What Does “Archisynagogos” Mean? Originally Published August 23-24, 2019.

Some readers might have caught this word back on February 1, 2019, when it appeared in this column in its Latin form. 

Back in the day, the far-back day in the first century of the Common Era, the person in charge of the synagogue, known in Hebrew as the rosh hakeneset – ראש הכנסת, was known in Greek as the ἀρχισυνάγωγος, the archisynagogos.  In Latin the word is (similarly) “archesynagogus.”  Archeologists have culled from Jewish inscriptions made during Roman times that the functions were varied.  The archisynagogos might have arranged the service in the synagogue, might have run the place, and might also have run local community affairs. 

For a while, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica, it was the custom for mourners to drink a cup of wine in honor of the archisynagogos, but that practice was later quashed.  That quashing notwithstanding, archisynagogoi were generally held in high esteem, and it was a great honor to marry the daughter of an archisynagogos. 

Some who lived outside the Holy Land also collected donations to send to Israel (a practice still in effect). 

Interestingly, a Roman law of 331 C.E. exempted the archisynagogos from physical servitude to the state, and another law of 397 exempted them from some state taxes and granted them the same status as Christian clergymen. 

It is not known how they were selected or elected.

Our synagogue has an archisynagoga.  She was duly elected to her position.  Debby Firestone, do you accept the title?