In Judaism, a rabbi /ˈræbaɪ/ is a teacher of Torah. The basic form
of the rabbi developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era, when learned
teachers assembled to codify Judaism's written and oral laws. The
first sage for whom the
Mishnah uses the title of rabbi was Yohanan
ben Zakkai, active in the early-to-mid first century CE. In more
recent centuries, the duties of a rabbi became increasingly influenced
by the duties of the Protestant Christian minister, hence the title
"pulpit rabbis", and in 19th-century Germany and the United States
rabbinic activities including sermons, pastoral counseling, and
representing the community to the outside, all increased in
Within the various
Jewish denominations there are different
requirements for rabbinic ordination, and differences in opinion
regarding who is to be recognized as a rabbi. For example, Orthodox
Judaism does not ordain women as rabbis, but other movements have
chosen to do so for halakhic reasons (Conservative Judaism) as well as
ethical reasons (Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism).
3 Historical overview
3.2 Middle Ages
3.3 18th–19th centuries
4.1 Orthodox and Haredi Judaism
4.1.1 Orthodox and Modern-Orthodox
4.1.2 Haredi Judaism
4.2 Liberal Judaism
4.2.1 Conservative Judaism
4.2.2 Reform Judaism
4.2.3 Reconstructionist Judaism
4.2.4 Non-orthodox seminaries unaffiliated with main denominations
5 Interdenominational recognition
Modern Orthodox trends
7 See also
9 Further reading
9.1 Women in Non-Orthodox Judaism
9.2 Women in Orthodox Judaism
10 External links
The Hebrew word "master" רב rav [ˈʀäv], (irregular plural
רבנים rabanim [ʀäbäˈnim]), which literally means "great
one", is the original Hebrew form of the title. The form of the title
in English and many other languages derives from the possessive form
in Hebrew of rav: רַבִּי rabbi [ˈʀäbbi], meaning "My
Master", which is the way a student would address a master of Torah.
The word 'Rav' in turn derives from the
Semitic root ר-ב-ב (R-B-B),
which in biblical
Aramaic means "great" in many senses, including
"revered", but appears primarily as a prefix in construct forms.
Although the usage rabbim "many" (as 1 Kings 18:25,
הָרַבִּים) "the majority, the multitude" occurs for the
assembly of the community in the
Dead Sea scrolls
Dead Sea scrolls there is no evidence
to support an association with the later title "Rabbi." The root is
cognate to Arabic ربّ rabb, meaning "lord" (generally used when
talking about God, but also about temporal lords). As a sign of great
respect, some great rabbis are simply called "The Rav".
Rabbi is not an occupation found in the Hebrew Bible, and ancient
generations did not employ related titles such as Rabban, Ribbi, or
Rab to describe either the Babylonian sages or the sages in Israel.
The titles "Rabban" and "Rabbi" are first mentioned in the
200 CE). The term was first used for Rabban Gamaliel the elder, Rabban
Simeon his son, and Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, all of whom were
patriarchs or presidents of the Sanhedrin. The title "Rabbi" occurs
(in Greek transliteration ῥαββί rhabbi) in the books of Matthew,
Mark, and John in the New Testament, where it is used in reference to
"Scribes and Pharisees" as well as to Jesus.
Sephardic and Yemenite
Jews pronounce this word רִבִּי
ribbī ; the modern Israeli pronunciation רַבִּי rabi is
derived from an 18th-century innovation in
Ashkenazic prayer books,
although this vocalization is also found in some ancient sources.
Other variants are rəvī and, in Yiddish, rebbə. The word could be
compared to the Syriac word ܪܒܝ rabi.
In ancient Hebrew, rabbi was a proper term of address while speaking
to a superior, in the second person, similar to a vocative case. While
speaking about a superior, in the third person one could say ha-rav
("the Master") or rabbo ("his Master"). Later, the term evolved into a
formal title for members of the Patriarchate. Thus, the title gained
an irregular plural form: רַבָּנִים rabbanim ("rabbis"),
and not רַבָּי rabbay ("my Masters").
The governments of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were based on a
system that included the Jewish kings, the Jewish prophets, the legal
authority of the high court of Jerusalem, the Great Sanhedrin, and the
ritual authority of the priesthood. Members of the
Sanhedrin had to
receive their ordination (semicha) in an uninterrupted line of
transmission from Moses, yet rather than being referred to as rabbis
they were called priests or scribes, like Ezra, who is called in the
Bible "Ezra, the priest, the scribe, a scribe of the words of God's
commandments and of His statutes unto Israel." "Rabbi" as a
religious title does not appear in the Hebrew Bible.
All of the above personalities would have been expected to be steeped
in the wisdom of the
Torah and the commandments, which would have made
them "rabbis" in the modern sense of the word. This is illustrated by
a two-thousand-year-old teaching in the Mishnah, Ethics of the Fathers
(Pirkei Avot), which observed about King David,
"One who learns from their companion a single chapter, a single
halakha, a single verse, a single
Torah statement, or even a single
letter, must treat them with honor. For so we find with David King of
Israel, who learned nothing from
Ahitophel except two things, yet
called him his teacher [Hebrew text: rabbo], his guide, his intimate,
as it is said: 'You are a man of my measure, my guide, my intimate'
Psalms 55:14). One can derive from this the following: If David King
of Israel who learned nothing from
Ahitophel except for two things,
called him his teacher, his guide, his intimate, one who learns from
their companion a single chapter, a single halakha, a single verse, a
single statement, or even a single letter, how much more must they
treat them with honor. And honor is due only for Torah, as it is said:
'The wise shall inherit honor' (Proverbs 3:35), 'and the perfect shall
inherit good' (Proverbs 28:10). And only
Torah is truly good, as it is
said: 'I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake My Torah'
(Proverbs 4:2)." (
Ethics of the Fathers
Ethics of the Fathers 6:3)
With the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, the end of the
Jewish monarchy, and the decline of the dual institutions of prophets
and the priesthood, the focus of scholarly and spiritual leadership
within the Jewish people shifted to the sages of the Men of the Great
Assembly (Anshe Knesset HaGedolah). This assembly was composed of the
earliest group of "rabbis" in the more modern sense of the word, in
large part because they began the formulation and explication of what
became known as Judaism's "Oral Law" (
Torah SheBe'al Peh). This was
eventually encoded and codified within the
subsequent rabbinical scholarship, leading to what is known as
The title "Rabbi" was borne by the sages of ancient Israel, who were
ordained by the
Sanhedrin in accordance with the custom handed down by
the elders. They were titled Ribbi and received authority to judge
penal cases. Rab was the title of the Babylonian sages who taught in
the Babylonian academies.
After the suppression of the Patriarchate and
Sanhedrin by Theodosius
II in 425, there was no more formal ordination in the strict sense. A
recognised scholar could be called Rab or Hacham, like the Babylonian
sages. The transmission of learning from master to disciple remained
of tremendous importance, but there was no formal rabbinic
qualification as such.
