Ḥakham

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ḤAKHAM

ḤAKHAM (Heb. חָכָם; lit. "wise" or "sage"), title given to rabbinic scholars. Originally, it was inferior to the title "rabbi" since a scholar who possessed semikhah was called "rabbi" while the lesser savant was called ḥakham, or "sage" (bm 67bf.). Afterward it was also utilized for ordained scholars (Tosef., Yev. 4:6). Another talmudic distinction was between ḥakham and talmid ("disciple"). The disciple was only expected to answer inquiries that pertained directly to his studies, while the sage was required to respond to questions in all areas of rabbinic scholarship (Kid. 49b). The title ḥakham was also used as a formal designation of the third in rank after the nasi and av bet din of the Sanhedrin (Hor. 13b).

Sephardi Jews later used the title ḥakham for their local rabbis (in London and Amsterdam, applied to the rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese congregations, it is written Haham), and reserved the more honorable designation of rabbi for preeminent scholars (David Messer Leon, Kevod Ḥakhamim, ed. by S. Bernfeld (1899), 63f.). Turkish Jewry designated its chief rabbi as *ḥakham bashi.