Rabbi, Rabbinate

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The title rabbi is derived from the noun rav, which in biblical Hebrew means "great" and does not occur in the Bible; in its later sense in mishnaic Hebrew, however, the word rav means a master as opposed to a slave (e.g., "does a slave rebel against his rav"–Ber. 10a; "It is like a slave who filled a cup for his rav and he poured the water over his face"–Suk. 2:9). It was only during the tannaitic period, in the generation after Hillel, that it was employed as a title for the sages. The passage in the New Testament (Matt. 23:7) in which the Scribes and Pharisees are criticized because they "love… to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi" probably reflects the fact of its recent introduction. The word "rabbi" therefore means literally "my master," although the Sephardim point it and pronounce it ribbi, the suffix therefore not being a pronominal one. In any case it lost its significance, and rabbi became simply the title accorded to a sage. Since the title was accorded only to those who had been properly ordained, and such ordination was not granted in talmudic times outside Ereẓ Israel (see Semikhah), it was not borne by the Babylonian sages (the amoraim) who adopted, or were granted, the alternative title of rav. In the Talmud, therefore, the title rabbi refers either to a tanna or to a Palestinian amora, while rav refers to a Babylonian amora. The rabbi of the Talmud was therefore completely different from the present-day holder of the title. The talmudic rabbi was an interpreter and expounder of the Bible and the Oral Law, and almost invariably had an occupation whence he derived his livelihood. It was only in the Middle Ages that the rabbi became–in addition to, or instead of, the interpreter and decisor of the law–the teacher, preacher, and spiritual head of the Jewish congregation or community, and it is with this meaning of the word that this article deals. For the talmudic rabbi see Sages. In modern usage the word "rabbi" in Hebrew has sometimes become the equivalent of "mister." Thus every Jew called up to the reading of the Torah is invited to do so as "Rabbi So-and-So the son of Rabbi So-and-So," and for the rabbi as spiritual head the title ha-rav is employed.

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

Middle Ages

In medieval times, the title ha-rav denoted great scholarly standing and social reputation unconnected with the hierarchical structure of the yeshivot and geonim. In this sense it appears, for example, in various letters of the 10th–12th centuries, and in the Chronicle of Ahimaaz is used to describe the mysterious Aaron, while the chronicler Abraham ibn Daud employs these terms and their derivatives to define the generations of scholars – rabbanim – after the death of Hai Gaon. Relatively early in these centuries, the term rabbanim (now translated into English as Rabbanites) came to designate the mainstream of Orthodoxy in Judaism, which based itself on the authority of the Talmud and the geonim, as against the minority of the Karaites. Centralistic tendencies in the leadership of the gaonate and exilarchs are revealed in the tendency for one of these institutions to appoint from above the scholar who led the local community and in the main carried out the functions of judge (dayyan), bringing with him as his letter of appointment a "writ of judgeship" (pitka de-dayyanuta). What is known of their actual functioning, however, shows both that such appointees were in reality much more than judges only and that in fact local opinion had a say in their appointment. By the end of the 10th and beginning of the 11th century there were more and more cases of open local election by the community of a spiritual and moral leader.

Through their social functions rabbi and rabbinate carried over into the Middle Ages a medley of concepts and attitudes, the active elements being scholarship, judgeship, social-spiritual leadership, and example. A certain measure of religious authority attached to the concept of rabbi and to his person, deriving from the authority invested in the geonic academies and the outlook of their scholars, and also from the distant memories of the supreme authority of the mishnaic rabbi ordained by semikhah – the ordination of ancient times. These titles and designations never carried with them priestly or semi-priestly authority or functions. Prayer and leading in prayer, blessing of the people, and officiating in marriage and burial ceremonies never became an integral part of the conception of rabbinical office until the beginning of the 19th century, with the Reform movement. Some rabbis led in prayer and blessed the people, but until modern times this was no more than a matter of personal inclination. The supervision of marriage, and even more so of divorce proceedings, became an integral part of the rabbinic office, both because the payment for performing such functions became part of the stipend of the local rabbi, and because legal acumen was required, especially in the case of divorce. It would seem that from its earliest days preaching to the people was an integral part of the rabbinic function, the rabbi being both the authoritative scholarly expositor of law and morals, and the moral and spiritual leader of the people. At certain times and in certain regions scholarly exposition was regarded as the main part of preaching, while in others moral exhortation was seen as its main burden; both elements were always present in rabbinical preaching, though in varying proportions.

The weakening of centralistic institutions, as well as the continuing growth of Jewish communities in countries which had never known such leadership, increasingly augmented the importance of the local rabbi. Although the activities of many rabbis are known, in most cases neither income nor status are clearly apparent. Over the years the ideal has developed of the scholarly charisma of the rabbi asserting itself without recourse to official definitions. Ideally all rabbis are equal as officeholders; the only hierarchy ideally obtaining between them is that of personal intellectual and moral preeminence.

The office of rabbi was originally an honorary one on the principle that the Torah had to be taught free of charge. It was not until the 14th century that there is the first clear evidence of a rabbi receiving emoluments. When Simeon b. Zemah Duran fled from the anti-Jewish riots in Spain in 1391 and arrived in Algiers the local community wished to appoint him as rabbi. He pleaded inability to accept as he was penniless and had to earn a livelihood. In order to enable him to accept the position, a formula was worked out whereby instead of a salary for his services he was to receive sekhar battalah, i.e., compensation for loss of time due to his preoccupation with his rabbinic office. This remained the legal basis in Jewish law for a rabbi receiving a salary, even though in the modern period the rabbi's salary is generally regarded as in the category of a professional wage with contracts written between rabbis and their congregations.

