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In Judaism, a rabbi // is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רַבִּי rabi [ˈʁäbi], meaning "My Master" (irregular plural רבנים rabanim [ʁäbäˈnim]), which is the way a student would address a master of Torah. The word "master" רב rav [ˈʁäv] literally means "great one".
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 the 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 importance.
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).
The word rabbi derives from the Semitic root R-B-B, in Hebrew script רַב rav, 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 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 Mishnah (c. 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").
According to the Talmud, it is a commandment (mitzvah) to stand up for a Rabbi or Torah scholar, and one should also stand for their spouses and address them with respect. Kohanim are required to honor Rabbis and Torah scholars like everybody else. However, if one is more learned than the Rabbi or the scholar there is no need to stand.
The governments of the kingdoms of Israel and 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 had to receive their ordination (semicha) derived in an uninterrupted line of transmission from Moses, yet rather than being referred to as "rabbis" they were more frequently called judges (dayanim) akin to the Shoftim or "Judges" as in the Book of Judges.
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 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 Mishnah and Talmud and subsequent rabbinical scholarship, leading to what is known as Rabbinic Judaism.
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 became increasingly influenced by the duties of the Protestant Christian minister, hence the title "pulpit rabbis". 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 traditionally non-rabbinic functions than they do teaching, or answering questions on Jewish law and philosophy. Within the Modern Orthodox community, rabbis still mainly deal with teaching and questions of Jewish law, but are increasingly dealing with these same pastoral functions. Orthodox Judaism's National Council of Young Israel and 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.
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 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.
The most general form of semicha is Yore yore ("he shall teach"). Most Rabbis hold this qualification; they are sometimes called a moreh hora'ah ("a teacher of rulings"). A more advanced form of semicha is Yadin yadin ("he shall judge"). This enables the recipient to adjudicate cases of monetary law, amongst other responsibilities. Although the recipient can now be formally addressed as a dayan ("judge"), the vast majority retain the title rabbi. Only a small percentage of rabbis earn this ordination. Although not strictly necessary, many Orthodox rabbis hold that a beth din (court of Jewish law) should be made up of dayanim.
Orthodox and Haredi Judaism
Orthodox and Modern-Orthodox
An Orthodox semicha 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 Talmud, Rishonim and 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 such subjects.
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 semicha are typically not required to have completed a university education. There are some exceptions to this rule, including 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 the title 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.
While some Haredi (including Hasidic) yeshivas (also known as "Talmudical/Rabbinical schools or academies") do grant official semicha ("ordination") to many students wishing to become rabbis, most of the students within the yeshivas engage in learning Torah or Talmud without the goal of becoming rabbis or holding any official positions.
The curriculum for obtaining semicha ("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 Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim (in New York) and Yeshiva Ner Yisrael (in Baltimore, Maryland), may encourage their students to obtain semicha 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 Yeshiva (in Brooklyn and Jerusalem), do not have an official "semicha/rabbinical program" to train rabbis, but provide semicha 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.
Consequently, within the world of Haredi Judaism, the English word and title of "Rabbi" for anyone is often scorned and derided, because in their view the once-lofty title of "Rabbi" has been debased in modern times. This is one reason that 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 HaRav ("our teacher the [great] rabbi"), Moreinu ("our teacher"), Moreinu VeRabeinu HaRav ("our teacher and our rabbi/master the [great] rabbi"), Moreinu VeRabeinu ("our teacher and our rabbi/master"), Rosh yeshiva ("[the] head [of the] yeshiva"), Rosh HaYeshiva ("head [of] the yeshiva"), "Mashgiach" (for 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.
Conservative 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 the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, the Rabbinical School of the 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.
In Reform 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.
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 has trained and ordained openly transgender people as rabbis (see Elliot Kukla and Reuben Zellman).
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.
Reconstructionist 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 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.
- Humanistic Judaism has the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, which currently has two centers of activity: one in 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 LGBT people.
- 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 LGBT people.
- 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. Orthodox 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 LGBT people.
- The 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 tradition.
- 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 Judaism, and 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 LGBT men.
- 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.
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 sacred legacy.
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 another.
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 tenets. Some 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 leadership.
- 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 as binding.
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.
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 halakhah 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.
