Beyond the rabbinic paradigm

Ephraim Shoham-Steiner, Elisabeth Hollender

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Using medieval Cologne as an example, this paper seeks to extract traces of a lay leadership from rabbinic texts of medieval Ashkenaz. It reveals evidence of a culture of leadership and arbitration that was based on Jewish tradition and common sense, rather than an emphasis on talmudic law and argumentation. This is demonstrated by a discussion of known leaders, texts about Cologne Jews, rabbinic statements that criticize Cologne's Jewry for halakhic leniency in favor of economic gain, and cultural assimilation to the Christian environment. The sources presented in this study suggest the existence of a lay leadership entrusted with governance and arbitration, existing in Cologne and possibly other places in medieval Ashkenaz. This system of governance and arbitration seems to have been possible in Jewish communities that had no strong rabbinic presence and probably existed in many places. Only with the arrival of strong local rabbinic authorities did the lay leadership yield its place to rabbinic leadership.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)236-264
Number of pages29
JournalJewish Quarterly Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Religious studies


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