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In Numbers 7, we are told about the special offerings the princes of the Tribes brought to the Tabernacle. This is not the only time we hear of this position. Princes are present in Joshua 9 also, for example.

What sort of authority did the Princes have? What could they do, exactly? Where they beholden to some sort of tribe-wide council, just to Moses and the Sanhedrin, or did they have authority even in the face of the national leader and courts?

Please source you answers!

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  • The details you ask about are whom they were beholden to or whether they could act unilaterally. I think a question one needs to address simultaneously is what they could do: decree social norms? advise Moshe? act as figureheads (somewhat akin to the queen in Britain or the president in Israel)? mete punishment? schedule maamados (did those exist in the mishkan?)? etc.
    – msh210
    Mar 18 '14 at 0:53
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Not sure if this counts as an answer, but I'll post two commentators:

  • Rashi (1:16): they were called for all important matters in the camp (administrative duties?)

  • Ibn Ezra: the nation wouldn't do anything until they [the princes] would call them

I think this suffices to show that they were in fact leaders of some kind: both symbolic (as they would call the people together) and in that they probably oversaw things like the camp's organization - whose tent was where, etc. but weren't necessarily part of Moshe/Yisro's court system

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