(English Index)

(Original Index)




Rabbi, in Judaism, means a religious 'teacher', or more literally, 'great one'. The word Rabbi is derived from the Hebrew root word rav, which in biblical Hebrew means 'great' or 'distinguished (in knowledge)'. The modern Israeli pronunciation rabbi is derived from a recent (18th century) innovation in Ashkenazic prayer books, although this vocalization is also found in some ancient sources.

The governments of the kingdoms of Israel and the Judah were based on a system of Jewish kings, prophets, the legal authority of the court of the Sanhedrin and the ritual authority of priesthood. Members of the Sanhedrin all had to receive their "ordination" (semichah derived in an uninterrupted line of transmission from Moses) yet they were more frequently referred to as judges (dayanim) akin to the "Judges" (Shoftim) as in the Book of Judges, rather than rabbis.

The rabbi is not an occupation found in the Torah (i.e. The Pentateuch) as such; the first time this word is mentioned is in the Mishnah (codified around 200 C.E). The basic form of the rabbi developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era.

The more ancient generations had no such titles as Rabban, Rabbi, or Rav, for either the Babylonian sages or the sages in Israel. This is evident from the fact that Hillel I, who came from Babylon, did not have the title Rabban prefixed to his name. Of the prophets, also, who were very eminent, it is simply said, "Haggai the prophet" etc., "Ezra did not come up from Babylon" etc., the title Rabban not being used.

This title 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 too, came into vogue among those who received the laying on of hands at this period, as, for instance, Rabbi Zadok, Rabbi 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: Rabbi is greater than Rav; Rabban again, is greater than Rabbi; while the simple name is greater than Rabban. Besides the presidents of the Sanhedrin no one is called Rabban.