10. Beyond The Traits: The Dominion of Keter Torah
In this spirit, Dr. Stuart Cohen - one of Elazar’s colleagues - has moved to focus on additional and new areas of the model, including a survey of the general principle upon which leaders’ rights to office depend, namely:
The prerogatives of leadership, and
Patterns of leadership.
One of his salient findings about leadership appointments was that character traits (to which so much time has been dedicated!) did not suffice for either accession or succession in any of these three “ketarim”: these were simply taken for granted.
Instead, in rabbinic times, for instance, appointment to leadership was a matter of “Haskamah” or public consent/consensus, and no longer an inherited right. However, this change may nonetheless be why so much attention was paid to “Yichus” (family genealogy) and “Semichah” (rabbinical ordination) - the manner of appointment…
In general, Semichah consisted of a ceremony in which the procedures were both ritualistic and public - reflecting tension between, or dual sanction of, the Heavenly sphere and the earthly congregation - as referred to earlier in the case of Korach’s arguments with Moses.
Yichus alone was also insufficient qualification for leadership positions.
- Furthermore, as the years went by, the Sages and Rabbis further protected themselves against claims of status by false Prophets, charlatans, self-acclaimed visionaries, and those “constitutional architects” – to use Cohen’s phrase – who had broken away from accepted patterns of behavior.
- True Prophecy eventually came to an end (as did sacrificial service and the work of the Cohanim), paving the way for public office to devolve only upon those who underwent a lengthy process of scholastic apprenticeship (Keter Torah with a development of Keter Kehunah).
This encouraged the growth of a meritocracy, but it did not transform Jewish learning into a closed, corporate style preserve, with a substance unattainable to the wider public. The meritocracy may have been at the top of the pyramid, but the learning environment was open to those who had interest, ability, and application.
Keter Torah was no longer dependent on lineage, as had been the case for the original Keter Kehunah - nor was it linked with material advantage, as had often been the case with Keter Malchut.
With the evolution of the Semichah ceremony and the canonization of the Torah Shebe'al Peh (Oral Law), the domain of Torah was also constitutionalized, so as to more than rival the now weakened domains of Kehunah and Malchut.
The primacy of Keter Torah ensured that:
Tradition was preserved;
Jewish leaders in all three domains of power conformed to the rulings of the Sages and Rabbis of the Talmudic age.
These included: spheres of rights, obligations, institutional forms and rituals, that were all embedded in an ancient heritage.
Cohen finds that this arrangement provided a continuous and shared experience of proper modes of leadership for generations to come. In practice, however, a range of influences began to chip away at the Keter Torah: These included:
Increasing contact with Gentiles and the surrounding environment;
Alternative styles of leadership and government;
The breakdown of Jewry’s centralized institutional frameworks;
The emergence of new constitutional issues and problems.