This introductory chapter provides a brief look into rabbinic leadership and its relationship to the broader population. Throughout the centuries of diaspora history, rabbinic leadership in the Jewish community has had a Janus-like function. Facing inwards, it has sought to exercise authority in defence of unity and tradition: mediating and communicating the sacred texts, interpreting and applying them in a manner that is both rooted in the past and that refracts them with novel insight; providing guidance and making decisions to address the various internal problems that arise; speaking out or acting to secure any breach in the discipline necessary for Jewish continuity and survival under trying circumstances. Facing outwards, rabbinic leadership (sometimes the same individuals, often others) has been expected to represent the Jewish community before the Gentile world, whether in symbolic rituals that dramatize the Jewish role in the larger society or by active intervention at the highest levels of government to defend Jewish needs. Sometimes the leaders function in solidarity with their own people and the external society; frequently, however, there is tension and conflict with one group or another.
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