There were some rare cases of women acting as rabbis in earlier centuries, such as the 17th century Asenath Barzani, who acted as a rabbi among Kurdish Jews. 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 Reconstructionist Judaism in 1974 (one of 110 by 2006); and Amy Eilberg became the first female rabbi in Conservative Judaism in 1985 (one of 177 by 2006). Lynn Gottlieb became the first female rabbi in 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 cantors.
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 University's 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 rabbi.
However, in the last twenty years Orthodox Judaism has begun to develop roles for women as halakhic court advisors and congregational advisors. Rabbi Aryeh Strikovski (Machanaim Yeshiva and Pardes Institute) worked in the 1990s with Rabbi 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 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 Maharat has been used by those who receive this title at Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox seminary for women to confer an equivalent to rabbinic ordination.
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 day schools.
- …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 changing 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 in 2015, 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 of 2015 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 movements throughout Jewish history in having rejected basic tenets of Judaism.
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 Synagogue in Manhattan.
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 Yaakov Varhaftig.
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 Rabbi 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 to 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 Yaakov Varhaftig.
- 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."
- In 2009, 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 Maharat were 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.
- Hezser, Catherine (1997). The Social Structure of the Rabbinic Movement in Roman Palestine. Mohr Siebeck. pp. 64–. ISBN 978-3-16-146797-4.
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 authority.
- "Orthodox Women To Be Trained As Clergy, If Not Yet as Rabbis –". Forward.com. Retrieved May 3, 2012.
- PRI.org Can Orthodox Jewish Women be Rabbis?, November 9, 2015
- Heinz-Josef Fabry entry Rab in Theological dictionary of the Old Testament Vol.13 p273-5 ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, sv:Helmer 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 functions.10 Aramaic in all its dialects makes copious use of this root."
- 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)
- Catherine Hezser The social structure of the rabbinic movement in Roman Palestine 1997 -Page 59 "b – Rabbi as an Honorary Address ... Since 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."
- See Talmud Kidushin daf 30–40, Bava Metziah 33a, Rambam's Mishneh Torah tractate Hilkhot Talmud Torah 5:7
- "YUTorah Online – The Obligation to Respect the Wife of a Torah Scholar or a Talmidat Chacham (Rabbi Hanan Balk)". Yutorah.org. June 24, 2010. Retrieved May 3, 2012.
- Kirschenbaum, Aaron (1993). "MARA DE-ATRA: A Brief Sketch". Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. 27 (4): 35-40. JSTOR 23260883.
- "Hebrew Institute of Riverdale – H.I.R. – Home Page". H.I.R. Retrieved May 3, 2012.
- "Yated Blasts Chovevei Torah for Ordination of Female Rabbi, Calls on YU, RCA & OU to Denounce 'Open Orthodoxy' » Matzav.com – The Online Voice of Torah Jewry". Matzav.com. July 14, 2009. Retrieved May 3, 2012.
- Canadian Jewish News Why Orthodoxy Needs Female Rabbis, November 25, 2015
- Uriel Heilman. "Is Yeshivat Chovevei Torah kosher enough?". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
The red lines would be what we consider to be appropriate halachic standards, and also appropriate philosophical standards. RCA took a position when the whole rabba controversy erupted that while we are very much in favor of women's leadership roles in Jewish community, we don't believe that a woman rabbi is a construct that's acceptable. If YCT were to admit women, that would be a red line.
- "Yeshivat Chovevei Torah: Is It Orthodox?". Yeshiva World News. February 21, 2007. Retrieved April 25, 2016.
It is a "Yeshiva" that professes to be "Orthodox" but, in fact, deviates from normative Orthodox thought, halacha and practice as accepted by Rabbonim and Poskim from across the spectrum of Orthodoxy.
- Lisa Hostein (October 1, 2015). "Reconstructionists give green light to intermarried rabbinical students". Jweekly. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
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- Ari L. Goldman, Religion Notes, The New York times, Saturday, March 10, 1990
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- Pitchei Teshuvah CM 7:5
- Maimonides, Melachim 1:6
- Shulchan Aruch CM 7:4
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- Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah, Women rabbis – a new kind of rabbinic leadership?, 2006.
- Friedman, Moshe Y'chiail, "Women in the Rabbinate", Friedman, Moshe Y'chiail. Jewish Observer, 17:8, 1984, 28–29.