In outward recognition of such preeminence, the various communities applied to a particular local rabbi for his personal responsa on different legal and theoretical matters. He would thus be given, de facto and personally, the authority vested in the geonim ex officio.

In both Ashkenazi and Sephardi centers rulers became aware relatively early of this new development in Jewish society. In the story of the Four Captives, Abraham ibn Daud describes the satisfaction of a local ruler in late tenth-century Muslim Spain, at having a scholarly Jewish authority in his country, independent of the geonim in Baghdad. The office of the rab de la corte in Castille and Arraby moor in Portugal, as well as appointments known from the 13th century of a Jewish Hochmeister for some regions of the German Empire (see, e.g., Meir Baruch of Rothenburg), and also similar appointments in France–all are related phenomena. They are manifestations both of the gradual institutionalization of the office of rabbi, and of the attempts by rulers and community leaders to structure a formal and fixed hierarchy out of fluid relationships based on scholarly and personal charisma. The responsa of the Sephardi Isaac b. Sheshet Perfet disclose a conflict surrounding the appointment to the office of rabbi of France in the 14th century, while other contemporary writings reveal the views of the Ashkenazi scholar Meir ha-Levi of Vienna on the nature of the rabbinate. All demand proven and attested knowledge, as well as integrity and excellence in character and conduct; and on these grounds candidates are approved and disqualified. The Ashkenazi scholar reveals a conception of a well-defined written diploma attesting to the knowledge and qualifications for a rabbi–the so-called semikhah diploma. For about a century–mainly in the 15th–Ashkenazi rabbis were titled manhig ("leader"), which shows their centrality in community life at that time. Sephardi society had its own ways of attesting these qualifications, without instituting such a diploma (see below). When Sephardim and Ashkenazim came in close contact after the expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula (1492–97), the institution of this diploma became a bone of contention, as is evidenced in the writings of Isaac Abrabanel. Ironically enough, the abortive attempt to resurrect the semikhah, made in 1538 by Jacob Berab and enthusiastically accepted by Joseph Caro, served to strengthen the Ashkenazi type of semikhah diploma and the medieval line of development of the office of rabbi, and also gave impetus to the development of the Shulḥan Arukh, the combined work of Joseph Caro and the Ashkenazi-Polish Moses Isserles (who was himself a royal appointee to the central rabbinate in Poland).

From the 14th century onward there emerged the concept of one rabbi for one locality–the mara de-atra ("the master of the locality"). Other scholars in his community were to submit to his authority, ex officio, a concept that took a long time to establish. In Poland-Lithuania of the 16th–17th centuries rabbinical office was linked to being a rosh yeshivah, thereby deriving much of its authority and prestige. In its main outline, though with various changes in details, this conception of the rabbi and his office remains to the present day that which in fact dominates the society and communities of Mitnaggedim wherever they are found, the religious establishment in the State of Israel, and communities of Hungarian and German Orthodoxy and Neo-Orthodoxy. In these circles the office and conception of the rabbi are those which have emerged from the Middle Ages: he is seen as scholar and teacher, judge and spiritual leader. His livelihood comes either from a fixed salary or from payments for functions performed, or from a combination of both. His rights and duties are often defined in a ketav rabbanut (letter of appointment to and acceptance of the rabbinic office, sometimes written as two separate documents), a custom deriving from the late Middle Ages. In the frame of this traditional rabbinate there have appeared in modern times centralistic trends, manifested, e.g., in the British office of chief rabbi for the U.K. and the dominions and the Chief Rabbinate in Ereẓ Israel. On the other hand, in the huge concentrations of Jewish population in modern cities, in the U.S. in particular, the concept of the mara deatra is on the point of vanishing and the rabbi there is mainly the rabbi of a synagogue congregation. In regions and communities where Ḥasidism prevails, the status and function of the rabbi as such have in many ways become subordinate to those of the ẓaddik.

The Reform movement, with its progressive rejection of traditionally received halakhah, has changed the very concept of rabbi. The Reform rabbi is judge no longer: he has become to a large degree, for the first time in the history of the rabbinate, a priest ordering the prayer service and leading it. In the U.S. in particular he is also becoming the social and even the socialite director of his synagogue congregation. The Conservative wing of Judaism, in particular in the U.S., is trying to combine both concepts of the rabbinate.

The Jewish Religious Leadership in the Muslim East

There is a scarcity of information concerning the religious leadership of the early Middle Ages in eastern lands. Extant fragments of records pertaining to such leadership date back only to the 12th century. Sources become more extensive beginning in the 16th century, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, and are found in the responsa of the eastern lands, especially from the Ottoman Empire. In this section the religious leadership will be discussed starting with the geonic era, although the title of "rabbi," in its usual sense of a scholar appointed over a community to decide and teach its religious regulations, was not used until the 12th century.

The geonim served as spiritual heads of the Babylonian or Palestinian communities, and in Babylonia they ruled alongside the exilarchs, who served as secular heads. The authority of the geonim extended over the borders of the Arabian caliphate due to their religious authority. Previously the exilarch had reserved the right to appoint judges, either alone or in consultation with the gaon. But during the decline of the exilarchate, the geonim appointed judges for most of Babylonia, granting them a "certificate of justiceship" (pitka de-dayyanuta).

