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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Classes and Ranks.

Priority and preference given to individuals as a matter of established rule or etiquette. The superiority of the husband over his wife was recognized when God said to Eve, "He [Adam] shall rule over thee." The male was preferred to the female, and the first-born son receiveda double share of the inheritance. The issue of a bondwoman was considered of a lower class (Genesis 21:10). Class distinction was established in Egypt, where all of the tribe of Levi were set free from bondage (Ex. R. 5:20), and where its members preserved records of their pedigrees (Num. R. 13:10). The Levites were given charge of the Sanctuary (Numbers 18:1). Aaron headed the family of priests. Thus three classes were formed—the Kohanim, the Levites, and the Israelites. These divisions remained, nominally, after the Temple was destroyed. Precedence was still given to the Kohen, after whom came the Levite, and then the Israelite; this order was observed in choosing those who were to read in the synagogue the weekly portion of the Pentateuch (Giṭ. 5:8; see See LAW, READING FROM THE). The Kohen is entitled to precedence in the reading of the Torah and in saying grace, and he receives the best portion at the meal (Giṭ. 59b). The Israelites are ranked as follows: the learned men who are the officers of the community; after these, learned men who deserve to hold such positions (candidates); next, the leading men of the congregations; then the common people (Giṭ. 60a; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 136). Men of authority who render decisions precede those who are learned in pilpulistic argumentation ("Be'er Heṭeb," ad loc.).

Order of precedence according to the baraita runs as follows: (1) one anointed with the sacred oil (king); (2) the high priest; (3) one anointed for battle (field-commander); (4) the substitute high priest; (5) the chief of the guard (of the Temple "ma'amad"); (6) the chief of the bet din; (7) the trustee of the Temple; (8) the treasurer of the Temple; (9) the ordinary priest; (10) the Levite; (11) the Israelite; (12) the bastard; (13) the Nethinite (see Joshua 9:27); (14) the "ger" or proselyte; (15) the released slave (who has embraced Judaism). This order holds good only where there is equality in learning; otherwise the learned bastard precedes the ignorant high priest (Tosef., Hor. [ed. Zuckermandl, p. 476]; comp. Yer. Hor. 3:5). "The ḥakam precedes the unlearned king because when a ḥakam dies he leaves a vacancy; but when a king dies any Israelite is fit to succeed him. . . . The king precedes the high priest; the high priest precedes the prophet" (Hor. 13a).

Marriage Precedence.

It was the custom that the younger girl should not marry before her elder sister (Genesis 29:26). A public marriage ceremony has precedence over a public funeral, and a reception to the king precedes both. King Agrippa, however, gave way to the bridal procession at the crossing of the highway (Ket. 17a). In the synagogue, if there be present both a bridegroom and a mourner, the bridegroom and the wedding-party leave first, and the mourner with the consolers afterward (Tos. Ket. ad loc.). The bridegroom sits at the head of the table (M. Ḳ. 28b), and has priority over others in the honor of reading the Torah. The bridegroom who marries a virgin precedes one who marries a widow; but one who marries a divorcée ranks after both ("Be'er Heṭeb" to Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 136, 1).

The ancient custom at meals was to recline on couches. The highest in rank sits at the head of the table; the next in rank, at the upper end; next, at the lower end. R. Johanan said, "The host breaks the bread and the guest says grace." The washing of the hands before meals begins with the highest in rank and ends with the lowest. The washing of the fingers after meals begins with the highest, provided there are no more than five persons present; if there are more, the washing begins with the lowest and proceeds upward, until the fifth person from the head is reached; then the highest in rank washes, followed by the second, third, fourth, and fifth (Ber. 46a, b). Brothers sit according to age (Genesis 43:3, Rashi).

When Traveling.

On dangerous roads the lowest in rank goes first. Thus Jacob, fearing the vengeance of Esau, arranged that the handmaids with their children should precede Leah and her children, who went before Rachel and Joseph, though Jacob himself courageously headed all (Genesis 33:1-3). The man must not follow the woman. "Rather follow a lion than a woman." R. Naḥman called Manoah an "'am ha-areẓ." because he "went after his wife" (Judges 13:11; Ber. 61a). Aaron was always to the right of Moses. When three persons are walking together, the superior walks in the middle; the next in rank on his right, and the other on his left ('Er. 54b). Women ride behind men, as is evident from the case of Rebekah, who followed Eliezer (Genesis 24:61). While Rabbah b. Huna and Levi b. Huna b. Ḥiyya were on a journey the latter's donkey moved in front of the former's. Rabbah, being higher in rank, was offended by the apparent slight until R. Levi apologized and spoke of a new subject "in order to brighten him up" (Shab. 51b). When two camels meet, the one more heavily laden has the right of way (J. Briskin, "Taw Yehoshua'," p. 72. Warsaw, 1895). According to another authority, no order of precedence should be observed on the road or on a bridge, or in the washing of unclean hands (Ber. 47a). At the lavatory the one who enters has precedence over the one who comes out; at the bath-house the order is reversed (J. Briskin, c. pp. 31, 32). In ascending stairs or a ladder the highest in rank ascends first; in descending, he goes down last. On entering a prison the lowest in rank enters last. The host enters the house first and leaves last (Derek Ereẓ, ). In the case of ransom the order runs: the mother, oneself, the son, the father, the religious teacher (Tosef. ). ETIQUETTE; GREETING, FORMS OF.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Precedence'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​p/precedence.html. 1901.
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