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The people of Israel are sometimes called collective קהל, sometimes עדה ‎(עדת) and sometimes plain Israel, and although they probably point out to the exact same group of people they seem to be well chosen. What's the nuance between the usage of קהל and עדה ?

P.s. Besides refering to Israel, it's also used for example in Bamidbar 16:6 to describe the group of people of followers of Korach as an עדת, while another group of people in Ezra 10:1 is called קהל. And Bamidbar 20:2 seems to clearly distinguish between these two words.

So when do we refer to a group of people as an edah or edat, and when as a kahal?

  • There are a few places where both terms are used sequentially, I think that עדה implies some type of witness or testimony to something as it has the word עד in it. Great question! I need to research. – DanF May 6 '18 at 2:20
  • @DanF in some occassions the terms adat and edah seem to be used for a representative group (possibly consists a small number of people who represent a larger group), like with the many countings which took place. On the other hand that’s also the case with the term kahal in Divrei Hayamim II 23:3 (see 23:1-2). Some also say the difference is the same as ‘meeting (edah)’ and ‘gathering (kahal). Based on certain root connections. – Levi May 17 '18 at 7:15
  • @Levi I also think that kahal implies a gathering of people, physically. I.e., they are not necessarily unified in purpose. That may explain why, initially, Korach's group was called a kahal. Eventually, when they were unified, they were called an edah. I'll see if I can research that theory. – DanF May 17 '18 at 14:21
  • @DanF, I would love to get more views on this matter. – Levi May 17 '18 at 19:02
  • It seems that the answer, below, echoes much of my thinking. Is there something else that you seek that the answer does not provide? – DanF May 17 '18 at 19:07
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From the Yeshiva.co webpage

The Malbim explains that the shoresh (root) of “eidah” is mo’ed (like a holiday=mo'ed, has an appointed time and we get together by respective families) or va’ad (=committee), which means a meeting at a particular place, with particular people, for a particular purpose, where the participants congregate according to their role. For example, the judges, elders and leaders, who are the main figures in a public meeting, are separate from the masses, to enable proper discussion or questions (Shmot 35), or when meeting by family (Korban Pesach, Shmot 12) or traveling by tribes (ibid, 17).

On the other hand, “kahal” is simply the crude mass gathering together of people, without delineating who in the group is where, like we find by the uprising against Moshe in the sins of the golden-calf (Shmot 32, 1) and the water complaint in Mei Meriva (Bamidbar 20, 2). On the other hand, our rabbis point out that in the first water-uprising (Shmot 16), they are called eida, because they came organized, led by the elders, and not just gathering up altogether to yell. Accordingly, the 1st time, they were not punished nor severely admonished. It’s the difference between “meeting” (eida) and “gathering” (kahal).

In Korach’s uprising, they are called eidah (Bamidbar 16), because even though many came together, there was a hierarchy in their uprising (Korach, Datan and Aviram were the clear leaders), and they had meetings (“mo’ed”, not just yelling!) with Moshe. Similarly when both terms are found together (e.g. Vayikra 4, 13), the eidah refers to the Sanhedrin judges who met and made a mistake, and afterwards the masses (kahal) acted upon their ruling.

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Levi's answer is thorough and general enough to explain the application of these terms.

Perhaps one of the best verses that distinguishes this difference in the same verse is Vayikra 4:13:

ואם כל עדת ישראל ישגו ונעלם דבר מעיני הקהל

The עדה refers to the Sanhedrin, and the קהל refers to the general population. I.e., if Sanhedrin mistakenly told the people to do something that was in fact, prohibited. See Rash"i and the accompanying Siftei Chachamim for detailed explanations.

The terminology does have me a bit curious as to how people name shuls. Some are called Adat and some (I think more commonly) Kahal. Not that shul names are any indication of following the definition or not. But, my thinking is that the concept of having 10 men needed for a minyan emanates from an understanding of what the term עדה means as used to refer to the 10 spies that rebelled. Somehow, then, it seems that a shul should be named עדה .

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    DanF I've looked upon all verses in which the terms adat and edah were used and tried to apply certain meanings, I did the same thing with the term kahal. Sometimes I gave more meanings to the words in order to create some kind of noun and verbs, but still I couldn't make sense in a lot of cases. That's why I don't think kahal nor adat or edah refer to certain kind of groups, but to the action that makes the group. – Levi May 17 '18 at 19:41
  • "Action" and "purpose" define the type of group that it is, I think. This answer supports my 2nd comment, namely that kahal is a general term referring to a physical group of people while eidah means that they are there for a specific purpose or function. Levi's answer explains this too. My answer just gives another verse and shows a specific case of defining eidah as Sanhedrin. There is one verse, however, that I saw that uses both terms consecutively. I'll try to edit and comment on that verse, later. – DanF May 17 '18 at 20:48
  • @DanF could you explain what you mean with ‘a specific purpose or function’ because the people in Divrei HaYamim II 23:3 seem to be there for a specific purpose, but are still called a kahal. – Levi May 18 '18 at 5:40
  • @Levi I would really need to view each occurrence of each term (as I guess you are doing) to confirm a pattern, definitively. So far, from what I'm seeing, is that eidah seems to have a unified group as well as an action purpose to rule on something or change something, set policy, etc. In the verse that I quoted, a Sanhedrin is a unified group to rule as a court over others. Korach's group meant to rule (in a sense). Same with the spies. In the Divrei Hayamim verse you mentioned, there doesn't appear to be these elements. – DanF May 18 '18 at 13:50
  • @DanF I like the idea of ‘action’ and ‘purpose’ in order to define a group as an adat or kahal. I will keep looking into it myself also. – Levi May 18 '18 at 21:12

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