Maimonides ruled that every congregation is obliged to appoint a
preacher and scholar to admonish the community and teach Torah, and
the social institution he describes is the germ of the modern
congregational rabbinate. In the fifteenth century in Central Europe,
the custom grew up of licensing scholars with a diploma entitling them
to be called Mori (my teacher). At the time this was objected to as
hukkat ha-goy (imitating the ways of the Gentiles), as it was felt to
resemble the conferring of doctorates in Christian universities.
However, the system spread, and it is this diploma that is referred to
as semicha (ordination) at the present day.
In 19th-century Germany and the United States, the duties of the rabbi
in some respects became increasingly similar to the duties of other
clergy, like the Protestant Christian minister, and the title "pulpit
rabbis" appeared to describe this phenomenon. Sermons, pastoral
counseling, representing the community to the outside, all increased
in importance. Non-Orthodox rabbis, on a day-to-day business basis,
now spend more time on these functions than they do teaching or
answering questions on Jewish law and philosophy. Within the Modern
Orthodox community, many rabbis still mainly deal with teaching and
questions of Jewish law, but many are increasingly dealing with these
same pastoral functions. Orthodox Judaism's National Council of Young
Modern Orthodox Judaism's Rabbinical Council of America
have set up supplemental pastoral training programs for their rabbis.
Traditionally, rabbis have never been an intermediary between God and
humans. This idea was traditionally considered outside the bounds of
Jewish theology. Unlike spiritual leaders in many other faiths, they
are not considered to be imbued with special powers or abilities.
Rabbi instructing children in 2004
Rabbis serve the Jewish community. Hence their functions vary as the
needs of the Jewish community vary over time and from place to place.
A dramatic change in rabbinic functions occurred with Jewish
emancipation (18th-19th cents.). Tasks that were once the primary
focus for rabbis, such as settling disputes by presiding over a Jewish
court, became less prominent, while other tasks that were secondary,
like delivering sermons, increased in importance.
1. Study and teaching. Rabbis have always been the main links in the
chain of transmission (masorah) whereby knowledge of the
been passed down through the generations. Learning from their
teachers, adding new insights of their own (hidushim), and teaching
the public have always been the primary functions of the rabbinate.
Torah is a rabbi's lifelong undertaking that does not end
with receiving ordination. A rabbi is expected to set aside time daily
for study. A rabbi that does not constantly replenish his or her store
Torah learning will lack the knowledge, inspiration and mastery of
Jewish law and traditions required to perform all other rabbinic
Torah knowledge must be passed on, because it is the
heritage of all Israel. Teaching by rabbis occurs in many
venues—the schoolroom of course, elementary (heder), intermediate
(yeshivah) and advanced (kollel), but also, especially in antiquity,
in the vineyard, the marketplace and the disciple circle. In many
synagogues, the rabbi will give a short daily class to those who
attend morning or evening services. The sermon is another form of
public education, often integrating Biblical passages with a
contemporary ethical message, and no Jewish meal or celebration is
complete without the rabbi's "d'var Torah"—a short explanation of
Biblical verses related to the event.
Apart from face to face instruction, rabbis who are inclined to
authorship have composed an extensive rabbinic literature, dealing
with all aspects of the Jewish tradition—Bible commentaries, codes
of law, responsa, mystical and ethical tracts, and collections of
sermons are examples of common genres of rabbinic literature.
2. Judging. Prior to Emancipation, rulers delegated discipline and
dispute settlement within the Jewish community (kahal) to the Jewish
community itself. If a dispute, domestic or commercial, a tort or a
petty crime, involved only Jewish residents, then it could be settled
in the town's Jewish court according to Jewish law. The town rabbi,
with his extensive knowledge of
Torah law (halakhah), was expected to
preside as Head of the Court (av beth din), although lay assessors
might join him in judgment. The judgments were enforced with fines and
various degrees of communal excommunication when necessary.
After Emancipation, Jews, as citizens of their countries, turned to
civil courts for dispute resolution. Today rabbinical courts remain
active under the auspices of each Jewish denomination for religious
matters, such as conversion and divorce, and even, on a voluntary
basis, for civil matters when the parties voluntarily elect to have
the rabbinical judges serve as their arbitrators. In Israel there
are rabbinical courts for matters of personal status.
3. Legislating. During the centuries of Jewish self-government, some
problems were considered regional or universal and could not be solved
by a single rabbi acting alone. At these times rabbinical synods were
convened for concerted action, calling together the prominent rabbis
of the region to debate solutions and enact binding regulations
(takkanot) for their communities. The regulations involved matters as
diverse as dowries and matrimonial law, relations with gentiles,
utilizing civil courts, education of orphans, anti-counterfeiting
measures, and the hiring of schoolteachers. The most famous of
these ordinances is ascribed to Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz (c.
960-1040), but was probably enacted in a rabbinic synod he convened c.
1000 C.E. The ordinance, still in effect today, prohibits polygamy
Jews in the West.
In the modern era rabbis have enacted takkanot in the State of
Israel, and the major Jewish movements, such as Reform,
Conservative and Reconstructionist, enact takkanot for their members.
Today most congregational rabbis are members of a national rabbinic
organization related to their movement and also an association of
local rabbis in their city. When these bodies debate local and
national questions, they function in a manner that is similar to the
rabbinic synods of the past.
4. Religious supervision. The Jewish community requires a number of
religious institutions for daily life, and it falls to rabbis, with
their knowledge of Jewish law, to supervise them to ensure they
operate in accordance with Jewish law. Examples would be Jewish
slaughter (shekhita), Jewish dietary laws in shops and institutions
(kashrut), the ritual bath (mikveh), the elementary school (heder),
the Sabbath boundaries (eruvin), and the burial society (hevra
kadisha). Traditionally this function fell to the town's rabbi. In the
modern era, rabbis who specialize in this type of supervision will
find full-time employment as a
Mashgiach (supervisor of ritual law),
and some of these functions are now performed by national
organizations, such as the
Orthodox Union which offers kosher
5. Pastoral counseling. All rabbis will answer questions about Jewish
law and Jewish rituals from their congregants. In addition, members of
the Jewish community have always turned to rabbis for advice on
personal matters. This is conducted in private on a one-to-one basis.
In the pre-modern era, rabbis had no special training in counseling.
Instead they relied on their personal qualities of empathy and caring
as well as their knowledge of halakhic requirements. These factors
continue to inform rabbinic advising in the modern era. However modern
rabbinical seminaries have instituted courses in psychology and
pastoral counseling as part of the required rabbinic curriculum and
they offer internships in counseling and social services for their
rabbinical students. Among Hasidic Jews, turning to the rebbe for
advice on personal matters is common.
6. Leading prayer services. Traditionally rabbis did not lead prayer
services in the modern sense. There is no requirement that a rabbi be
present for public prayer. The Jewish liturgy is fixed and printed in
prayer books (siddurim), the vocal portions are chanted by a cantor
(hazan) and the
Torah portion is read by a trained reader (ba'al
kriah). If the rabbi was present, he would be seated in front near the
Ark and as a matter of respect, the pace at which the rabbi recited
his prayers might set the pace of the service. If halakhic questions
arose about the prayer service, the rabbi would answer them.
