burial society. 1791—1820. 111f., 10 loose. White paper with watermarks. Ashkenazic italics. Title page illuminated with black indian ink vignette. Leather bound, fungus damage. Inscription on the title page: "Donated to the Society for Enlightment of Jews in Russia by Rabbi G.M. Livshits, from the town of Ihumen, Minsk Gubernia, 11 [Novem]ber 189[?]". 220x170mm.

In its most general form, a pinqas is a communal record book, referred to most succinctly in its German translation as a Gemeindebuch, (sometimes Memorbuch) or in more specific situations, as a Hevrabukh. Etymologically, the name derives from the Greek word pinka, meaning "desk" which came from Greek through Aramaic to Hebrew with the presumably from the notion of setting things down for posterity. The typical pinqas contains two types of information: social records of a given community as well as primary historical data regarding its life. Fires, pogroms, and epidemics are as likely to be found in a typical pinqas as the wedding dates (and, perhaps more importantly, divorces) of prominent local figures, bills of sale, and rabbinic decrees. The vast majority of the pinqasim in this collection, however, are not the records of geographic communities, nor congregations, but rather of various associations (hevrot) made up of a specific category of tradesmen or devoted to the perfomance performance of a particular religious obligation (visiting the sick, providing for the poor bride, etc.) [6].

The authors of pinqasim were often highly conscious of their roles as the transmitters of the hard data of Jewish history, and perceived their function in terms of this importance. In some cases, their function was in fact the most essential for the continued existence of the community, justifying their independence to the larger Jewish and non Jewish authorities. The communal statutes enabled its members to considerably correct or sometimes avoid new tax regulations and legislative restrictions imposed "from above" by tsarist officials and heads of kahal. Paradoxically, as a result, community with regulations of its own could be much more independent than a community which was directly subordinated to the authorities.

The pinqas itself was treated with utmost respect [7]. In various communities during the annual elections the shomer ha-pinqas was elected along with the rosh ha-hevrah, borerim, gabbaim and ro`eh heshbon. Usually every year the shomer ha-pinqas was re-elected. It was forbidden to him to pass a pinqas to others; he had to be very careful while making a list of people who enrolled into the hevrah. No one could enter his name in the pinqas without a permission of rosh ha-hevrah or gabbaim. The pinqas was a true testimony to the fulfillment of mizvot by the members of the commmunity or society. It resembled the book, mentioned in the Mishnah: Ve-khol ma'asekha be-sefer nikhtavim (and all your actions are registered in the book; Avot 2:1). That is why having one’s name listed in the pinqas directly meant something more: zekhut be-olam ha-ba, a place in the world-to-come. More than that, the pinqas was used not only as a text, but also as an object of special powers: when one of the members of the society fell ill, the pinqas was brought to his house and placed under his pillow — an attempt to heal the infortunate person.

The shomer ha-pinqas also executed the function of a scribe. No other person could add anything to the text itself, on the pain of immediate punishment. Thus, when a Moshe ben Ze`ev decided to inscribe himself to the hevrah he so it twice: awkwardly imitating square script of the sofrim in the list of members and accepting the membership using italics several pages further. When the heads of the community discovered this, this Moshe ben Ze`ev was expelled from the society and he was forbidden to run for any office within the community. All the penalties that Moshe ben Ze`ev would incur should he have attempted to run for office were meticulously listed in the pinqas (or. 1, n. 36, p. 4).

Thus, pinqas should be considered as a kind of kitvei kodesh with special functions and a great significance in the life of Jewish community.

Webmaster Jeff Malka. JeffMalka@SephardicGen.com