In Ereẓ Israel the religious head of a community was known as a ḥaver (associated member of the Academy) and was ordained in the Palestinian academy. The ḥaver served as head of the community's rabbinical court once he had been empowered by the head of the academy. The Palestinian academies granted to ordained scholars the title of ḥaver be-Sanhedrin ha-Gedolah (member of the Great Sanhedrin); in Babylonia it was customary to call similar appointees alluf. At the same time the title of rav (rabbi) was common in Egypt, North Africa, and Spain.

The decline of the gaonate and the Palestinian Academy in the 11th century created some confusion regarding the rabbinate as a communal institution. There was no sufficient religious authority capable of continuing the traditional ordination (semikhah) or appointment of judges. Consequently, ordination was discontinued. In Spain, however, some religious heads of communities would grant their students a "writ of ordination" (ketav masmikh). Judah ben Barzillai al-Bargeloni declared in his Sefer ha-Shetarot that this writ was only reminiscent of the ancient ordination and that no actual semikhah could be given outside Ereẓ Israel. This type of document, he maintained, was awarded only for the purpose of encouraging students.

In the 1130s R. Joseph ibn Migash ordained Joseph ben Mamal by means of a ketav minnui (writ of appointment). Maimonides opposed the institution of the professional rabbi in the sense of a paid official; he preferred the ideal of the scholar who earns his living independently but serves as a communal teacher. Even in the geonic period in North Africa, there were scholars who received "appointments" to the rabbinate. R. Hushi'el b. Elhanan of Kairouan ordained his son Hananel and Nissim b. Jacob b. Nissim (Ibn Shahin). Abraham ibn Daud mentioned in his Sefer ha-Kabbalah that after the deaths of Hananel and Nissim b. Jacob the tradition was discontinued, although judges officiated in Mahdia and Qalat Hammad without ordination. In the geonic period the title of ha-rav ha-rosh (chief rabbi) was widespread in North Africa. It was awarded by the academy in Pumbedita to designate the head of a famous rabbinical court.

In Spain the rank of dayyan (judge) was higher than that of rabbi. Certain individuals were empowered to punish offenders and bore the right to judge alone. Important authorities, such as Maimonides and his father Maimon, were called dayyan. The position of dayyan was more highly regarded in Spain than in the eastern lands after the expulsion. In those countries the hakham ("scholar") gained prominence, although the dayyan reserved the right to appoint a hakham or to empower even ordinary individuals with the right to judge. Two examples are known of appointment of rabbis by the government in the 14th and 15th centuries: Joseph Sasportas who was invested with judicial powers in the kingdom of Tlemcen and Isaac b. Sheshet Perfet, who was appointed by the government of Algiers. Isaac b. Sheshet Perfet (second half of the 14th century) wrote that in Germany, as well, it was customary to award a "writ of ordination," although in Spain it was considered sufficient if a teacher gave permission to his student to act as congregational religious leader.

The arrival of Spanish and Portuguese refugees in eastern lands aroused a serious conflict concerning "ordination" as practiced by the native Ashkenazim and Romaniots. An example of this was the controversy about Messer David ben Judah Leon, an "ordained" scholar and leader in Jewish education in Avilona (Valona), Albania, in the early 16th century. Rabbi David Cohen of Corfu supported Leon and stated that the method of ordination in use at least served to deter those not fit to decide the halakhah. David Cohen himself had received "ordination." Elijah Mizraḥi opposed the Sephardi refugees who claimed that no one could ordain once the Sanhedrin no longer existed. Nonetheless, the Ashkenazim did influence some Eastern Sephardi communities to practice "ordination." However the significance of the ordination was completely different from the Ashkenazi ordination. The responsa cite several examples of writs of appointment containing the phrase "yoreh, yoreh, yadin, yadin" ("he will teach, he will judge"), sometimes adding "yattir, yattir" ("he will permit"); this was the text of ordination customary in the talmudic period. One factor which soothed the conflict was the public's reluctance to accept Ashkenazi ordination as an automatic qualification for communal leadership. The idea of reinstituting the traditional ordination as known in ancient times continued to excite scholars until the 16th century, when Jacob Berab relied on the words of Maimonides in his attempt to ordain certain scholars. This act aroused negative reactions and a fresh conflict continued for two generations.

When the Spanish and Portuguese refugees reached the Ottoman Empire, they organized communities according to their origins, each preserving its own traditions. Due to the absence of ordination, the spiritual leader in these communities was mainly called ḥakham or marbiẓ Torah ("teacher of the Torah"). Other titles in use were dayyan, ḥaver beit hadin, kaḥin ve-rosh, moreh ẓedek, and moreh hora'ah; these titles were not limited to congregational leaders in the strict sense. In Erez Israel, Egypt, and Syria, however, the title marbiẓ Torah was replaced by ḥakham and in North Africa by moreh ẓedek. A rabbi in charge of all or most congregations in a city was called ha-rav ha-kolel ("the 'supreme' rabbi").

The marbiẓ Torah or ḥakham was the highest religious authority in his district. To qualify for his office he had to be expert in all fields of halakhah. He preached publicly on Sabbaths and holidays. Frequently he acted as chief controller over foundations and bequests and organized the redemption of hostages. In small communities he often served as a scribe or notary. The marbiẓ Torah judged in matters of marriage, divorce, ḥaliẓah, and monetary disputes generally alone but sometimes joined by two laymen to strengthen the verdict as having been passed in a court of three. Claims between people of different communities were judged by the marbiẓ Torah of the defendant's community. He was also responsible for judging in matters of ritual fitness and maintaining standards of morality in the city. Generally, his office was not inherited.