In modern synagogues, the rabbi takes a more active role in leading
prayer services. In some synagogues, it is permitted for the rabbi to
select passages from the prayer book for public reading, to omit some
passages for brevity and to add special prayers to the service. The
rabbi may lead the congregation in responsive reading, announce page
numbers and comment on the liturgy from time to time. At Sabbath and
holiday services, the congregational rabbi will deliver a sermon
either right before or right after the
Torah is read.
7. Celebrating life's events. Jewish law does not require the presence
of a rabbi at a marriage, bar or bat mitzvah, circumcision, funeral,
house of mourning, or unveiling of a monument at a cemetery. At the
same time, Jewish law has prescribed requirements for each of these
events and rituals. It therefore became customary for rabbis to be
present and to lead the community in celebration and in mourning. In
the modern era, it is virtually obligatory to have the rabbi's
participation at these events, and ministering to the congregation in
these settings has become a major aspect of the modern rabbinate.
Jewish divorce, which requires a rabbinical court (beth din), will
always have rabbis in attendance.
8. Charitable works. The synagogue has been a place where charity is
collected every weekday after services and then distributed to the
needy before Sabbaths and holidays. It was not the rabbi who collected
these sums; that task was assigned to the sexton, wardens of charity
and charitable associations. But it was the rabbi's task to teach
that charity (tzedakah) is a core Jewish value. The rabbi did this by
preaching, teaching and by example—hosting poor out of town yeshiva
students at the home table and offering Jewish travelers a kosher
Maimonides formulated a ladder consisting of eight degrees
of charity, starting with reluctant giving and ending with teaching
someone a trade.
Israel Salanter (1809-1883) was once asked,
"How do you provide for your spiritual needs?" He answered, "By
providing for someone else's physical needs."
Today Jewish federations and foundations collect and distribute most
charity within the Jewish community. However the rabbi retains the
task of teaching the value of charity and often participates
personally in appeals for the synagogue and for national and
9. Role-modeling. The rabbi serves as a role model for the
congregation by his or her conduct and deportment. Congregation
members are keen observers of their rabbi's personality traits, family
life, professional conduct, leisure activities and in general the way
he or she treats others. Rabbis are aware of this and in the best case
deliberately model their conduct so that it represents Jewish values
to the community and to outsiders.
This aspect of the rabbinate, setting an example for the public, has a
direct application in Jewish law. The way the greatest rabbis and
Torah scholars conducted themselves can become a precedent in Jewish
law, known as ma'aseh. For example, based on reports of what
rabbis did in the Talmud,
Maimonides ruled that one engaged in
public affairs should not break off his duties to recite certain
10. Outreach. Some rabbis program and guide activities designed to
Jews who are unaffiliated with
Judaism or lapsed in their
observances. These include "Beginners' Services" where the Jewish
liturgy is shortened and explained, and Shabbatons, where unaffiliated
Jews are hosted by an observant family during Sabbath to experience
the day in a religious setting and to learn about its rituals and
customs. Chabad outreach, known as kiruv (bringing close), finds many
rabbis and their spouses posted in Chabad Houses worldwide for the
express purpose of reaching unaffiliated Jews.
11. Conversions. Most rabbis will from time to time encounter someone
who is not Jewish seeking information about
Judaism or wishing to
explore conversion to Judaism. This may happen when one member of a
couple wishing to marry is seeking conversion or on other occasions
when intermarriage is not involved. Based on the rabbi's training and
assessment of the person's motivations and goals, the rabbi's approach
may range from discouragement of the potential convert to mentoring
and directing to a conversion class, in accordance with the policy on
conversion of the rabbi's movement. One or three rabbis will serve
on the beth din that performs a conversion. There are no rabbis
serving as "Jewish missionaries" per se; there is no parallel in
Judaism to the proselytizing of other faiths.
12. Match-making. In periods when match-making was common, rabbis
participated. Rabbis were well-acquainted with their community
members and in particular with the young unmarried men attending their
yeshivas. Parents did not hesitate to consult the rabbi for suitable
matches. Today in Orthodox circles where socializing among the sexes
is not common, this practice continues, and in all branches of
Judaism, a rabbi who can help in this arena will not hesitate to do
Synagogue administration. The modern synagogue is a non-profit
religious corporation run by a Board of Directors elected by the
members. However, on a day-to-day basis, board members are not
present. In most synagogues, it is the rabbi's task to administer the
synagogue, supervise personnel, manage the physical plant, review (if
not write) the newsletter, and interact with the brotherhood, the
sisterhood and the youth organizations. Very large synagogues may
employ a separate administrator or assistant rabbi to perform some or
all of these functions.
Jewish chaplain insignia, U.S. Air Force.
Rabbis go into the field wherever members of the Jewish community may
be found. This is most noticeable in the military services and on
university campuses where some rabbis serve as Jewish chaplains on a
full-time basis. All branches of the U. S. military have Jewish
chaplains in their ranks and rabbis serve in the Israeli Defense
Forces. The Hillel Foundation provides rabbis and Jewish services on
550 campuses  while Chabad operates Jewish centers with a rabbi
near 150 college campuses. Local rabbis perform other chaplaincy
functions on a part-time basis in hospitals, senior homes and prisons.
Worthy of mention are the rabbis who accompanied
Jews to concentration
camps during the Nazi era; in dire circumstances they continued to
provide rabbinic services, such as ritual observance, advice and
counseling, to the victims of Nazi persecution, whenever it was
possible to do so.
15. Public affairs. As leaders of the Jewish community, many rabbis
devote a portion of their time to activities in the public arena,
especially where Jewish interests are at stake. They dialogue with
public officials and community groups, interact with school boards,
advocate for and against legislation, engage in public debates, write
newspaper columns, appear in the media and march in parades and
demonstrations with others to show support for causes. The extent and
tenor of these activities is dictated by the rabbi's own conscience
and social and political leanings as informed by Jewish values.
16. Defending the faith. Rabbis are often called upon to defend the
Jewish faith. During the Middle Ages, the Church arranged a series of
public disputations between rabbis and priests that were intended to
"disprove" the Jewish faith and condemn its religious texts, including
the Talmud. The rabbis acquitted themselves well in debate with
their superior understanding of Jewish texts and mass conversions to
Christianity did not take place. However following these disputations
local rulers at the Church's behest consigned cartloads of precious
Hebrew manuscripts to the flames.
Today rabbis are involved in countering the activities of missionaries
aimed at converting
Jews to other religions, explaining for example
that one cannot be of the Jewish faith while believing in either the
Christian God or the Christian messiah.
17. Interfaith activities. Some rabbis engage in interfaith dialogues
with clergy of other faiths. They may host student groups from the
religious schools of other faiths and participate in interfaith
services. They will view these activities as a means of deepening
understanding and reducing misconceptions in a diverse society.