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- "Rabbanit Reclaimed", Hurwitz, Sara. JOFA Journal, VI, 1, 2006, 10–11.
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- Jan 10, 2008 23:50 | Updated Jan 13, 2008 8:48|Jewishworld.Jpost.Com Hartman Institute to ordain women rabbis
- "Rabbis, Rebbetzins and Halakhic Advisors", Wolowelsky, Joel B.. Tradition, 36:4, 2002, pp. 54–63.
- "home - Yeshivat Maharat". Retrieved 1 February 2011.
- Eisner, Jane (2009-11-14). "Forward 50, 2009". The Forward. Retrieved 13 March 2010.
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- Rabbi Lila Kagedan (25 November 2015). "Why Orthodox Judaism needs female rabbis". The Canadian Jewish News.
- Harris, Ben (March 9, 2010). "Amid Furor, Weiss Backs Away from 'Rabba' Title for Women". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
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- "Moetzes: 'Open Orthodoxy' Not a Form of Torah Judaism". Hamodia.
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- Josh Nathan-Kazis (3 November 2015). "Avi Weiss Defends 'Open Orthodoxy' as Agudah Rabbis Declare War". The Forward.
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- Copy of Original Certificate MS Word Document
- Archived January 12, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- GLENN WILBURN (June 16, 2013). "First Orthodox Jewish women ordained as members of clergy". myfoxny.com.
- "As First Maharats Graduate, Roles for Orthodox Women Take Leap Forward". The Forward. June 16, 2013.
- "Class of 2015". Yeshivat Maharat.
- Rabbi Lila Kagedan (25 November 2015). "Why Orthodox Judaism needs female rabbis". The Canadian Jewish News.
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- Rabbi, Rabbinate, article in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed., vol. 17, pp. 11–19, Keter Publishing, 2007.
- Aaron Kirchenbaum, Mara de-Atra: A Brief Sketch, Tradition, Vol. 27, No. 4, 1993, pp. 35–40
- Aharon Lichtenstein, The Israeli Chief Rabbinate: A Current Halakhic Perspective, Tradition, Vol. 26, No. 4, 1992, pp. 26–38
- Jeffrey I. Roth, Inheriting the Crown in Jewish Law: The Struggle for Rabbinic Compensation, Tenure and Inheritance Rights, Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2006
- S. Schwarzfuchs, A Concise History of the Rabbinate, Oxford, 1993
Women in Non-Orthodox Judaism
- Nadell, Pamela. Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination, 1889–1985, Beacon Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8070-3649-8.
Women in Orthodox Judaism
- Mason Delugoda
- Debra Nussbau, Cohen, Jewish tradition vs. the modern-day female, March 17, 2000, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
- Lauren Gelfond Feldinger, The Next Feminist Revolution, The Jerusalem Post, March 17, 2005
- Moshe Y'chiail Freidman, Women in the Rabbinate, Jewish Observer, 17:8, 1984, 28–29.
- Laurie Goodstein, Causing a Stir, 2 Synagogues Hire Women to Aid Rabbis, February 6, 1998, New York Times
- Jeff Helmreich, Orthodox women moving toward religious leadership, Friday June 6, 1997, Long Island Jewish World
- Marilyn Henry, Orthodox women crossing threshold into synagogue, Jerusalem Post Service, May 15, 1998
- Jonathan Mark, Women Take Giant Step In Orthodox Community: Prominent Manhattan shul hires ‘congregational intern’ for wide-ranging spiritual duties, The Jewish Week December 19, 1997
- Emanuel Rackman, (Women as Rabbis) Suggestions for Alternatives, Judaism, Vol.33, No.1, 1990, p. 66–69.
- Ben Greenberg, Women Orthodox Rabbis: Heresy or Possibility?, First Things, October 2009
- Gil Student, When Values Collide, First Things, September 2009
- Mimi Feigelson, Yeshivah Student, Feminine Gender, Eretz Acheret Magazine
- Rabbi, Jewishencyclopedia.com
- The American Rabbi - Rabbinic resource of sermons, stories, anecdotes and writings for today's rabbis.
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Rabbi and Rabbinism". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. – A pre-Vatican II Catholic view of the development of the Rabbinical office
- A book review by Rabbi Twersky that deals with advanced study of Torah in relation to Orthodox Jewish women