A Ropshitzer gabbai

Traditionally, the gabbai or shamash was responsible for the smooth day-to-day running of synagogue logistics.

By LEVI COOPER
February 25, 2011 15:17
3 minute read.
THE RECONSTRUCTED ‘beit midrash,’ based on the one

besht synagogue 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user uxperience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew, Ivrit
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Repor
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

An important functionary of the hassidic court is the gabbai (sexton or beadle) of the rebbe. The office was not an innovation of the hassidic movement – the term itself appears in the Talmud – though the role evolved with the movement.

Traditionally, the gabbai or shamash was responsible for the smooth day-to-day running of synagogue logistics. His purview may have included other Jewish institutions such as the cemetery. In practical terms, the gabbai would decide who was to lead the service, who should be called to the Torah, and so on.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


The term gabbai is of Aramaic origin, and in talmudic times was used to describe the collector of moneys, be it communal taxes or charities for the needy, a treasurer of sorts (see B. Sanhedrin 25b and Rashi). In Anglo- Jewry the term “warden” is often used, a term borrowed from the Anglican Church, though the job description is not identical.

The beadle in the hassidic world, however, is no ordinary beadle. The gabbai is often more like a personal secretary to the rebbe, or even a chief of staff, the gatekeeper. The gabbai – it could be said – serves at the pleasure of the rebbe. The role is not considered a chore; it is a privilege to be part of facilitating the divine service of a hassidic master. This honor is reflected in the term used for the gabbai in the hassidic court – the shamash is often called a meshamesh bakodesh (one who serves in holiness). Frequently the abbreviation mashbak is used. The job of the mashbak is full-time and depending on the size of the hassidic court, a rebbe may have a number of beadles.

The role of the gabbai changes from one hassidic court to the next.

Some beadles are trusted advisers and confidants. Some are charged with chores in the rebbe’s home, others with managing the rebbe’s schedule. A gabbai may serve as a minder, escorting the rebbe on his travels and providing a measure of protection of privacy against invasive overtures from the public.

In many hassidic courts, the gabbai assists hassidim in writing a kvitel (Yiddish for note; plural kvitlach), a written slip of paper with the name of the petitioner and a short request asking the rebbe to pray on behalf of the hassid. As a more accessible office to the hassidim, the mashbak often serves as a conduit for the flow of information and directives from the rebbe. Some beadles are learned in their own right; others are more loyal than scholarly.



In hassidic parlance, the unlearned, simple mashbak may be called a Ropshitzer gabbai, for the great hassidic master Rabbi Naftali Zvi Horowitz of Ropczyce (1760-1827) preferred the simple type of assistant, pure of heart and unsophisticated in mind. Hassidim explained R.

Naftali’s preference: The simple mashbak would do the bidding of his master, leaving R. Naftali to focus on serving the Almighty. He did not need to consider the impression made on an inquisitive or nosy gabbai.

The tale is told of how R. Naftali might find an appropriate candidate to serve in this position. In those days there were no professional guards stationed around the village to protect against intruders, arsonists and other criminals. By official order, guarding the environs was entrusted to different individuals each night. The appointed guards would spend the night walking through the streets with a watchful eye. Needless to say, the wealthiest people did not do guard duty: When their turn arrived, they would hire the needy to fill their place.

One night, R. Naftali went to immerse himself in the mikve. One of the guards, seeing an unidentified figure walking through the desolate streets in the dead of night, approached him. Instead of demanding identification and an explanation, the guard calmly said: “I am guarding the south side of the village,” and asked: “Where are you guarding this evening?” R. Naftali replied: “You would be a good gabbai for me.”

The writer is on the faculty of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.

Related Content

Joan Rivers
August 28, 2014
Joan Rivers rushed to hospital following throat surgery

By JPOST.COM STAFF