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GABBAI (Heb. גַּבַּאי, גַּבַּי), lay communal official. Derived from the Hebrew gavah (גָּבָה – to exact payment), the word is actually part of the complete title gabbai ẓedakah (charity warden) and all the relevant regulations, such as that individuals could not act as a gabbai, but collectors had to work in pairs, refer to this charity collector. In the Middle Ages, however, the meaning of the word was extended to include other communal officials. The original meaning of collector of taxes or treasurer merged in the usage of the medieval community with the parallel ancient meanings of collector for charities or administrator of them, and also came to connote supervisor and executive leader. The executive officer of a *ḥevrah or *guild was named gabbai. He was an unpaid lay-elected officer who administered the affairs of the particular association, whether burial, sick care, or the host of other purposes served by these groups. Very large societies had as many as 12 gabba'im, each serving one month in the year, when he was gabbai ḥodesh. Smaller organizations elected only one or more executives. Where the work was plentiful, the gabbai had the services of a beadle and other paid employees. In the small association the gabbai usually did all the work himself. In the communal administration the gabbai was an officer in charge of a particular committee or activity. In the Cracow community there were officers termed exalted, gabba'im gevohim. Some served as gabba'im in the synagogue, managing its affairs and distributing honors, especially at the Reading of the Torah. There were also gabba'ei Ereẓ Yisrael. In 1749, for example, at the Jaroslaw session of the Polish *Council of Four Lands, such officers were appointed in local or regional communities to make collections for the maintenance of the poor in Ereẓ Israel. In modern times there were also gabba'im of the kolelim (see also *ḥalukkah). The manager and supervisor of the affairs of a ḥasidic rabbi was also named gabbai. Female heads of associational activities were called gabbaites. The elected heads of the synagogues, mainly among Ashke-nazi Jewry, were titled gabbai. British Jews employed the term *parnas in a congregational context instead of gabbai, using the latter for the warden of the synagogue; the president is called parnas in Hebrew.


Baron, Community, index s.v.Gabba'im, Elders; J. Marcus, Communal Sick-Care (1947); I. Levitats, Jewish Community in Russia (1943); Halpern, Pinkas, 329, 338; C. Roth, Records of the Western Synagogue (1932), 58.

[Isaac Levitats]

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