Va'ad Pekidei Ereẓ Israel Be-Kushta
VA'AD PEKIDEI EREẒ ISRAEL BE-KUSHTA
VA'AD PEKIDEI EREẒ ISRAEL BE-KUSHTA ("The Council of Representatives of the Land of Israel in Constantinople"), a body established to organize assistance for the Jewish community of Ereẓ Israel. It flourished in the 18th century, but continued to exist until the beginning of the 19th century.
The first stage in the organization of this body involved the need to assist the followers of Judah Ḥasid, the Shabbatean preacher who had died in Jerusalem in 1700 a few days after arriving there. His followers were disheartened by this tragedy, immersed in heavy debts, and suffering from the oppression of their creditors and from deaths through plague. Both the Jews of Constantinople and the communities of Europe took steps to assist them by intervening with the authorities and collecting funds. This effort was unsuccessful, however, and when the Ashkenazi synagogue in Jerusalem was set on fire by Muslim creditors in 1720, the group dispersed. The dominant Sephardi community also suffered in consequence, and many had to leave the capital and go into hiding. As a result, the Va'ad Pekidei Ereẓ Israel be-Kushta was reorganized during this decade with the aim of reconstituting the community. When they obtained a firman permitting the Ashkenazim to make good their debts by annual payments, the Sephardim returned, but the Ashkenazim were still fearful, and only a handful returned (their leader in the middle of the 18th century was *Abraham Gershon of Kutow, a brother-in-law of Israel Ba'al Shem Tov). The Pekidim reorganized the community, appointing representatives in Jerusalem and drawing up enactments with regard to taxation and expenditure. In 1727 the Va'ad Pekidei Ereẓ Israel became a permanent, well-organized body. They demanded that their representatives provide detailed reports of income and expenditure and organized regular contributions from the whole Jewish world, fixing the amounts which each community had to pay and renewing them every ten years. A special fund was also instituted called "Parah contribution" (the parah was a Turkish coin). Special collectors were appointed throughout the Ottoman Empire and in Europe, and the considerable proceeds were transmitted to Constantinople. Funds thus collected were applied mostly to repayment of debts and to taxes and bribery: the poor benefited only to a small extent, but the monies sent to them by relatives abroad were also administered by the Pekidim. The Pekidim reserved to themselves the sole right of appointing emissaries to the Diaspora. They established useful connections with the authorities in Constantinople, Damascus, and Jerusalem, bribing them heavily.
In a short time, sub-committees were established for each of the four "Holy Cities" of Ereẓ Israel – Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias – of which the most important was Jerusalem, where there were seven Pekidim. As a result, during the 1730s the Jewish population of Jerusalem increased rapidly, and in the 1740s rose to some 3,000. The Pekidim, apprehensive of the economic and political effects of this rapid growth, enacted a takkanah allowing only immigrants above the age of 60 to settle in Jerusalem.
These activities made the Pekidim absolute rulers of the Jewish communities of Ereẓ Israel, particularly Jerusalem, which became to all intents a branch of the community of Constantinople, losing every vestige of autonomy. They appointed officials, intervened in the appointment of rabbis (sometimes even appointing the chief rabbi), and all enactments were subject to their approval. The Pekidim even organized pilgrimages to Ereẓ Israel by ship, imposed taxes on the pilgrims, and established yeshivot. They intervened in all the disputes between Sephardim and Ashkenazim over the question of distributing funds coming from Europe.
Their dictatorial attitude toward the communities in Ereẓ Israel could not extend to other Jewish communities, apart from Turkey and the Balkan states, and disputes arose with regard to the distribution of funds emanating from them, with the Pekidim more than once threatening to resign. They nevertheless maintained strong ties with leading European rabbis, such as R. Ezekiel Landau of Prague, who was the "representative of Ereẓ Israel" there.
The weakening of the Ottoman Empire and the decline of the community of Constantinople, the war between Turkey and Russia, and the growing aliyah of Ashkenazim brought about a decline in the importance of the institution toward the end of the 18th century. By the 19th century, it was virtually moribund, its place being taken by the "Va'ad Pekidim ve-Amarkalim" of *Amsterdam.
Pinkas Pekidei Kushta (mss), microfilm, Makhon Ben-Zvi, Cat. No. 1857; Sefer Takkanot (1842); M. Benayahu, Ha-Ḥida (1959), 379–420; I. Ben-Zvi, Ereẓ Israel ve-Yishuvah (1955), 265–74. A. Yaari, in: Sinai, 25 (1949), 149–63; idem, Sheluḥei 373–6, 387–9.