views updated


SHAMMASH (Heb. שַׁמָּשׁ), salaried beadle or sexton in the community, the synagogue, rabbinical court, or a ḥevrah. A shammash performed a number of functions varying in accordance with the measure of autonomy or the nature of the religious institutions he served: tax collector, bailiff, process server, secretary, messenger, almoner, all-around handyman, grave digger, or notary. He sometimes acted as shulklaper, knocking on window shutters with a mallet to summon Jews to prayer, to announce the arrival of the Sabbath, or to waken people for pre-dawn penitential services. By signing the minutes of the kahal or of an association, he testified to their correctness. In Vilna he had to take an oath that he would strictly observe and enforce the communal statutes. He often acted as a diplomat or was sent as an envoy to another community. The ḥevra kaddisha of 19th-century Russian communities sometimes employed an oylem shamash to run errands. Along with the rabbi and cantor, the shammash was one of the three employees who received a regular salary and shared in the income from fees and largesse distributed at weddings or other festive occasions. He also supervised the local institutions, whether synagogue, *hekdesh, or association. In larger towns there was a variety of specialized functionaries by that name. In the ḥevra the term shammash was used to denote the period of apprenticeship served by a new member.


Baron, Community, 3 (1942), index s.v.Shammash; I. Levitats, Jewish Community in Russia 17721844 (1943), index s.v.Beadle.

[Isaac Levitats]