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Rabbi

RABBI

Title derived from rav, which in Hebrew denotes a master.

In its Talmudic origins, the mastery to which rabbi referred was a knowledge of both Scripture and Jewish oral tradition, including competence in interpreting law and recalling legends. Although at first the title was honorific, it evolved into something more formal. Always connected with a level of superior scholarship and familiarity with sacred Jewish texts, it has in contemporary times also come to signify general religious leadership.

Although the requirements for acquiring the title are not stipulated in Jewish law, semikha or ordinationin which another rabbi attests to the scholarship and learning of the initiatehas become an assumed prerequisite of being called rabbi. Throughout much of Jewish history, this process occurred in the context
of yeshivas; currently, it also takes place in theological seminaries.

Generally, civil authorities have recognized the right of the Jews to decide for themselves who may be called rabbi. This became more complicated after Jews ceased to speak with a single communal voice in the modern period, with the consequence that different groups of Jews set various criteria for deciding who would be entitled to be called rabbi. Thus in the modern period in the United States, for example, there are four types of rabbis being ordained, to represent the four different denominations: Reformed, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox. The Orthodox denomination, although it represents a minority of world Jewry, produces the most rabbis. Throughout Jewish history, the title has been granted only to men, but in the late twentieth century, non-Orthodox Jews began to ordain women as well. In Israel, only Orthodox rabbis are officially recognized, even though Reformed and Conservative rabbis are also there.

Two general categories of rabbis evolved in modern times: those who were primarily teachers, scholars, or issuers of legal decisions and remained in the academy of Jewish learning or sometimes served on a religious court, and those who ministered in the community and the synagogue. Rabbis have also become ratifiers of changes in personal status by officiating at weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage.

The rabbinate in modern Israel is unique in several important respects. Because there is no strict separation of religion and state in Israel, Halakhah is the governing law in all matters of personal status. Accordingly, the Orthodox rabbinical interpretation of Jewish law is dominant. In Israel, many rabbis exert their authority as officials of the state Ministry of Religion and the office of the Chief Rabbinate. Headed by two national chief rabbis elected by a board of fellow rabbis for a term of ten years, the Chief Rabbinate is divided into Ashkenazic and Sephardic wings. Ostensibly empowered to make all ultimate religious decisions, it also provides parish rabbis and chief rabbis for major municipal regions.

There are other rabbis in Israel, particularly within Hasidic and yeshiva circles. Unlike the state rabbis whose authority is official, these rabbis dominate by virtue of their charisma or perceived scholarship. The relatively few non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel have a limited following. During the last few decades, the chief rabbis and their subordinates have steadily lost moral authority. Today the majority of secular Israelis consider them irrelevant, and the minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews guide themselves by their own sages whom they endow with greater rabbinic authority. This leaves only a narrow band of Orthodox Jewsprimarily religious Zionistswho recognize the moral preeminence of the Chief Rabbinate. Nevertheless, the Chief Rabbinate is assured of influence as long as it continues to control matters of personal status and religious certification in the state.

see also halakhah.


Bibliography


Heilman, Samuel C. "Jewish Unity and Diversity: A Survey of American Rabbis and Rabbinical Students." In Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 13. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

samuel c. heilman

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Rabbi

Rabbi, Rabbinate (Heb., ‘my master’). Hence ‘Rabbinic Judaism’. Jewish learned man who has received ordination (see SEMIKHAH). The term rabbi was not used as a title until the time of Hillel. In Talmudic times, this was not granted outside Erez Israel, so that the Babylonian sages bore the title of ‘Rav’. During this period rabbis were interpreters and expounders of the scriptures and oral law. It was not until the Middle Ages that a rabbi became the spiritual leader of a particular Jewish community. Originally rabbis were not paid. By the 14th cent. there is evidence of payment, not for teaching the law, but as compensation for loss of time taken up with rabbinical duties. In order to serve, the Ashkenazim in particular insisted that rabbis should have a diploma of Semikhah; and his duties were laid down in a letter of appointment (ketav rabbanut). As community leader, he was asked to give responsa on legal problems and ambiguities, and to serve in Jewish courts; later, in E. Europe, the office was frequently combined with that of ‘rosh yeshivah’ (head of the yeshivah). Nowadays the role of the rabbi varies from community to community. Among Reform congregations, he (and since 1972 possibly she) performs a function analogous to that of a Christian minister. The Orthodox rabbi has also taken on these duties, but has retained his role as legal consultant and interpreter of the written and oral law.

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"Rabbi." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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rabbi

rabbi [Heb.,=my master; my teacher], the title of a Jewish spiritual leader. The role of the rabbi has undergone a number of transformations. In the Talmudic period, rabbis were primarily teachers and interpreters of the Torah. They developed the liturgy, calendar, and other aspects of post-Temple Judaism. During the Middle Ages, the post of rabbi became a professional one, with the incumbent taking on the additional role of supervision of the religious life of the community. Rabbis of the Reform and Conservative movements pay considerable attention to pastoral and administrative duties, as well as preaching. Orthodox rabbis have to some extent also taken on such duties, although they continue to stress the traditional roles of judging, teaching, and studying Torah. The state of Israel has a dual chief rabbinate, representing the Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities. Rabbis have traditionally been male, but in the 20th cent. the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements began to ordain women.

See L. Ginzberg, Students, Scholars, and Saints (1985); J. R. Marcus and A. J. Peck, The American Rabbinate (1985).

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rabbi

rabbi Person qualified through study of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud to be the chief religious leader of a Jewish congregation and the person responsible for education and spiritual guidance. In some countries, such as the UK, Jews are led on a national basis by a chief rabbi. Modern Israel has a rabbinic council with two chief rabbis, one representing the Sephardim tradition, the other representing the Ashkenazim.

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rabbi

rab·bi / ˈrabˌī/ • n. (pl. -bis ) a Jewish scholar or teacher, esp. one who studies or teaches Jewish law. ∎  a person appointed as a Jewish religious leader. DERIVATIVES: rab·bin·ate / ˈrabənət; -ˌnāt/ n.

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"rabbi." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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rabbi

rabbi (title of respect given to) a Jewish doctor of the law. XIV (raby). — OF. rab(b)i (mod. rabbin), ecclL. rabbi — Heb. rabbī my master, f. rabh master, with pronominal suffix.
So rabbin XVI. — F. rabbin or medL. rabbīnus. Hence rabbinic(al) XVII.

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"rabbi." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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rabbi

rabbi a Jewish scholar or teacher, especially one who studies or teaches Jewish law. Recorded from late Old English, the word comes via ecclesiastical Latin and Greek from Hebrew rabbī ‘my master’.

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rabbi

rabbi •rabbi • standby • lay-by • nimbi • alibi •rhombi • go-by • incubi • succubi •syllabi • lullaby • hushaby

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