The marbiẓ Torah was usually treated with respect and admiration. He was paid an ample wage and honored with set marks of etiquette; the congregation stood when he entered and allowed him to pass first through the synagogue or street. He occupied a fixed seat in the synagogue and when he died he was buried with special marks of honor. Certain congregations purposely left the late leader's office vacant for a considerable period to show deference to their loss.

On the other hand there is record of conflicts between the marbiẓ Torah and members of his congregation. Sometimes his knowledge of halakhah was questioned or sometimes competition between two scholars for the same office would cause conflicts or a split in the community; many marbiẓei Torah are known to have been dismissed from their positions. An ḥakham who was disregarded or dishonored could excommunicate his opponents, and sometimes members of his congregation took measures to curb his powers of excommunication if used too freely.

From the late 15th century the Eastern communities felt the need for a central rabbinate that would assume the overall religious and administrative leadership that lay beyond the province of the local marbiẓei Torah. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries this office had already been filled by the two chief rabbis of the Romaniots, Moses Capsali and Elijah Mizraḥi, both in Constantinople, who were called rav kolel, ha-rav ha-manhig ("leading rabbi"), or ha-rav ha-gadol ("grand rabbi"). They were appointed by the government and given a permit known as the hurman to collect Jewish taxes. For the privilege of maintaining this office, the community had to pay a special tax, known as rav aqchesi ("white (i.e., silver) coin for the permit to have a rabbi"). This tax had to be paid even in the 17th century long after the office of chief rabbi had been discontinued. After the death of Elijah Mizraḥi, there was no longer any one figure who filled this position; rabbinical councils, however, frequently met in various cities on important matters. At this time there was a growing feeling among the Sephardim to grant high office to great rabbis of the generation. Samuel de Medina was recognized as chief rabbi in Salonika, and Jacob Berab filled the same office in Safed. In almost every large community there was a rav kolel who was not appointed by the government but by the Jews themselves. The rav kolel performed all tasks of the marbiẓ Torah and was also head of the rabbinical court or of a yeshivah. Often he was called reish mata (Aramaic: "head of the city"). In Izmir (Smyrna) it was customary for two chief rabbis to serve simultaneously, one in charge of civil law, the other in charge of ritual; both were called ha-rav ha-gadol. Their subordinate rabbis were called morei ẓedek. In this city there was a time when four chief rabbis ruled simultaneously. The ḥakhamim devoted all their time to the study of Torah and as such were exempt from taxes; an ordinance which fixed this exemption was drafted in Jerusalem in the early 16th century. The exemption applied to any ḥakham rashum ("recorded rabbi") who served as marbiẓ Torah or filled a spiritual position.

In other eastern countries, additional titles were awarded attesting the outstanding scholarship or eminence of the leader. The names navon ("understanding") or maskil ("wise, erudite") were used generally for young scholars who had acquired a fair knowledge of halakhah. The term ḥakham vatik ("senior" or "conscientious scholar"), despite its literal meaning, was also used for younger leaders. The name he-ḥakham ha-shalem was used to distinguish well-known important rabbis, marbiẓei Torah, heads of academies, and rabbinical courts.

Beginning in 1836 the Ottoman regime established the office of ḥakham bashi (head of the rabbis) in Constantinople. The incumbent had to be a citizen of the empire. Eventually similar offices were established in the capitals of big provinces. The exact duties and privileges of the ḥakham bashi were fixed in 1864. The hakham bashi of Constantinople exercised authority over all other rabbis in the empire (including the rishon le-Zion in Ereẓ Israel). In Egypt the ḥakham bashi was the only authority to decide ritual matters and was accompanied by a judge who had the right to sit alone. The Jewish community in Ereẓ Israel appointed a chief rabbi known as the rishon le-Zion ("first of Zion"). Although this title existed from the 17th century, it was not officially recognized until 1842, when the incumbent rishon le-Zion was named ḥakham bashi of Ereẓ Israel. In 1874 a ḥakham bashi was appointed in Tripoli (North Africa) and soon the title became so popular that almost every North African community had its ḥakham bashi.

There were also chief rabbis who were heads of rabbinical courts in Tunis, Djerba, in Algeria and Morocco.

In smaller cities in Morocco, which did not possess rabbinical courts, a rabbin délégué was appointed who acted as a one-man court and a community representative before the government. In Morocco there were some families who reserved the dynastic right (serarah) to serve as rabbis and judges. No parallel custom is found in any other land. Soleiman Kareh was appointed in 1872 ḥakham bashi of Yemen by the Turkish regime. In that country the ḥakham bashi was the highest legal and religious authority. After Kareh the position of ḥakham bashi was held intermittently and for short durations. In each village and town in Yemen, the mori served as rabbi, judge, and teacher. The Yemenite rabbis earned their livings mainly as slaughterers, goldsmiths, and teachers.

[Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky]

Modern Period

Since the emancipation era, the functions of the rabbi, particularly in Western countries, have undergone a radical change to which various factors contributed. In the first place, the governments of the various countries abolished the right of jurisdiction previously granted to the Jews in civil law, in consequence of which the function of the rabbi as judge in civil litigation and the need to study Ḥoshen Mishpat (the Jewish civil code) for practical purposes no longer existed. Moreover, even matters of ritual and matrimonial law which remained within the sphere of Jewish jurisdiction were dealt with, in these countries, not by the individual rabbi, but by a central bet din, these functions being fulfilled by the dayyan. In the second place, with the entry of the Jews into general life the need became increasingly felt for the rabbis to be equipped with a wider knowledge than was regarded as necessary for the medieval rabbi in the Jewish community, in both Jewish spheres–Jewish history, literature, homiletics, and Juedische Wissenschaft generally–and in purely secular branches. This need, felt internally, was powerfully reinforced when the governments of various countries, commencing with Emperor Franz Joseph in Austria in 1848 and extending to other countries, demanded a certain standard of general education as a condition of recognizing rabbis. When the existing yeshivot refused to countenance any change in their traditional syllabus, which was almost wholly confined to Talmud and the codes, the need was met by the establishment of rabbinical seminaries which provided a comprehensive curriculum of Jewish studies (with a lessened stress on Talmud and codes), which was generally supplemented by a university education. The modern rabbi, whether Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, was largely the product of these institutions. A major transformation in the makeup of the rabbinate in liberal denominations (Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist) from the 1970s into the 21st century has been the ordination of women.

functions of the rabbi

The function of the modern rabbi varied somewhat in the various countries according to local conditions. Thus in England he approximated until recently more to the cantor than in any other country. His official title in the United Synagogue was "minister-preacher," while his colleague was the "minister-reader," both sharing the conduct of the weekly and Sabbath services and the reading of the Torah. In England, France, and Germany the wearing of canonicals was obligatory, while in France the organizational aspects of the rabbinate was largely determined by the Consistory. Nevertheless there are general lines of similarity which applied equally to all. Preaching, of course in the vernacular, occupied a place of prime importance, out of all proportion to the old-fashioned rabbi who generally limited his public discourses to two halakhic-aggadic addresses per year (see Preaching). The modern rabbi was expected to devote much of his time to pastoral work, establishing a personal bond between himself and his congregants, visiting the sick, officiating at benei mitzvahs, marriages, funerals, and houses of mourning as a matter of course. He was expected to take part in all social, educational, and philanthropic activities of the congregation. Above all he was looked to as the spokesman of the Jewish community to the larger community, though the extent of this participation varied in different countries, being most extensive in the United States. The influence of the larger denominations, particularly the Protestant Church, was marked. Until recent times in England it was de rigueur for the rabbi to wear a clerical collar, while the garb of the French rabbi in synagogue was identical with that of the Protestant pastor. In England Chief Rabbis Adler and Hertz donned the gaiters and the silk hat with cockade of the Anglican bishop at official functions. Recent years have witnessed a departure from those models to a considerable extent, and a closer proximation to those of the old school, partly under the influence of the yeshivot and the revival of Orthodoxy.

In England particularly, as in the countries which constituted the British Empire for which it served as a model, it was not even regarded as essential that the rabbi should acquire the rabbinical diploma (it was actually forbidden by Chief Rabbi Herman Adler, who essayed to establish the principle that he was the only rabbi for the British Empire) and the title "reverend" was coined for them. This situation changed considerably, but a student of Jews College still graduates and is qualified to accept a position on obtaining the minister's diploma, which is less than the rabbinical diploma and carries with it the title "reverend." In all other countries, without exception, and among Reform and Conservative, as well as Orthodox, the only title borne by the spiritual leader is rabbi, apart from the Sephardi congregations where he is called Haham (ḥakham). In England, France, and South Africa, in which the various congregations are united in one roof organization, the rabbi tended more and more to become a local congregational functionary, the chief rabbi alone representing the community as a whole both in religious matters and vis-à-vis the non-Jewish world. In the United States (see below) and Canada, where the tendency is for each congregation to be an independent unit, his sphere of activities was much wider. In the United States, Canada, and England, and in other countries where yeshivah education developed, a return to the old conception of the classic Eastern European rabbi in appearance, outlook, and function is apparent within limited pockets of strict Orthodox Judaism.

Jacqueline Tabick, the first female rabbi in the United Kingdom, was ordained in 1975 by Leo Baeck College, an institution under the joint sponsorship of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain and the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues.

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]