Other rabbis, especially those affiliated with Orthodox Judaism, will
generally not participate in interfaith dialogues about theology. They
will however engage in discussions with the clergy of other faiths
about matters of mutual social concern.
18. Non-practicing rabbis. There is a segment of the rabbinate that
does not engage in rabbinic functions on a daily basis, except perhaps
to study. Because ordination (semicha) has the features of a
post-graduate academic degree, some study to receive ordination but
then follow a different career in secular business, education or the
professions. These rabbis may be asked from time to time to perform a
rabbinic function on an ad hoc and voluntary basis, e.g. to perform a
marriage ceremony or answer a religious question. At other times, they
act as regular members of the Jewish community. No negative attitudes
attach to rabbis who do not practice the profession. They are likely
admired in their communities for their decision to spend years engaged
Torah study for its own sake.
In antiquity those who performed rabbinic functions, such as judging a
case or teaching
Torah to students, did not receive compensation for
their services. Being a rabbi was not a full-time profession and
those who served had other occupations to support themselves and their
families, such as woodchopper, sandal-maker, carpenter, water-carrier,
farmer and tanner. A respected scholar,
Zadok (1st cent.
C.E.), had said "never to use the
Torah as a spade for digging,"
and this was understood to mean never to use one's
Torah knowledge for
an inappropriate purpose, such as earning a fee. Still, as honored
members of the community,
Torah sages were allowed a series of
privileges and exemptions that alleviated their financial burdens
somewhat. These included such things as tax exemption from communal
levies, marketplace priority (first in, first out regarding their
trade), receiving personal services from their students (shimush
talmedei hakhamim), silent business partnerships with wealthy
merchants, and a substitute fee to replace their lost earnings
when they had to leave work to perform a rabbinic function (sekhar
During the period of the
Geonim (c. 650-1050 C.E.), opinions on
compensation shifted. It was deemed inappropriate for the leaders of
the Jewish community to appear in the marketplace as laborers or
vendors of merchandise, and leading a Jewish community was becoming a
full-time occupation. Under these conditions, the
taxes and donations at home and abroad to fund their schools
(yeshivot) and paid salaries to teachers, officials and judges of the
Jewish community, whom they appointed.
1135-1204), who supported himself as a physician, reasserted the
traditional view of offering rabbinic service to the Jewish community
without compensation. It remains the ideal. But circumstances had
changed. Jewish communities required full-time rabbis, and the rabbis
themselves preferred to spend their days studying and teaching Torah
rather than working at a secular trade.
By the fifteenth century it was the norm for Jewish communities to
compensate their rabbis, although the rabbi's contract might well
refer to a "suspension fee" (sekhar battalah) rather than a salary, as
if he were relinquishing a salary from secular employment. The
size of salaries varied, depending on the size of the community
served, with rabbis in large cities being well-compensated while
rabbis in small towns might receive a small stipend. Rabbis were
able to supplement their rabbinic incomes by engaging in associated
functions and accepting fees for them, like serving as the community's
scribe, notary and archivist, teaching in the elementary school or
yeshivah, publishing books, arbitrating civil litigations, or even
serving as a matchmaker.
With the formation of rabbinical seminaries starting in the nineteenth
century, the rabbinate experienced a degree of professionalization
that is still underway. At the present time, an ordained graduate of a
rabbinical seminary that is affiliated with one of the modern branches
of Judaism, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or modern
Orthodox, will find employment—whether as a congregational rabbi,
teacher, chaplain, Hillel director, camp director, social worker or
administrator—through the placement office of his or her seminary.
Like any modern professional, he or she will negotiate the terms of
employment with potential employers and sign a contract specifying
duties, duration of service, salary, benefits, pension and the
like. A rabbi's salary and benefits today tend to be similar to
those of other modern professionals, such as lawyers and accountants,
with similar levels of post-graduate education. It is also
possible to engage in the rabbinate part-time, e.g. at a synagogue
with a small membership; the rabbi's salary will be proportionate to
the services rendered and he or she will likely have additional
employment outside the synagogue.
Acceptance of rabbinic credentials involves both issues of
practicality and principle. As a practical matter, communities and
individuals typically tend to follow the authority of the rabbi they
have chosen as their leader (called by some the mara d'atra) on
issues of Jewish law. They may recognize that other rabbis have the
same authority elsewhere, but for decisions and opinions important to
them they will work through their own rabbi.
The rabbi derives authority from achievements within a meritocratic
system. Rabbis' authority is neither nominal nor spiritual — it is
based on credentials. Typically the rabbi receives an institutional
stamp of approval. It is this authority that allows them to engage in
the halakhic process and make legal prescriptions.
The same pattern is true within broader communities, ranging from
Hasidic communities to rabbinical or congregational organizations:
there will be a formal or de facto structure of rabbinic authority
that is responsible for the members of the community. However, Hasidic
communities do not have a rabbi: they have a Rebbe, who plays a
similar role but is thought to have a special connection to god. The
rebbes' authority, then, is based on a spiritual connection to god and
so they are venerated in a different way from rabbis.
According to the Talmud, it is a commandment (mitzvah) to honor a
rabbi and a
Torah scholar, along with the elderly, as it is written in
Leviticus 19:32, "Rise up before the elderly, and honor the aged."
One should stand in their presence and address them with respect.
Kohanim (priests) are required to honor rabbis and
Torah scholars like
the general public. However, if one is more learned than the rabbi or
the scholar there is no need to stand. The spouse of a
must also be shown deference. It is also a commandment for
teachers and rabbis to honor their students. Rabbis and Torah
scholars, in order to ensure discipline within the Jewish community,
have the authority to place individuals who insult them under a ban of
Main article: Semikhah
A rabbinical student is awarded semichah ("rabbinic ordination") after
the completion of a learning program in a yeshiva or modern rabbinical
seminary or under the guidance of an individual rabbi. The exact
course of study varies by denomination, but most are in the range of
3–6 years. The programs all include study of Talmud, the codes of
Jewish law and responsa to a greater or lesser extent, depending on
the branch of Judaism. In addition to rabbinical literature, modern
seminaries offer courses in pastoral subjects such as counseling,
education, comparative religion and delivering sermons. Most
rabbinical students will complete their studies in their mid-20's.
There is no hierarchy and no central authority in
Judaism that either
supervises rabbinic education or records ordinations; each branch of
Judaism regulates the ordination of the rabbis affiliated with it.
The most common formula used on a certificate of semichah is Yore yore
("He may teach, he may teach," sometimes rendered as a question and
answer, "May he teach? He may teach."). Most Rabbis hold this
qualification; they are sometimes called a moreh le-hora'ah ("a
teacher of rulings"). A more advanced form of semichah is yadin yadin
("He may judge, he may judge" or "May he judge? He may judge."). This
enables the recipient to serve as a judge on a rabbinical court and
adjudicate cases of monetary law, among other responsibilities. The
recipient of this ordination can be formally addressed as a dayan
("judge") and also retain the title of rabbi. Only a small percentage
of rabbis earn the yadin yadin ordination. Although not strictly
necessary, many Orthodox rabbis hold that a beth din (court of Jewish
law) should be made up of dayanim with this ordination.
