REBBETZIN , Yiddish honorific for the wife of a rabbi. Although no such title existed in ancient Judaism, its emergence in medieval and early modern Central and Eastern Europe indicates that rabbis' wives frequently assumed an elevated status in Jewish society deriving from their husbands' religious roles and from their own activities. Rabbis tended to marry daughters of elite families who had often received Jewish educations superior to those of most women. Many learned rebbetzins, such as the 12th-century *Dulcea of Worms, took on a variety of spiritual and communal functions. These could include leading worship in the women's section of the synagogue and teaching prayers and responses to other women as well as coordinating bridal arrangements, preparing corpses for burial, and dispensing charity. Rebbetzins were regarded as reliable witnesses of their husbands' rulings on ritual matters, particularly related to Jewish dietary laws, and they might be consulted for legal testimony as to their husbands' customary practices.
In a social setting which honored scholarship above economic success, the rebbetzin frequently supported her family financially while her husband devoted himself to study. In some European communities the rebbetzin had a monopoly on the sale of yeast; she might also be compensated for providing refreshments following religious events at which her husband officiated. Literary portrayals of the rebbetzin in East European Jewish culture can be found in the writings of such authors as Chaim *Grade (Rabbis and Wives, 1982) and Isaac Bashevis *Singer (In My Father's Court, 1966).
In more recent times, the rebbetzin in all denominations of Judaism was expected to fulfill a number of social, communal, and educational functions within her husband's congregation. Prior to the introduction of female ordination in non-Orthodox forms of Judaism, some women who became rebbetzins built on their husbands' positions to achieve their own independent roles as teachers and representatives of Jewish life within their communities and the larger non-Jewish world. With changing social mores and increased professional opportunities for Jewish women in many fields, it had become less common by the early 21st century for rabbis' spouses in Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Judaism to follow these patterns. However, within Orthodox Jewish communities, the rebbetzin, more frequently known by the Hebrew designation rabbanit, continued to fulfill traditional expectations, serving as a domestic hostess to her husband's congregation and as an educator and counselor to female congregants. Some rebbetzins continued to achieve renown on their own terms, as inspirational teachers and charismatic counselors for women in their communities.
I.I. Etkes, "Marriage and Torah Study among the Lomdim in Lithuania in the Nineteenth Century," in: D. Kraemer (ed.), The Jewish Family: Metaphor and Memory (1989), 153–78; S.J. Landau-Chark, "Whither the Rebbetzin in the Twenty-First Century?," www.utoronto.ca/wjudaism/contemporary/articles/a_landauchark.html; S.R. Schwartz, The Rabbi's Wife: The Rebbetzin in American Jewish Life (2006).
[Judith R. Baskin (2nd ed.)]