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  1. I am interested in knowing how and why this office came about. Was it initiated by the Jewish community or was it necessary in order to have a representative to contact the ruling government? Wikipedia gives the name of the first Rishon Letzion but not the circumstances of how it came about.

  2. What was the selection process? Was the next one appointed by the previous one or was it decided by the Rabbanim after the previous one died?

  3. What were his duties and authority?

I'm referring to the earlier times of the office - pre-state of Israel.

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The office of Rishon Letzion was implemented under the Ottoman Empire, their job was to represent the Jews of the Old Yishuv, Palestine, then under the ottomans. Rishon Letzion was also known as a Chacham Bashi. And carried many similar day to day tasks.

For example:

My great-grandfather, although not the Rishon Letzion, was a Chacham Bashi, both for the Turkish Army, and later the Av Beis Din of his hometown under the Ottomans in Macedonia - later becoming the independent state of Yugoslavia. He was student of the first Rishon Letzion of Palestine HaRav Yaakov Meir.

His responsibilities included presiding over money matters in his Beit Din, marriages and divorce. He also was empowered with imposing fines upon those who transgressed Torah prohibitions. For example, when one person opened their store on shabbos, my grandfather placed a Cherem upon him until he paid a fine to the local Gemachim of the town.

The Government gave tremendous leeway for each religious court and leaders to preform their duties (Christian, Muslim sharia, and batei Dinim).

The entire idea of a Chacham Bashi was started by Sultan Mehemt II.

Eventually the office of Hacham Bashi and Rishon Letzion were combined. As opposed to the Chacham Bashi residing in Constantinople.

From Wikipedia:

In the Ottoman Empire, and as such, the Hakham Bashi was the closest thing to an overall Exilarchal authority among Jewry everywhere in the Middle East in early modern times. They held broad powers to legislate, judge and enforce the laws among the Jews in the Ottoman Empire and often sat on the Sultan's divan.

The office also maintained considerable influence outside the Ottoman Empire, especially after the forced migration of numerous Jewish communities and individuals out of Spain (after the fall of Granada in 1492) and Italy.

In 1842, the position of "Hakham Bashi", Chief Rabbi of Constantinople who represented the Turkish Jews before the Sultan, and the position of Rishon LeZion which at that time already represented the Old Yishuv before the Sultan, were combined into one position called Rishon LeZion.

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    Thank you. If I understand correctly, this explains the position only from the point that the office was combined with Chacham Bashi? – Moses613 Jun 26 '17 at 13:12

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