Some special features characterized the German rabbinate until the Holocaust. In the debates on emancipation the question of the training and functions of the rabbis played an important part. In Prussia, which had the largest number of Jews, successive legislation beginning with the "Religionsedikt" of 1788 to the community law of 1847, had more or less ignored the position of the rabbi, leaving it to the communities whether to appoint rabbis at all, and if they did, they were shorn of their traditional authority, becoming mere functionaries, whose opinion in religious matters could be ignored by the lay leaders. Opinions given by prominent Jews such as Gumpert, Muhr, Rubo, and even Zunz had declared the rabbinical office to be altogether dispensable; rabbis were considered mere "Kauscherwaechters" (Kashrut Supervisors) and protests to the contrary remained ineffective. Their rabbinical jurisdiction had been abolished in 1811 (in Altona-Schleswig-Holstein as late as 1863) and when the last chief rabbi of Berlin, Hirschel Lewin, appointed under the "General Juden Reglement" of 1750, died in 1800, his position was not filled again. Yet rabbis of the old school were in positions of religious authority to the middle of the century, such as Akiva Eger (d. 1837) and his son Solomon (d. 1852) in Posen. The Law of 1847 required government confirmation of rabbinical appointments, though they were not considered public functionaries. The constitution of the Bismarckian Reich gave rabbis equal status with Christian clergy in some respects. States like Hanover, Electoral Hesse, and Schleswig-Holstein, which were later incorporated in Prussia, retained their previously adopted Jewish community organization in which rabbis had the official status of Landrabbiner, Provinzialrabbiner, etc. Even where rabbis possessed no legal status, they were in fact recognized as the representatives and spokesmen of the Jewish faith and community, sat on the advisory educational boards, were given chaplaincy commissions, etc. In most other German states the new laws regulating the life of Jewish communities (Bavaria, 1813; Wurtemberg, 1828; Baden, 1809; grand-duchy of Hesse, 1841) recognized the official position of rabbis providing for offices of Landrabbiner, Konferenzrabbiner, Bezirksrabbiner or just local rabbis, regulating their qualifications, duties, emoluments, garb, etc. In several of these states they had to face examinations before specially appointed government boards. The new type of rabbi who emerged spoke High German and possessed besides rabbinical training a higher and often university education. This was not limited to Liberal and Reform rabbis; it applied to the Orthodox rabbinate as well as exemplified by such men as J. Ettlinger, I. Bernays, M. Sachs, S.R. Hirsch, and A. Hildesheimer. The transition from the new to the old was not without struggle as shown by the controversy about A. Geiger's appointment in Breslau. The emerging Wissenschaft des Judentums was both creative of and created by this modern type of rabbi. At first, at least, their individual and collective authority within the community was paramount, while rabbinical conferences and synods were shaping a new non-Orthodox Judaism. Rabbinical seminaries of the three main religious trends (Breslau, Hildesheimer, and Hochschule) trained these modem rabbis. Their students could not always be clearly classified. Orthodox ones could be found at Breslau and the Hochschule, while some non-Orthodox rabbis qualified at the Hildesheimer Seminary. A large part of the future rabbis hailed from Germany's eastern provinces or from East European countries where they had received the traditional yeshivah training. Toward the end of the 19th century and after World War i new yeshivot (the last of the old yeshivot was closed in 1865) were established in Germany itself, while some rabbinical students enrolled in eastern yeshivot. This raised both the qualifications and standing of the Orthodox rabbinate.

With this went a general lowering of their status and authority, with the lay leadership, qualified by mere professional or financial success, in the ascendancy. Most rabbis were no longer given a "call," but had to apply for advertised positions. They were now officials rather than leaders, without a vote and even a voice on their communities' administration. Even by 1922 there was only one congregation in Germany on whose board the rabbi had a seat and later became its chairman. Vigorous protests from within the rabbinate were of no avail. Only the Nazi persecutions brought about some belated change.

The rabbi usually taught at the community's religious school as well as to Jewish pupils in the state high schools. Adult education emerged gradually after World War i and became an important function in the Nazi period. Public relations with the non-Jewish community, such as lecturing, participation in public functions and social and educational work in general, occupied a considerable part of the rabbi's time. His relations to his congregation were regulated by private contract; his salary was usually adequate for maintaining a middle-class standard of living, incidental fees being paid into the community's funds.

In the larger communities with several synagogues a division developed between the community rabbi and the synagogue rabbi. In many parts of Germany, where rural, rabbi-less communities survived in great number, district rabbis, with their seat in state or provincial capitals, were in charge of their religious needs. Even after 1918, when the separation of church and state had led to the abolition of the 19th-century laws, the titles of Oberrabiner, Landesrabbiner, or Provinzialrabbiner survived as a historical relic, without much significance, unless it meant the care of rural communities. There was at no time a German chief rabbi. When, under the Nazis, Leo Baeck became president of the Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden, his being a (liberal) rabbi was incidental.

Regina *Jonas, the first woman to receive rabbinic ordination, was a 1930 graduate of the Hochschule fuer die Wisenschaft des Judentums (College of Jewish Studies) in Berlin. She received private ordination in 1935 from Max Dienemann, one of the rabbinic leaders of German Liberal Judaism.

From the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 until World War i, many German rabbis served as army chaplains. The needs of German Jewry under the Nazi regime produced the office of Youth Rabbi; the social–and educational–responsibilities of the rabbi in this tragic period increased manifold.

In 1884 German rabbis united in the "Verband der Rabbiner Deutschlands," which in 1896 became the "Allgemeiner Rabbinerverband in Deutschland," though some Orthodox rabbis refused to join. The Orthodox, on their side, established in 1897 their own "Vereinigung traditionell-gesetzestreuer Rabbiner" while an "Orthodoxer Rabbinerver-band" excluded those rabbis who served in "mixed" Reform-Orthodox communities. Another source of controversy was emerging Zionism; the great majority of German Jews were anti-Zionist and their assimilated leaders even more so; a great number of rabbis had signed the famous protest against the holding of the First Zionist Congress (see Protestrabbiner). This led to a head-on conflict with some of the younger rabbis who had embraced Zionism, as in the case of Emil Bernard Cohn, who was dismissed from his post by the Berlin Jewish community board for propagating Zionism.

[Alexander Carlebach]

In the U.S.

The status and role of the contemporary rabbi in North America exhibit some unique features which can best be understood in the light of the historical development of the synagogue as the central institution in the Jewish community.

The North American cultural and social development accepted the concept of differences based on faith, but has resisted differences based on other criteria. A full treatment of this sociological phenomenon can be found in W. Herberg's Protestant-Catholic-Jew (1955). The Eastern European community, from which most North American Jews and their ancestors emigrated, was based on ethnic and other national minority differences. In the "melting pot" process, allowances were made for such concepts as Jewish nationality on the one hand, while on the other various ethnic minorities that make up the North American community (with the possible growing exception of the French-Canadian and the black-American separatists) assimilated to a cultural climate in which only differences of faith are recognized and where each community is given equal status and dignity unrelated to the number of its adherents.