Receiving ordination has been a festive occasion accompanied by
celebration since Talmudic times. According to the Talmud, when the
Rabbi Zera, they sang a bridal song in his honor: "No
mascara, and no rouge, and no dyeing [of the hair] -- and [yet] a
graceful gazelle." They also sang at the ordination of
Rabbi Assi: "Just like these, just like these, ordain for us!"
The ceremony where ordination is conferred is known as Chag
HaSemichah, the festival of ordination. Today in most branches of
Judaism, there is no laying on of hands; ordination is conferred as an
academic degree with a diploma, signed by the officiating rabbis,
often hand-written on parchment.
Orthodox and Haredi Judaism
Orthodox and Modern-Orthodox
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leading Rabbinical authority for Orthodox
Judaism of the second half of the twentieth century.
An Orthodox semichah requires the successful completion of a program
encompassing Jewish law and responsa in keeping with longstanding
tradition. Orthodox rabbinical students work to gain knowledge in
Acharonim (early and late medieval commentators)
and Jewish law. They study sections of the
Shulchan Aruch (codified
Jewish law) and its main commentaries that pertain to daily-life
questions (such as the laws of keeping kosher, Shabbat, and the laws
of family purity). Orthodox rabbis typically study at yeshivas, which
are dedicated religious schools.
Modern Orthodox rabbinical students,
such as those at
Yeshiva University, study some elements of modern
theology or philosophy, as well as the classical rabbinic works on
The entrance requirements for an Orthodox yeshiva include a strong
background within Jewish law, liturgy, Talmudic study, and attendant
languages (e.g., Hebrew,
Aramaic and in some cases Yiddish). Since
rabbinical studies typically flow from other yeshiva studies, those
who seek a semichah are typically not required to have completed a
university education. There are some exceptions to this rule,
Yeshiva University, which requires all rabbinical students
to complete an undergraduate degree before entering the program and a
Masters or equivalent before ordination.
On March 22, 2009, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, an Orthodox
Synagogue, held a formal ceremony officially giving Sara Hurwitz
Maharat – Manhigah Halakhtit Ruchanit Toranit.
However, some Orthodox leaders, such as the Rabbinical Council of
America and the Agudath Israel of America, opposed this move and said
it was not in keeping with Orthodoxy; in any case, Hurwitz was not
given the title "rabbi". However, in June 2015,
Lila Kagedan was
ordained by Yeshivat
Maharat and in keeping with newer policies, was
given the freedom to choose her own title, and she chose to be
addressed as "Rabbi". However, this has come to be a focal point
of division between YCT and the rest of the spectrum of Orthodoxy,
as most of Orthodoxy does not view YCT as normative Orthodoxy. In
Orthodox Union adopted a policy banning women from serving as
clergy, from holding titles such as "rabbi", or from doing common
clergy functions even without a title, in its congregations in the
While some Haredi (including Hasidic) yeshivas (also known as
"Talmudical/Rabbinical schools or academies") do grant official
semichah ("ordination") to many students wishing to become rabbis,
most of the students within the yeshivas engage in learning
Talmud without the goal of becoming rabbis or holding any official
The curriculum for obtaining semichah ("ordination") as rabbis for
Haredi and Hasidic scholars is the same as described above for all
Orthodox students wishing to obtain the official title of "Rabbi" and
to be recognized as such.
Within the Hasidic world, the positions of spiritual leadership are
dynastically transmitted within established families, usually from
fathers to sons, while a small number of students obtain official
ordination to become dayanim ("judges") on religious courts, poskim
("decisors" of Jewish law), as well as teachers in the Hasidic
schools. The same is true for the non-Hasidic
Litvish yeshivas that
are controlled by dynastically transmitted rosh yeshivas and the
majority of students will not become rabbis, even after many years of
post-graduate kollel study.
Some yeshivas, such as Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim and Yeshivas Ner Yisroel
in Baltimore, Maryland, may encourage their students to obtain
semichah and mostly serve as rabbis who teach in other yeshivas or
Hebrew day schools. Other yeshivas, such as
Yeshiva Chaim Berlin
(Brooklyn, New York) or the Mirrer
Jerusalem), do not have an official "semichah/rabbinical program" to
train rabbis, but provide semichah on an "as needed" basis if and when
one of their senior students is offered a rabbinical position but only
with the approval of their rosh yeshivas.
Haredim will often prefer using Hebrew names for rabbinic titles based
on older traditions, such as:
Rav (denoting "[great] rabbi"), HaRav
("the [great] rabbi"), Moreinu Ha
Rav ("our teacher the [great]
rabbi"), Moreinu ("our teacher"), Moreinu VeRabeinu Ha
teacher and our rabbi/master the [great] rabbi"), Moreinu VeRabeinu
("our teacher and our rabbi/master"),
Rosh yeshiva ("[the] head [of
the] yeshiva"), Rosh Ha
Yeshiva ("head [of] the yeshiva"), "Mashgiach"
Mashgiach ruchani) ("spiritual supervsor/guide"), Mora DeAsra
("teacher/decisor" [of] the/this place"), HaGaon ("the genius"), Rebbe
("[our/my] rabbi"), HaTzadik ("the righteous/saintly"), "ADMOR"
("Adoneinu Moreinu VeRabeinu") ("our master, our teacher and our
rabbi/master") or often just plain Reb which is a shortened form of
rebbe that can be used by, or applied to, any married Jewish male as
the situation applies.
Note: A rebbetzin (a
Yiddish usage common among Ashkenazim) or a
rabbanit (in Hebrew and used among Sephardim) is the official "title"
used for, or by, the wife of any Orthodox, Haredi, or Hasidic rabbi.
Rebbetzin may also be used as the equivalent of Reb and is sometimes
abbreviated as such as well.
Judaism confers semikhah after the completion of a
program in the codes of Jewish law and responsa in keeping with Jewish
tradition. In addition to knowledge and mastery of the study of Talmud
and halakhah, Conservative semikhah also requires that its rabbinical
students receive intensive training in Tanakh, classical biblical
commentaries, biblical criticism, Midrash,
Kabbalah and Hasidut, the
historical development of
Judaism from antiquity to modernity, Jewish
ethics, the halakhic methodology of Conservative responsa, classical
and modern works of
Jewish theology and philosophy, synagogue
administration, pastoral care, chaplaincy, non-profit management, and
navigating the modern world in a Jewish context.
Entrance requirements to Conservative rabbinical study centers include
a background within Jewish law and liturgy, familiarity with rabbinic
literature, Talmud, etc., ritual observance according to Conservative
halakha, and the completion of an undergraduate university degree. In
accordance with national collegiate accreditation requirements,
Conservative rabbinical students earn a Master of Arts in Rabbinic
Literature in addition to receiving semikhah. Ordination is granted at
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, the Rabbinical
School of the
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, the
Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, the Budapest
University of Jewish Studies, the Zacharias Frankel College in
Potsdam, and the Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano in Buenos Aires
(Argentina). Most Conservative seminaries ordain women and openly LGBT
people as rabbis and cantors.
