A rabbi is a teacher of the Torah. Traditionally, rabbis have never been intermediaries between God and humans, and they are not considered to be imbued with special powers or abilities. And according to the ancient writings, it is a commandment to honour a rabbi and a Torah scholar, along with the elderly (Leviticus 19:32). One should address them with respect.
The first known rabbis were Gamaliel the elder, Simeon ben Gamliel (his son), and Yohanan ben Zakkai. They were all heading the Sanhedrin, the the supreme council in ancient Israel, in the first century CE (AD). The title "Rabbi" occurs in Greek transliteration 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, who somewhat was outside such a tradition.
The Torah and Oral Torah
Reading from the Torah publicly is one of the bases for Jewish communal life. Torah, "instruction, teaching", can mean the first five books of the Old Testament; or it means the twenty-four books that make up the Hebrew Bible, with commentaries by rabbis included. It can even mean all Jewish teaching, culture and practice. "Torah", instruction, offers a way of life through moral and religious obligations and civil laws. There is also the Oral Torah, "Torah that is spoken". The Oral Torah consists of interpretations and amplifications of the "book Torah", and have been handed down from generation to generation of rabbis and have become parts of the Talmud and Midrash.
The Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud
The Talmud, "instruction, learning", is a central text of Rabbinic Judaism. The term "Talmud" usually refers to the collection of writings named the Babylonian Talmud. However, there is also an earlier collection known as the Jerusalem Talmud, or Palestinian Talmud.
Midrash and midrash
The titles "Rabban" and "Rabbi" are first mentioned in the Mishnah (c. 200 CE). The midrash contains early rabbinic early interpretations and commentaries on the Written Torah and Oral Torah (spoken law and sermons), and also non-legalistic rabbinic literature and occasionally Jewish religious laws. The Midrash, capitalized, refers to a specific compilation of these writings, primarily from the first ten centuries CE. The purpose of midrash was to resolve problems in the interpretation of difficult passages of the text of the Hebrew Bible.
What rabbis work at
This means that rabbis have plenty scrolls and/or book material to go into and come up with. There are many ancient claims that go along with their material. The Midrash, for example, tells the Torah was created even before the world, and was used as the blueprint for Creation.
The oldest Torah evidence are Torah fragments from the 7th century BCE. The rest may have been produced when Hebrews were captives in Babylon.
After the two temples in Jerusalem and been destroyed and Jewish monarchy had come to an end, the earliest group of "rabbis" started to make explain and define Rabbinic Judaism. But after 425 CE there were no formal rabbinic qualifications left for centuries to come.
The very influential, medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135 or 1138 - 1204), ruled that every congregation had to appoint a preacher and scholar to admonish the community and teach Torah. In the fifteenth century in Central Europe, the custom grew into how scholars were to be licenced. At the time it was objected to; it was imitating the ways of the Gentiles (non-Jews), and was felt to resemble how doctorates were conferred in Christian universities. However, such ordination persists.
Later on, in 19th-century Germany and the United States, rabbinic activities included sermons, pastoral counseling, and representing the community to the outside. Such activities even take more of their time than to teach and answer questions about Jewish law and philosophy. And since there are many different Jewish denominations there are different opinions about who is to be recognised as a rabb.
Rabbis transmit knowledge of the Torah as passed down through generations. Learning from their teachers, adding new insights of their own, and teaching the public are the primary functions of rabbis. Studying the Torah is a lifelong undertaking. A rabbi is expected to set aside time daily for study, for the sake of the knowledge, inspiration and mastery needed.
Rabbis teach in schoolrooms, but also in the vineyard, the marketplace and the disciple circle. In many synagogues, the rabbi will give a couple of short daily classes. The sermon is another way to educate the public, often integrating Biblical passages with ethical messages or brief explanations of Biblical verses related to current event. Rabbis also write books, dealing with many aspects of the Jewish tradition.
In past centuries, Rabbis could judge in disputes among Jews in the Jewish community, at times helped by lay assessors. Rabbis were empowered to make binding regulations for their communities. They took stances as to dowries and matrimonial law, relations with gentiles, utilising civil courts, education of orphans, anti-counterfeiting measures, and the hiring of schoolteachers. The most famous of these ordinances is from 1000 CE, and still in effect today. It prohibits polygamy among Jews in the West.
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.
With their knowledge of Jewish law, rabbis supervise slaughter, dietary laws in shops and institutions, ritual baths, the elementary schools, Sabbath boundaries, and burials to ensure all is done according to the law (or custom). Kosher certification is one example of such work.
Rabbis answer questions about Jewish law and Jewish rituals from their congregations, and offer private advice in personal matters if asked. Modern rabbinical seminaries have instituted courses in psychology and pastoral counselling and more in such a vein.
Traditionally rabbis did not lead prayer services in the modern sense. Yet in some modern 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.
Jewish law does not require a rabbi to be present at a wedding, bar mitzvah, circumcision, funeral, in a house of mourning, or for unveiling a monument at a cemetery. Yet it is part of the custom that rabbis lead the community in celebration and in mourning, and in the modern era, it is rather obligatory.
Jewish divorce requires a rabbinical court, attended by rabbis.
In the synagogues it was the rabbi's task to teach that charity is a core Jewish value. The rabbi did this by preaching, teaching and by example. Moses Maimonides taught eight degrees of charity, starting with reluctant giving and ending with teaching someone a trade.
