King David High School

"Let there be light
through faith and work"

Kehillah - The King David Way

In Judaism and in classical hebrew there are three different words for community: edah, tsibbur and kehillah, and they signify different kinds of association.

Edah comes from the word ed, meaning “witness.” The verb ya’ad carries the meaning of “to appoint, fix, assign, destine, set apart, designate or determine.” The modern Hebrew noun te’udah means “certificate, document, attestation, aim, object, purpose or mission.” The people who constitute an edah have a strong sense of collective identity. They have witnessed the same things. They are bent on the same purpose. Interestingly, an edah can be a gathering for bad as well as good. Nowadays an edah is a community of the like-minded. The word emphasises strong identity. It is a group whose members have much in common.

By contrast the word tsibbur – it belongs to Mishnaic rather than biblical Hebrew – comes from the root tz-b-r meaning “to heap” or “pile up”. (Bereishith 41:49) To understand the concept of tsibbur, think of a group of people attending a music festival.  They may not know each other. They may never meet again. But for the moment, they happen to be a group of people in the same place at the same time, and thus constitute a quorum for prayer. A tsibbur is a community in the minimalist sense, a mere aggregate, formed by numbers rather than any sense of identity. A tsibbur is a group whose members may have nothing in common except that, at a certain point, they find themselves together.

A kehillah is different from the other two kinds of community. Its members are different from one another. In that sense it is like a tsibbur. But they are orchestrated together for a collective undertaking – one that involves in making a distinctive contribution. The danger of a kehillah is that it can become a mass, a rabble, a crowd.  In the Torah we are told that after leading the Israelites out of slavery, Moses climbs the mountain and receives the Torah.  A mere 40 days later the Jewish people created an idol and worshipped it. Moses saw that the people were running wild, and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughing-stock to their enemies. (32: 25)

The beauty of a kehillah, however, is that when it is driven by constructive purpose, it gathers together the distinct and separate contributions of many individuals, so that each can say, “I helped to make this.” That is why, assembling the people on this occasion, Moses emphasises that each has something different to give: Take from what you have, an offering to G-d. Everyone who is willing to bring to G-d an offering of gold, silver and bronze . . . All you who are skilled among you are to come and make everything the Lord has commanded . . . preserve the diversity of a tsibbur with the unity of purpose of an edah.  This notion of community underpins The King David Way.  It reminds us that a strong community is made up of strong individuals.  A strong community recognizes and celebrated the individuality and differences of its members.

Of course this means that a strong community must have respect and tolerance as its foundations.  There are many Jewish values, expressed through good middot (character traits) which apply equally to our conduct regarding each and every one of us, such as ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew), the pintele yid (the spark of holiness in all of us) and the tzelem Elokim (the image of God in which we are all created). No-one should be hurt by breaches of shmirat halashon (careless speech) or excluded through lack of kavod habriyot (respect for other people). These are all concepts that are promoted as part of a wider culture of care for every individual in our school – they are the foundations of the King David Way.