Judaism rabbinic studies are mandated in pastoral care, the
historical development of Judaism, academic biblical criticism, in
addition to the study of traditional rabbinic texts. Rabbinical
students also are required to gain practical rabbinic experience by
working at a congregation as a rabbinic intern during each year of
study from year one onwards.
All Reform seminaries ordain women and openly
LGBT people as rabbis
The seminary of Reform
Judaism in the United States is Hebrew Union
College-Jewish Institute of Religion. It has campuses in Cincinnati,
New York City, Los Angeles, and in Jerusalem. In addition to training
and ordaining women and openly
LGBT people as rabbis and cantors,
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion has trained and
ordained openly transgender people as rabbis (see
Elliot Kukla and
In the United Kingdom the Reform and Liberal movements maintain Leo
Baeck College for the training and ordination of rabbis, and in
Germany the progressive
Abraham Geiger College trains and ordains
Europeans for the rabbinate.
Judaism has the Reconstructionist Rabbinical
College, which is located in Pennsylvania and ordains women as well as
men (and openly
LGBT people) as rabbis and cantors. In 2015 the
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College voted to accept rabbinical
students in interfaith relationships, making Reconstructionist Judaism
the first type of
Judaism to officially allow rabbis in relationships
with non-Jewish partners.
Non-orthodox seminaries unaffiliated with main denominations
There are several possibilities for receiving rabbinic ordination in
addition to seminaries maintained by the large Jewish denominations.
These include seminaries maintained by smaller denominational
movements, and nondenominational (also called "transdenominational" or
"postdenominational") Jewish seminaries.
Judaism has the International Institute for Secular
Humanistic Judaism, which currently has two centers of activity: one
Jerusalem and the other in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Both places
ordain women as well as men as rabbis, and do not ordain cantors of
either sex. Both places ordain openly
Jewish Renewal has an ordination program, ALEPH, but no central
campus. ALEPH ordains women as well as men as rabbis and cantors. It
also ordains openly
The Academy for Jewish Religion, in New York City, since 1956, and the
unrelated Academy for Jewish Religion-California, in Los Angeles,
since 2000, have been rabbinic (and cantorial) seminaries unaffiliated
with any denomination or movement. Hebrew College, near Boston,
includes a similarly unaffiliated rabbinic school, opened in the Fall
of 2003. These seminaries are accepted by all non-Orthodox rabbis as
valid rabbinical seminaries, and they all ordain
women as well as men (and openly
LGBT people) as rabbis and cantors.
Jews do not consider these ordinations valid, because these
seminaries do not consider Orthodox halacha to be binding.
The Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute offers a training program,
meets in weekly online classes via the Internet and ordains women as
well as men as unaffiliated rabbis to meet the needs of unaffiliated
Jews as well as interfaith couples and their families. It subscribes
to Jewish Universalism, promoting religious tolerance and asserting
that there are many paths to 'the One.' JSLI ordained its first class
of rabbis in August 2011. It does ordain openly
Rabbinical Seminary International is a rabbinical seminary in New
York, which ordains women as well as men (and openly
LGBT people) as
rabbis, and does not ordain cantors of either sex. It is a
transdenominational rabbinical seminary in the Neo-Hasidic
The Union for Traditional
Judaism (UTJ), an offshoot of the left-wing
of Orthodoxy and the right-wing of Conservative Judaism, has a
non-denominational seminary in New Jersey; the seminary is
accepted by all non-Orthodox rabbis as a valid, traditional rabbinical
seminary. The vast majority of Orthodox
Jews do not recognize
ordination from UTJ. However, it bridges Conservative and Orthodox
Modern Orthodox synagogues have hired UTJ rabbis. Though
the more mainstream body of
Modern Orthodox Judaism, such as the
Rabbinical Council of America, does not recognize ordination from UTJ.
UTJ only ordains men as rabbis and cantors, and does not ordain openly
The Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf is a nondenominational rabbinical
seminary in Illinois, which ordains women as well as men (and openly
LGBT people) as rabbis, and does not ordain cantors of either sex.
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Historically and until the present, recognition of a rabbi relates to
a community's perception of the rabbi's competence to interpret Jewish
law and act as a teacher on central matters within Judaism. More
broadly speaking, it is also an issue of being a worthy successor to a
As a result, there have always been greater or lesser disputes about
the legitimacy and authority of rabbis. Historical examples include
Samaritans and Karaites.
The divisions between the various religious branches within Judaism
may have their most pronounced manifestation on whether rabbis from
one movement recognize the legitimacy or the authority of rabbis in
As a general rule within Orthodoxy and among some in the Conservative
movement, rabbis are reluctant to accept the authority of other rabbis
whose Halakhic standards are not as strict as their own. In some
cases, this leads to an outright rejection of even the legitimacy of
other rabbis; in others, the more lenient rabbi may be recognized as a
spiritual leader of a particular community but may not be accepted as
a credible authority on Jewish law.
The Orthodox rabbinical establishment rejects the validity of
Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis on the grounds that
their movements' teachings are in violation of traditional Jewish
Modern Orthodox rabbis are respectful toward non-Orthodox
rabbis and focus on commonalities even as they disagree on
interpretation of some areas of
Halakha (with Conservative rabbis) or
the authority of
Halakha (with Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis).
Conservative rabbis accept the legitimacy of Orthodox rabbis, though
they are often critical of Orthodox positions. Although they would
rarely look to Reform or Reconstructionist rabbis for Halakhic
decisions, they accept the legitimacy of these rabbis' religious
Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, on the premise that all the main
movements are legitimate expressions of Judaism, will accept the
legitimacy of other rabbis' leadership, though will not accept their
views on Jewish law, since Reform and Reconstructionism reject Halakha
These debates cause great problems for recognition of Jewish
marriages, conversions, and other life decisions that are touched by
Jewish law. Orthodox rabbis do not recognize conversions by
non-Orthodox rabbis. Conservative rabbis recognise all conversions
done according to halakha. Finally, the North American Reform and
Reconstructionst movemements recognize patrilineality, under certain
circumstances, as a valid claim towards Judaism, whereas Conservative
and Orthodox maintain the position expressed in the
Talmud and Codes
that one can be a Jew only through matrilineality (born of a Jewish
mother) or through conversion to Judaism.
Main articles: Women in
Judaism and Timeline of women rabbis
Rabbi Regina Jonas, the first ordained female rabbi. Ordained in
Germany in 1935, she died in Auschwitz in 1944.
With some rare exceptions (see below), women historically have
generally not served as rabbis until the 1970s and the influence of
second-wave feminism, when the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute
of Religion first ordained women rabbis. Today, female rabbis are
ordained within all branches of Progressive Judaism, while in
Orthodox Judaism, women cannot become rabbis.