Insofar as earlier immigrant generations attended churches and synagogues, they probably preferred those where the language and customs of their countries of origin were used in worship and pulpit. Norwegian Lutherans attended churches where Norwegian was used, Italian Catholics where Italian was used. Their children and grandchildren however chose to affiliate with a place of worship which was American in loyalty and composition. The place of worship became a center around which gravitated social and cultural activities which previously had been the functions of societies and clubs of a strong ethnic flavor. In the Jewish community particularly, many of the functions previously performed by Hebrew communal schools, Zionist youth movements, philanthropic activities, and social action committees, became increasingly centered in the synagogue which developed into the comprehensive Jewish Center. The latter often was the only functioning Jewish institution in the community with adequate building, constituency, and professional leadership. Besides being spiritual leader, interpreter of Jewish law, and preacher, the rabbi tended more and more to become the senior Jewish professional in the community. This was equally true of the rabbi of a Conservative, Orthodox, Reform, or unaffiliated congregation. He came to interpret the Jewish tradition not only to the members of his congregation, but also to their Christian neighbors. He had to assume responsibility for all aspects of Jewish education. National and international Jewish organizations looked to him for influence. During the first decades of this century, the Reform rabbi tended to represent the total Jewish community to its neighbors. This function later came to be performed by rabbis of all denominations. The field of counseling has become a part of the modern rabbi's schooling. In the U.S. both the Reform and Conservative rabbinical training schools include courses in pastoral psychiatry for their students. These institutions also maintain pastoral psychiatry centers for research, marriage counseling, etc.

In recent years, the modern rabbi has played an increasing role in the general field of human relations or civil rights, and organizations dealing with them as a general rule increasingly tend to have a rabbi either on their staff or as an elected president. For example, the American Jewish Congress has almost invariably elected a rabbi as president, after the election of Stephen Wise, its first rabbi president. One of the reasons is that when they participate in government or communal affairs, they often prefer that a rabbi represent them since their counterparts are likely to be Protestant or Catholic clergymen. The modern rabbi tends to model himself after the paradigm (and often the founders) of his rabbinical seminary and professional associations, e.g., Sabato Morais and Isaac Meyer Wise, the first presidents of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Hebrew Union College respectively, who took forthright, if different, positions on the merits of the American Civil War. Alumni of all the American Jewish seminaries played central roles as social activists, Zionists or anti-Zionist leaders.

The status of the modern rabbi is probably best reflected in the number of institutions established by the different Jewish denominations to educate future rabbis (see *Rabbinical Seminaries).

[Wolfe Kelman]

The ordination of women as rabbis has transformed the rabbinate in North America. In 1972, in response to changing public attitudes and social realities, the leadership of the Reform movement approved the ordination of Sally *Priesand by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. By the beginning of the 21st century, several hundred women had been ordained as rabbis in North America, the United Kingdom, and Israel, and as many as half of rabbinical students in seminaries of liberal denominations of Judaism, including those of the Conservative/Masorti and Reconstructionist movements, were female. The paths of rabbis who are women have not been free of obstacles. Many female clergy hold subordinate positions in larger synagogues, or work as educators or chaplains, rather than senior leaders of congregations. These occupational patterns are a not only a reflection of persistent cultural prejudices towards women as religious authority figures, but also of many women's choices of rabbinic options that allow them time for the demands of home and family.

[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]

In Israel

The rabbinate and the functions of the rabbi in modern Israel differ fundamentally from their counterparts in any other part of the Jewish world, whether ancient or modern. A number of factors have contributed toward this unique state of affairs. In the first place there is the law of the State of Israel which establishes the halakhah as state law in all matters affecting personal status, which includes marriage, divorce, legitimacy, and conversion and affords the rabbinical courts the status of civil courts of law within that wide sphere. This, coupled with the fact that the Ministry of Religious Affairs was, apart from one brief interregnum, the prerogative of the (Orthodox) National Religious Party, has had the effect of making Orthodox Judaism to all intents and purposes the "established church" of the state, to the virtual exclusion of other religious trends in Judaism, Conservative and Reform, which have only a handful of congregations, mostly composed of recently arrived immigrants belonging to those trends in the countries of their origin.

A second factor determining the complexion and the functions of the rabbinate is the establishment of the twin Orthodox chief rabbinate (Ashkenazi and Sephardi) which are state appointments, and similar twin chief rabbinates in the larger cities. These local rabbinates and chief rabbinates are administered by the local religious councils, which are nominated through a complicated system of political party representation and the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and it is to all intents controlled by the ministry. These councils consist of Orthodox Jews. All appointments of rabbis must be confirmed by the chief rabbis and the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

A third factor is the fact that almost without exception the rashei yeshivot, who exercise a powerful influence in Israel, as well as the other rabbis who belong to the Agudat Israel (to which the rashei yeshivot also mostly belong), regard the National Religious Party and the chief rabbis who owe their appointments to their support as tending toward heterodoxy, a charge which they are at great pains to disprove or dispel. As a result, they are unduly apprehensive of any move which might be regarded as progressive or "reform." To these considerations must be added two others. The Ashkenazi rabbinate continues wholly the tradition of the classical Eastern European rabbinate, and the new incumbents to the rabbinate are wholly the products of the yeshivot, while the Sephardi rabbinate equally continues in their old traditions. Lastly, the synagogue in Israel is, with only a handful of exceptions, not a congregational entity with fixed membership but a place for worship and study.

