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The phrase "ראש וראשון לכל דבר שבקדושה" is used quite often in haskamos and introductions to describe people who devote their life to Torah study or supporting Torah study or other important Jewish community institutions.

Where does this phrase come from? I can't find it in any basic Jewish text like Tanach or the Talmud Bavli. Did someone make it up, and if so, who?

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I believe it is paraphrased from the Gemara (Gittin 59b) The Gemara is discussing the honour accorded to a Kohen, saying that he is accorded ראשון for לכל דבר שבקדושה.

וקדשתו לכל דבר שבקדושה תנא דבי רבי ישמעאל וקדשתו לכל דבר שבקדושה לפתוח ראשון ולברך ראשון וליטול מנה יפה ראשון

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    As I mention above, if this is referring to Kohanim, then likely the version in Moed Katan not Gittin is being referenced, because of the extra word ראש. – Double AA Sep 7 '14 at 13:47
  • Agree, though there's no reason why it can't be paraphrased from both.. – Zvi Sep 7 '14 at 21:44
  • Zvi and @DoubleAA, This seems plausible. Very interesting though how it became such a popular quote (Google it and you'll find it in all types of haskamos and introductory remarks) given that it's not even a direct quote. – jake Sep 8 '14 at 17:47
  • @Zvi It technically can be, just it's pretty weird to say so when you can have it all from one place. – Double AA Sep 8 '14 at 17:48
  • @DoubleAA Not sure I agree. When something is repeated, it is more likely to become repeated further.. – Zvi Sep 8 '14 at 22:08
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Tehila L'Moshe published in 1563 is the first source I am aware of, although it is used there in a different context.

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