While there is no prohibition against women learning halakha that
pertains to them, nor is it any more problematic for a woman to rule
on such issues than it is for any lay person to do so, the issue
lies in the rabbi's position of communal authority. Following the
ruling of the Talmud, the decisors of Jewish law held that women were
not allowed to serve in positions of authority over a community, such
as judges or kings. The position of official rabbi of a
community, mara de'atra ("master of the place"), has generally been
treated in the responsa as such a position. This ruling is still
followed in traditional and orthodox circles but has been relaxed in
branches like Conservative and Reform
Judaism that are less strict in
their adherence to traditional Jewish law.
Asenath Barzani of Iraq is considered the first female rabbi of Jewish
history by some scholars; additionally, she is the oldest recorded
female Kurdish leader in history. Hannah Rachel Verbermacher, also
known as the Maiden of Ludmir, was a 19th-century Hasidic rebbe, the
only female rebbe in the history of Hasidism.
The first formally ordained female rabbi was Regina Jonas, ordained in
Germany in 1935. Since 1972, when
Sally Priesand became the first
female rabbi in Reform Judaism, Reform Judaism's Hebrew Union
College has ordained 552 women rabbis (as of 2008).
Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first female rabbi in
Judaism in 1974 (one of 110 by 2006); and Amy
Eilberg became the first female rabbi in Conservative
1985 (one of 177 by 2006).
Lynn Gottlieb became the first female
Jewish Renewal in 1981, and Tamara Kolton became the very
first rabbi (and therefore, since she was female, the first female
rabbi) in Humanistic
Judaism in 1999. In 2009
Alysa Stanton became
the world's first African-American female rabbi.
The Conservative movement appointed a special commission to study the
issue of ordaining women as rabbis, The commission met between 1977
and 1978, and consisted of eleven men and three women. In 1983,
the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, voted,
without accompanying opinion, to ordain women as rabbis and as
Leo Baeck College
Leo Baeck College had ordained 30 female rabbis by 2006
(out of 158 ordinations in total since 1956), starting with Jackie
Tabick in 1975.
The Orthodox Jewish tradition and communal consensus is that the
rabbinate is the province of men; the growing calls for Orthodox
yeshivas to admit women as rabbinical students have resulted in
widespread opposition among the Orthodox rabbinate.
Rabbi Norman Lamm,
one of the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy and Rosh
Yeshiva of Yeshiva
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, opposes giving
semicha to women. "It shakes the boundaries of tradition, and I would
never allow it." (Helmreich, 1997) Writing in an article in the Jewish
Observer, Moshe Y'chiail Friedman states that Orthodox Judaism
prohibits women from being given semicha and serving as rabbis. He
holds that the trend towards this goal is driven by sociology, and not
halakha ("Jewish law"). In his words, the idea is a "quirky fad."
No Orthodox rabbinical association (e.g. Agudath Yisrael, Rabbinical
Council of America) has allowed women to be ordained using the term
However, in the last twenty years Orthodox
Judaism has begun to
develop roles for women as halakhic court advisors and congregational
Rabbi Aryeh Strikovski (
Yeshiva and Pardes
Institute) worked in the 1990s with
Avraham Shapira (then a
Chief rabbi of Israel) to initiate the program for training
Orthodox women as halakhic Toanot ("advocates") in rabbinic courts.
They have since trained nearly seventy women in Israel. Strikovski
states that "The knowledge one requires to become a court advocate is
more than a regular ordination, and now to pass certification is much
more difficult than to get ordination." In 2012
Ephraim Mirvis appointed Lauren Levin as Britain’s first Orthodox
female halakhic adviser, at Finchley
Synagogue in London.
Some Orthodox Jewish women now serve in Orthodox Jewish congregations
in roles that previously were reserved for males. The grammatically
correct Hebrew feminine parallel to the masculine title rabbi is
rabbanit (רבנית) sometimes used for women in this role. Sara
Hurwitz, considered by some the first Orthodox woman rabbi, following
correct Hebrew feminized grammar of rav (רב), used the title rabba
(רבה). Some use another variant, rabet, for a female rabbi. Other
women in Jewish leadership, like
Rachel Kohl Finegold and Lynn Kaye
function as de facto assistant rabbis.The newer title of
been used by those who receive this title at Yeshivat Maharat, the
first Orthodox seminary for women to confer an equivalent to rabbinic
In Israel, the Shalom Hartman Institute, founded by Orthodox Rabbi
David Hartman, opened a program in 2009 that will grant semicha to
women and men of all Jewish denominations, including Orthodox Judaism,
although the students are meant to "assume the role of
'rabbi-educators' – not pulpit rabbis- in North American community
In Israel a growing number of Orthodox women are being trained as
yoatzot halakhah (halakhic advisers).
…Strikovski and his colleagues aren't willing to confer a title
commensurate with experience. Clarifying his position, he laughs, "If
a man passed such a test [on Halakha] we would call him a rabbi –
but who cares what you call it?" he says. "
Rav Soloveitchik, my
teacher, always used to say: 'If you know [Jewish law], then you don't
need ordination; and if you don't know, then ordination won't make a
difference.'" Further, the title of rabbi only had meaning during the
time of the Sanhedrin, he argues. "Later titles were modified from
generation to generation and community to community, and now the
important thing is not the title but that there is a revolution where
women can and do study the oral law." + – :(Feldinger, 2005)
In June 2009,
Avi Weiss ordained
Sara Hurwitz with the title "maharat"
(an acronym of manhiga hilkhatit rukhanit Toranit) rather than
"Rabbi". In February 2010, Weiss announced that he was
Maharat to a more familiar-sounding title "Rabba". The
goal of this shift was to clarify Hurwitz's position as a full member
of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale rabbinic staff. The change was
criticised by both
Agudath Yisrael and the Rabbinical Council of
America, who called the move "beyond the pale of Orthodox
Judaism". Weiss announced amidst criticism that the term "Rabba"
would not be used anymore for his future students. Also in 2009, Weiss
founded Yeshivat Maharat, a school which "is dedicated to giving
Orthodox women proficiency in learning and teaching Talmud,
understanding Jewish law and its application to everyday life as well
as the other tools necessary to be Jewish communal leaders." In 2015
Yaffa Epstein was ordained as Rabba by the Yeshivat Maharat. Also
Lila Kagedan was ordained as
Rabbi by that same organization,
making her their first graduate to take the title Rabbi. Hurwitz
continues to use the title Rabba and is considered by some to be the
first female Orthodox rabbi. However, in the fall
Rabbinical Council of America passed a resolution which
states, "RCA members with positions in Orthodox institutions may not
ordain women into the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title
used; or hire or ratify the hiring of a woman into a rabbinic position
at an Orthodox institution; or allow a title implying rabbinic
ordination to be used by a teacher of Limudei Kodesh in an Orthodox
institution." Similarly in the fall of 2015 Agudath Israel of
America denounced moves to ordain women, and went even further,
declaring Yeshivat Maharat, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Open Orthodoxy,
and other affiliated entities to be similar to other dissident
Jewish history in having rejected basic tenets of
In 2013, the first class of female halachic advisers trained to
practice in the US graduated; they graduated from the North American
branch of Nishmat’s yoetzet halacha program in a ceremony at
Congregation Sheartith Israel, Spanish and Portuguese
The use of Toanot is not restricted to any one segment of Orthodoxy;
In Israel they have worked with Haredi and
Modern Orthodox Jews.