All these factors add up to the distinctive features of the rabbinate and the functions of the rabbis in Israel. Next to the chief rabbis the hierarchy consists of the dayyanim of the Supreme Bet Din of Appeal, followed by the dayyanim of the district courts. They are classified as civil judges with the emoluments and privileges of judges, and their functions are wholly judicial and not pastoral. Next in importance, and in receipt of salaries from the religious councils, are a host of rabbis who act as religious functionaries with specific and limited duties such as inspection of kashrut, of mikva'ot, of the eruv, of the adherence to the various agricultural laws, etc. They also, by nature of their functions, perform no pastoral duties. Next in the scale come district rabbis, also appointed by the religious councils. In theory they are charged with the welfare of the community within the district over which they have been appointed, but with few exceptions they regard their position as a sinecure. Lowest on the scale come, what in theory is the nearest approach to the Western rabbi, the rabbi of a synagogue. In the absence of a regularly constituted congregation, however, and with no official source of income, they are financially the least rewarded. Few synagogues pay anything approaching a living wage to these rabbis. They mostly depend upon one of the other rabbinic functions referred to for their livelihood, and their appointments largely commence as de facto ones which sometimes develop into uneasy de jure ones. In the absence of the congregational unit with its duly paid-up membership, and the consequent lack of personal bond between rabbi and worshiper, there is nothing in the rabbinate in Israel which approaches the pastoral aspect of the work of the modern rabbi. Marriages are performed by duly appointed officials of the local religious councils, funerals by the various ḥevrakaddisha organizations. Visiting the sick is not regarded as the function of the rabbi of a synagogue; cultural activities apart from the shi'urim in rabbinics are undertaken by other agencies, as is youth work and philanthropic activity. The virtual nonexistence of regular preaching should be noted.

The cumulative effect of this situation is that the Western-trained rabbi even of Orthodox Jewry finds it hard to find a place in the rabbinate in Israel. Of all those who have immigrated few have been appointed to a rabbinical position in Israel, and most find their livelihood in other spheres.

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]


Middle Ages: Baron, Community, index; Baron, Social2, index volume to vols. 1–8 (1960), 126; S. Assaf, in: Reshumot, 2 (1927), 259–99; Neuman, Spain, 2 (1942), index; Finkelstein, Middle Ages; S. Schwarzfuchs, Études sur l'origine et le developpement de Rabbinat au Moyen-Age (1957); H.H. Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-Hanhagah (1959), 160–228; J. Katz, Masoret u-Mashber (1958), index, s.v.Rav, Rabbanut; idem, in: Sefer Zikkaron… B. de Vries (1968), 281–94; S. Spitzer, in: Bar Ilan Sefer ha-Shanah, 7–8 (1970), 261–79. Muslim East: Rosanes, Togarmah; Mann, Texts; Mann, Egypt; idem, in: jqr, 7 (1916/17), 457ff.; D. Revel, in: Horeb, 5 (1939), 1–26; H.Z. Hirschberg, in: Religion in the Middle East, 1 (1969), 119–225; Hirschberg, Afrikah, index; Baer, Spain, index; Baer, Urkunden, 2 (1936), index; H.H. Ben-Sasson, Toledot Am Yisrael bi-Ymei ha-Beinayim (1969); Neuman, Spain, index; M. Benayahu, Marbiẓ Torah (1953); idem, in: Sefer… Baer (1961), 248–69; S. Assaf, Le-Korot ha-Rabbanut (1943); idem, Battei ha-Din… (1924); Assaf, Geonim; Neubauer, Chronicles; Ibn Daud, Tradition; J.M. Landau, Ha-Yehudim be-Miẓrayim ba-Me'ah ha-Tesha Esreh (1967); A. Elmaleh, Ha-Rishonim le-Ẓiyyon (1970); Saloniki Ir va-Em be-Yisrael (1967); I.S. Emmanuel, Maẓẓevot Saloniki, 2 vols. (1963–68); Ashtor, Korot; Ashtor Toledot; A. Ben-Jacob, Yehudei Bavel (1965); M.S. Goodblatt, Jewish Life in Turkey in the xvith Century… (1952); M. Zadoc, Yehudei Teiman (1967); S.D. Goitein, Sidrei Ḥinnukh (1965). Modern Period: Sulamith, 2 (1809), 300–5; S. Holdheim, Ueber die Autonomie der Rabbiner… (18472); L. Auerbach, Das Judentum und seine Bekenner (1890), 284ff.; B. Jacobs, Die Stellung des Rabbiners (1910); Paul Lazarus Gedenkbuch (1961); M.S. Gelber, Failure of the American Rabbi (1962); M.M. Berman, The Role of the Rabbi, What Was, What Is, and What Shall the Rabbi Be (1941); A.Y. Feldman, The American Reform Rabbi (1962); L.M. Franklin, The Rabbi, the Man and his Message (1938); R. Hertz, The Rabbi Yesterday and Today (1943); G.D. Cohen, Studies in the Variety of Rabbinic Cultures (1991); J.R. Marcus and A.J. Peck (eds.), The American Rabbinate; a Century of Continuity and Change, 1883–1980 (1985); I.H. Sharfman, The First Rabbi: Origins of Conflict between Orthodox and Reform (1988); S. Schwarzfuchs, A Concise History of the Rabbinate (1993); R. Patai and E.S. Goldsmith (eds.), Thinkers and Teachers of Modern Judaism, 1994); L. Bernstein, Challenge and Mission: the Emergence of the English Speaking Orthodox Rabbinate (1982). add. bibliography: P. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis (1998); S. Sheridan, Hear Our Voice: Women Rabbis Tell Their Stories (1994).

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Rabbi, Rabbinate