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In my work on translating tombstones (Ashkenazic - Slovakian or what was once Austro-Hungarian) towns, I occasionally come across phrases or honorifics that are difficult for me to understand. I do have the book, Ozar Rashe Tevot by Shmuel Ashkenazi and Dov Jarden (in Hebrew) and that has been very helpful.

I may have to add to this question occasionally as I come across new ones.

I have seen people listed as Rosh Hakehila (ראש הקהילה), which is probably like our president of the shul today. But what would his functions have been?

One that had me stumped for a while was amad al mishmeret hakodesh (עמד על משמרת הקודש). Fortunately, I was able to reach a sofer, Moshe Flumenbaum, who e-mailed me this:

The phrase "amad al mishmar hakodesh" relates to a sofer as follows A sofer is the person who makes sure that the "kodesh" (Torahs, Tefillin, and Mezuzahs) are kosher and maintained.

The man was indeed a sofer, so this then made sense.

How about Hanagid (הנגיד)?

Another Issue is when a person is noted as being a descendent of the author of such-and-such, rather than by actual name. A useful website that has been partially useful is: http://www.jewishgen.org/rabbinic/, in which one may find the name corresponding to the sefer. As you can imagine, not all sefarim can be included and not all mechabrim are listed either.

I would appreciate it if someone could tell me what these functions or honorifics were. Also, if you have more to add, we could all benefit from sharing.

Thanks

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1 Answer

Rosh Hakehilah is more than a shul president. He would have been a lay leader of the entire community (or a major portion of it), very likely representing them before the (non-Jewish) authorities when necessary.

"Amad al mishmeres hakodesh" may indeed refer to a sofer (I don't believe I've ever heard of this usage before). But it can also be used more broadly for someone who upheld Judaism in the town - for example, a teacher or a rabbi (especially if they had to stand against heterodox opposition in the course of their work).

Hanagid literally means "the leader," and it often includes the connotation of being a wealthy person who contributed generously to charity.

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Thanks, Alex. I have also been told that my grandfather, Leopold (Aryeh Leib) GOLDSTEIN, who had smicha possibly from the Pressburg Yeshiva, was considered Rosh Hakehila in Kezmarok, Slovakia. I had also heard that he would meet perhaps weekly to "learn" with the Protestant minister as well. But I have no real proof of any of this. He, with grandmother, some daughters and a son were all killed in WW II. So I appreciate what you had to say in that regard. –  Madeleine Feb 6 '11 at 4:55
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