Orthodox women may study the laws of family purity at the same level
of detail that Orthodox males do at Nishmat, the
Jerusalem Center for
Advanced Jewish Study for Women. The purpose is for them to be able to
act as halakhic advisors for other women, a role that traditionally
was limited to male rabbis. This course of study is overseen by Rabbi
Modern Orthodox trends
Furthermore, several efforts are underway within Modern Orthodox
communities to include qualified women in activities traditionally
limited to rabbis:
In the United States,
Modern Orthodox rabbis
Avi Weiss and Saul Berman
created an advanced educational institute for women called Torat
Miriam. They do not claim that the graduates of this institute are
rabbis, but that the long-term goal is to have women "work on a
professional level in the synagogue," he said. (Helmreich, 1997)
Rabbi Aryeh Strikovski (Mahanayim
Yeshiva and Pardes Institute) worked
in the 1990s with
Avraham Shapira (then a co-
Chief rabbi of
Israel) to initiate the program for training Orthodox women as
halakhic Toanot ("advocates") in rabbinic courts. They have since
trained nearly seventy women. Strikovski states that "The knowledge
one requires to become a court advocate is more than a regular
ordination, and now to pass certification is much more difficult than
to get ordination." The use of Toanot is not restricted to any one
segment of Orthodoxy; in Israel they have worked with Haredi and
Modern Orthodox Jews. Furthermore,
Rav Strikovsky granted ordination
Haviva Ner-David (who is American) in 2006, although she has not
been able to find a job as a rabbi.
In Israel and America a growing number of Orthodox women are being
trained as yoatzot halacha ("halachic advisors"), who serve many in
communities ranging from Haredi to Modern Orthodox. In 2013, the first
class of female halachic advisors trained to practice in the US
graduated; they graduated from the North American branch of
Nishmat’s yoetzet halacha program in a ceremony at Congregation
Sheartith Israel, Spanish and Portuguese
Synagogue in Manhattan.
At Nishmat, the
Jerusalem Center for Advanced Jewish Study for Women,
Orthodox women may study the laws of family purity at the same level
of detail that Orthodox males do. The purpose is for them to be able
to act as halakhic advisors for other women, a role that traditionally
was limited to male rabbis. This course of study is overseen by Rabbi
Rahel Berkovits, an Orthodox
Talmud teacher at Jerusalem's Pardes
Institute of Jewish Studies, states that as a result of such changes
in Haredi and
Modern Orthodox Judaism, "Orthodox women have founded
and overseen prayer communities, argue cases in rabbinic courts,
advise on halachic issues, and dominate in social work activities that
are all very associated with the role a rabbi performs, even though
these women do not have the official title of rabbi."
Avi Weiss founded Yeshivat Maharat, a school which "is
dedicated to giving Orthodox women proficiency in learning and
teaching Talmud, understanding Jewish law and its application to
everyday life as well as the other tools necessary to be Jewish
communal leaders." Those women who graduate from Yeshivat
given the title of Maharat, which "is an acronym, in Hebrew, for
'manhigot hilkhatiot, rukhaniot vTorahniot', meaning, someone who is a
spiritual leader trained in
Torah and the intricacies of Jewish
law." The first women graduated from Yeshivat
Maharat on June 16,
2013. In 2015 Yaffa Epstein was ordained as Rabba by the
Yeshivat Maharat. Also that year,
Lila Kagedan was ordained as
Rabbi by the Yeshivat Maharat, making her their first graduate to take
the title Rabbi.
In 2016, it was announced that
Ephraim Mirvis created the job of
ma’ayan by which women would be advisers on Jewish law in the area
of family purity and as adult educators in Orthodox synagogues.
This requires a part-time training course for 18 months, which is the
first such course in the United Kingdom.
Academy for Jewish Religion (Pluralistic)
Chief Rabbinate of Israel
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Reform)
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative)
List of rabbis
Rabbinical College of America (Chabad Lubavitch)
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (Reconstructionist)
Yeshiva University (Orthodox)
^ Hezser, Catherine (1997). The Social Structure of the Rabbinic
Movement in Roman Palestine. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 64–.
ISBN 978-3-16-146797-4. Archived from the original on February 8,
2018. We suggest that the avoidance of the title "Rabbi" for pre-70
sages may have originated with the editors of the Mishnah. The editors
attributed the title to some sages and not to others. The avoidance of
the title for pre-70 sages may perhaps be seen as a deliberate program
on the part of these editors who wanted to create the impression that
the “rabbinic movement" began with R. Yochanan b. Zakkai and that
the Yavnean "academy" was something new, a notion that is sometimes
already implicitly or explicitly suggested by some of the traditions
available to them. This notion is not diminished by the occasional
claim to continuity with the past which was limited to individual
teachers and institutions and served to legitimize rabbinic
^ a b "Orthodox Women To Be Trained As Clergy, If Not Yet as Rabbis
–". Forward.com. Archived from the original on December 6, 2011.
Retrieved May 3, 2012.
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Ringgren, Fabry 2004 p273 "RAB... is also well attested in
Phoenician.9 Here too rab functions as a title; its specific meaning
can be determined only by its relationship to other offices and
Aramaic in all its dialects makes copious use of this
^ Fabry entry Rab in Theological dictionary of the Old Testament
Volume 13 – Page 298 G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren,
Heinz-Josef Fabry – 2004 "There is no evidence to support an
association, commonly cited in discussions of this usage.160 with the
use of the title "Rabbi" ... Already suggested by M. Burrows and
repeated by Carmignac, 584 "
^ This is evident from the fact that Hillel I, who came from Babylon,
did not have the title Rabban prefixed to his name.
^ The title Ribbi too, came into vogue among those who received the
laying on of hands at this period, as, for instance, Ribbi Zadok,
Ribbi Eliezer ben Jacob, and others, and dates from the time of the
disciples of Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai downward. Now the order of
these titles is as follows: Ribbi is greater than Rab; Rabban again,
is greater than Ribbi; while the simple name is greater than Rabban.
Besides the presidents of the
Sanhedrin no one is called Rabban.
^ Englishman's Greek Concordance of the
New Testament by Wigram,
George V.; citing Matthew 26:25, Mark 9:5 and John 3:2 (among others)
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Roman Palestine, 1997, page 59 "b –
Rabbi as an Honorary Address
Jesus was called "Rabbi" but did not conform to the
traditional image of post-70 Jewish rabbis, and since pre-70 sages do
not bear the title "Rabbi" in the Mishnah,29 most scholars assume that
the meaning and usage of the term "Rabbi" at the time of Jesus
differed from the meaning which it acquired after the destruction of
the Temple: in pre-70 times, "Rabbi" was used as an unofficial
honorary address for any person held in high esteem; after 70 it was
almost exclusively applied to ordained teachers of the Law."
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