The rabbis serve as a role model for the congregation. and so as to set an example for the public, may deliberately model their conduct so that it represents Jewish values to the community and to outsiders.
Rabbis do not serve as "Jewish missionaries" They can encounter people who is not Jewish and seek information about Judaism or consider to become Jews, as when non-Jews marry Jews.
In periods when match-making was common, rabbis participated. Parents did not hesitate to consult the rabbi for suitable matches. A rabbi who can help in this arena will not hesitate to do so.
In most modern synagogues, it is the rabbi's task to administer it, supervise personnel, manage the physical plant, review or write the newsletter, and interact with the brotherhood, the sisterhood and the youth organizations. In large synagogues he may be helped by an administrator or assistant rabbi.
Rabbis work as counsellors in the US military and the Israeli Defense Forces, on over five hundred campuses, hospitals, senior homes and prisons. Many rabbis use some of their time to activities where Jewish interests are at stake, and rabbis are often called upon to defend the Jewish faith, as when missionaries aim at converting Jews to other religions, explaining that one cannot be of the Jewish faith while believing in the Christian God or the Christian messiah.
Orthodox rabbis will most often not participate in interfaith dialogues about theology, but about matters of mutual social concern. Some rabbis do not practice the profession, but spend years engaged in advanced Torah study for its own sake.
Torah sages in antiquity were allowed a series of privileges and exemptions that alleviated their financial burdens somewhat. The traditional view of offering rabbinic service to the Jewish community without compensation remained the ideal for many centuries, but by the fifteenth century, rabbis had salaries or stipends, and accepted fees for various services, such as publishing books, or serving as matchmakers. A rabbi's salary and benefits today may be similar to those of lawyers and accountants, for example.
Priests are required to honour rabbis and Torah scholars, and so is the general public. But if one is more learned than the rabbi or the scholar there is no need to stand respectfully in their presence. The spouse of a Torah scholar must also be well respected. Further, teachers and rabbis must be honoured by their students, or else they may be excommunicated.
Rabbis and rabbis do not always see eye to eye
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.
Throughout history there have been many greater or lesser disputes about the legitimacy and authority of rabbis from the various religious branches within Judaism. For example, a quite lenient rabbi may be recognised as a spiritual leader of a particular community, but not another community, and may not be accepted as a credible authority on Jewish law in any of them. The orthodox rabbi establishment rejects that conservative, reform and reconstructionist rabbis are valid.
Debates among rabbi "camps" may cause great problems for marriages, conversions, and other life decisions touched by Jewish law. For example, orthodox rabbis do not recognise conversions by non-orthodox rabbis. And while woman rabbis today are ordained within all branches of Progressive Judaism, in Orthodox Judaism, women cannot become rabbis.
It happens to some that "Those possessing talents retain their talents (but grow no further), and those possessing shortcomings retain their shortcomings. Why? One reason could be the scarcity of opportunities for the growth of the bad inclinations." (Schneersohn 1990, ch 4.]
Ꮗ To grow talents in time means before you marry, too.
"Even the person whose base characteristics have grown completely unrestrained, has the possibility and the capability not only to subdue and discard these traits, but to elevate them as well." (Schneersohn 1990, ch 4.]
One who involves himself in the labor of self-refinement has the ability to transform a shortcoming into a virtue. (Schneersohn 1990, ch 4.]
Ꮗ We can hope that, at least.
It helps to harness fit habits: "Like the other traits and soul-powers of man, habit serves a most useful role when employed in good and worthwhile endeavors." (Schneersohn 1990, ch 11.]
Another very important factor of life should be brought to serve man too: "His place of residence, whether a small or large city, affects all aspects of his life." (Schneersohn 1990, ch 12.]
Ꮗ Well, hardly all of them, but such influences are powerful.
We have a power of delight, activated when things go well; and a power of conscience, which is activated when things are strained. "The power of delight, which because of its pre-eminence is termed a "revelation of the soul". (Schneersohn 1990, ch 16.]
Ꮗ We might reach high enough to enjoy delights without getting enslaved thereby, and ever be sensitive inside to the first, faint feelings of conscience, as it helps living.
Also, a measure of will may be mobilised to make one work contrary to base instincts, says Rabbi Yosef Schneersohn (1990, ch 16.]
Ꮗ Will may work well for a couple of years, but one's general conditions had better be so improved that life flows better than for those who need vast amounts of will powers just to keep floating.
A pupil that exaggerates and lies could turn dangerous to many others later on. [Cf. Schneersohn 1990, ch 16.]
Ꮗ Amen to that.
Maccoby, Hyam. Early Rabbinic Writings. Electronic ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Yahya, Harun (Adnan Oktar). Wisdom and Sound Advice from the Torah. 2nd ed. Istanbul: Global Publishing, 2009.
Schneersohn of Lubavitch, Yosef Yitzchak. The Four Worlds.. 2nd printing, Tr. Rabbi Yosef Marcus. New York: Kehot Publication Society, 2006.
Schneersohn of Lubavitch, Yosef Yitzchak. The Principles of Education and Guidance. New York: Kehot Publication Society, 1990.
Strach, H. L., and Günter Stemberger. Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash. 2nd printing with emendations and updates. Tr. and ed. Markus Bockmuehl. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992.
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