LANDRABBINER (Landesrabbiner, Heb. rav medinah), rabbinical office formerly prevalent throughout Central Europe. It originated in the latter half of the 14th century when regional rulers appointed a "Judenmeister," later called Landesrabbiner, to facilitate the collection of taxes. In the 15th century, as a result of the widespread expulsions of the period, this charge was abolished. Instead, the rabbinical courts of the free imperial cities like Frankfurt and Worms acquired increased authority and importance. With the reestablishment of Jewish communities in the 16th and early 17th centuries, some states authorized the appointment of a chief rabbi (rav medinah) and the establishment of a rabbinical court (bet din). In 1600 there were a dozen such courts in Germany. The establishment of these institutions did much to undercut the influence of the rabbinical courts in the free imperial cities, a development welcomed by rulers who sought to sever the ties that bound Jews living in their realms to courts operating outside their jurisdiction. Most of the Landjudenschaften employed a Landrabbiner (rav medinah, av bet din), whose main function was the equitable apportioning of the tax load. The Landrabbiner was sometimes directly appointed by the authorities, but generally he was elected by the Landjudenschaft; the authorities authorized the elections and issued him a formal writ of responsibilities and powers. Often the Landrabbiner had close family and social connections with the secular leadership of the Landjudenschaften; at times the office remained within the same family for several generations. Its sinecures provided the incumbent with a relatively high income. While the secular Jewish leadership considered that the Landrabbiner provided religious sanction for their efforts, the authorities sought to make use of him as a power lever within the Jewish community. Frequent disagreement developed over policy and jurisdiction. The authority of the Landrabbiner gradually lapsed in the later 18th century, particularly in the light of the increasing tendency to appeal to general courts of law. The continuity of the office was broken during the Napoleonic era.
In the 19th century Landrabbiner were appointed once more by a number of German states. The three Landrabbiner of Hanover represented the government in the supervision of synagogues, schools, and charitable institutions in their districts. In charge of the inspection and appointment of all communal employees, they could levy fines of up to ten marks and could not be deposed without governmental consent even though they were elected by the communities. In Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Saxe-Weimar, and Brunswick, Landrabbiner were appointed to facilitate the modernization of Jewish life and religious practice. When Abraham *Geiger wished to introduce the institution into Nassau he encountered the vigorous opposition of the Orthodox rural communities. During the course of the 19th century the jurisdiction of the office was increasingly limited to purely religious areas, and in the 20th century, it became mainly an honorary appointment.
D.J. Cohen, "Irgunei 'Benei ha-Medinah' he-Ashkenaz" (unpubl. Ph.D. diss., 1967), 157–227, xvii–xxi; L. Auerbach, Das Judentum in Preussen (1890), 328–405; B. Altman, in: JSOS, 3 (1941), 175–7; S. Assaf, in: Reshumot, 2 (1937), 259–300.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.