BATLANIM (Heb. בַּטְלָנִים; "men of leisure"), originally an honorable title conferred on those who either wholly or partly abstained from work to free themselves for community service. In ancient as well as medieval times there existed the institution of the asarah batlanim ("ten men of leisure"). The Mishnah (Meg. 1:3) states that a town was regarded as large if it had "ten batlanim" who "frequent the synagogue" (tb Meg. 5a; tj, Meg., 1:6, 70b) and "abstain from work" (tj, ibid.). Among the population of 120 who make a town "eligible for a Sanhedrin" (Sanh. 1:6) are included "the ten batlanim of the synagogue" (Meg. 17b). The ten verses of the Torah read publicly on Mondays and Thursdays "correspond to the ten batlanim" (bk 82a). R. Judah, characterized the "ten batlanim" as "those who, like ourselves, have no need of our studies" (tj, Meg. loc. cit.), meaning, probably that they needed no occupation in addition to their studies. The ten batlanim, at that time, were scholars. Rashi explains that they refrain from work and are supported by the community in order to attend prayers in the synagogue (Meg. 5a; cf. Rashi to Sanh. 17b). R. Nissim notes that they need not "abstain from work and be supported by the community" for their town to be reckoned a large one in connection with the variant practices concerning the reading of the scroll of Esther. It is sufficient if they attend prayers in the synagogue both mornings and evenings (commenting on Alfasi; beginning of Megillah). Elsewhere (bk 82a) Rashi states that an additional function of the ten batlanim is to occupy themselves with the needs of the community, and Maimonides sees them as "assigned to the synagogue for communal needs" (Yad, Megillah 1:8). Benjamin of Tudela records that in 12th-century Baghdad, the ten heads of the yeshivah "are called batlanim, their sole occupation being to engage in communal affairs…. They render decisions on legal and religious questions for all the Jewish inhabitants of the country." In later Yiddish usage the term became pejorative and meant a man who was lazy, loafed, and could not make his way in the world.
R. Hutner, in: Yavneh, 1 (1946), 21–24.