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Kelal Yisrael


KELAL YISRAEL (Heb. כְּלָל יִשְׂרָאֵל; "Jewish community as a whole"), a term employed when discussing the common responsibility, destiny, and kinship of all members of the Jewish community. The rabbis declared that "all Israel are sureties one for another" (Shevu. 39a); and sinners must be rebuked because the entire community is ultimately responsible for their wrongdoings. Nevertheless, the rabbis recognized that a community will always possess some sinners and the Midrash interpreted the *Four Species as symbolizing four categories of Jews ranging from those who possess both Torah and good works to those who possess neither (Lev. R. 30:12). The unity of the Jewish nation was considered an historic and spiritual concept, in addition to being a social reality. All subsequent generations of Jews (including proselytes) were viewed as having been present at Mount Sinai and sharing in the responsibilities of the covenant with God (Shevu. 39a). Likewise, the righteous of all generations will be reunited at the time of the resurrection of the dead during the messianic period (Maim., Commentary to Mishnah, Sanh. 10:1). This concept of community and shared fate is a more concrete version of the aggadic notion, often found in the Midrash, of *keneset Yisrael, i.e., "the community of Israel" as a spiritual and even mystical entity. The term keneset Yisrael is often used in aggadic literature as a personification of Israel in its dialogue with God and its faithfulness to Him. It praises the Almighty who in turn praises keneset Yisrael (Tanḥ., Ki-Tissa 18). The latter is also described as the mother of every Jew; the father is the Almighty Himself (Ber. 35b). Keneset Yisrael also boasts that "never did it enter the theaters and circuses of the heathen peoples to make merry and rejoice" (Lam. R., introd., p. 6). In the Zohar, God and keneset Yisrael are one when together in Ereẓ Israel. The community of Israel in exile is not united with God until it emerges from captivity and returns to its land (Zohar, Lev. 93b).

In modern times the concept of kelal Yisrael was further developed and utilized by Solomon *Schechter in defining change and development within Jewish law. Schechter held that the collective conscience of "catholic" Israel as embodied in the "universal synagogue" was the only true guide for determining contemporary halakhah. His viewpoint was an elaboration upon the talmudic principle "Go forth and see how the public is accustomed to act" (Ber. 45a).


S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism, 1 (1896), xviiiff.

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