Political historians have commented on the outstanding efforts exerted by the Jewish communities to maintain and pursue normative aspirations, even as circumstances shifted and changed. Paradoxically, the very notion of the separation of powers of government in the Jewish polity provides the underpinning for a modern model towards understanding the Jewish People's efforts to exist as a unified body in the various countries of their dispersion, over the centuries.
This model is largely attributable to Professor Daniel J. Elazar, who pioneered efforts to analyze the development of Jewish community organizations in their respective settings. He noted that the central hallmark for survival is the concept not only of separated powers, but what he labels, “separated, but shared power.”
The basic flow of Jewish organization has remained remarkably consistent through today - whether the people were constituted as an Eidah (covenantal community) in the wilderness; or, later, as tribes; states; or Kehillot (physical communities).
The spheres of authority are best presented in this model using the realms described in the well-known saying of Rabbi Shimon Ben Yochai in Mishnah Pirkei Avot [The Ethics of the Fathers] 4:17:
R. Shimon said: There are three crowns - Keter Torah (the crown of Torah), Keter Kehunah (the crown of Priesthood) and Keter Malchut (the crown of Royalty).
Ø Keter Torah
According to Elazar, Keter Torah represents those largely responsible for communicating the will of G-d to the people: Moses is the best-known example. This role was handed down to the Prophets and, eventually, to the Hachamim [Sages] and Rabbis in our times.
Ø Keter Kehunah
Symbolized by the High Priest Aharon, this refers to those who enabled people to communicate to G-d (through sacrifice and prayer). With the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and the consequent absence of any constitutional embodiment of the Eidah as a whole, these functions were generally subsumed by the Sages, and later by Rabbis and hazzanim [Cantors].
Ø Keter Malchut
This is, perhaps, the realm with which current Jewish leadership is most familiar, and with which it is primarily identified, in our age. It relates to the civil dimension, or the functions of normal governance. In exile in Egypt, the Elders were the principal officers; later, in the Sinai Desert, there were Nesi’ei Eidah (the nobility) who served as dayanim [magistrates] - followed, respectively, by the judges, kings, Exilarchs and Parnessim (officers of the community).
These three domains were theoretically independent of each other, their legitimacy and authority having been vested in the Divine mandate.
Without contradicting the validity of these definitions, the respective roles were not as exclusive of each other as Elazar posited:
Ø The priests, for example, not only served in the Temple; it was their responsibility to be teachers, too:
For the priest’s lips preserve knowledge and the Law is sought from his mouth.
Ø Aharon, particularly, was renowned for the role he took in creating peace among the people, a task most surely appropriate to Keter Malchut.
To resume the thread of our discussion:
Elazar mapped 14 epochs in the long chain of Jewish history, in which the relationship between these three “ketarim” has changed in accordance with the periodic reconstitutions of the Eidah and circumstances besetting the polity. In general, the consistency of the three functions has been maintained over the generations, in one way or another, serving as testimony to the resilience of the Jewish People.
Professor Elazar argued that it is probably because of this consistent trend that the focus of attention on what leaders are and what they do has really been misplaced. In his opinion, questions regarding Jewish leadership should really dwell on the shifting relationships between these three domains of power in the polity.