Rabbis are Judaism's scholars, teachers, and religious leaders.
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From the Jewish Virtual Library:
The word rabbi originates from the Hebrew meaning "teacher."
The term has evolved over Jewish history to include many roles and meanings. Today it usually refers to those who have received rabbinical ordination and are educated in matters of halacha (Jewish law). They are the ones knowledgeable enough to answer halachic questions. Many countries have a chief rabbi that they rely on to settle halachic disputes within their Jewish communities.
The state gives rabbis the permission to perform weddings. Technically, you don't need one; however, it's important to have a rabbi to make sure that the complicated marriage ceremony is done properly. Valid witnesses are needed to make the marriage official. The criteria constituting a valid witness differ among the movements. In Israel, a rabbi is needed for the secular legality of the wedding. The purpose of a rabbi is like that of using a judge or a lawyer in civil matters to ensure that the law is complied with. This differs from the non-Jewish concept of a minister having some necessary mystical connection with God that is required to make the ceremony valid.
The term rabbi was first used in reference to the rabbis of the Sanhedrin during the first century C.E. Throughout the medieval period the term referred to the common man, while the term "harav" implied scholarship.
Similar to modern times, many of those with rabbinical ordination in the talmudic period pursued other forms of livelihood unrelated to that of a rabbi. Today, although not common, some rabbis are simultaneously doctors, lawyers, psychologists, etc. By the 12th century, however, the job of rabbi had become, for most, a full-time occupation.
Also similar to modern times, the rabbis of talmudic times had many obligations. They were supposed to determine the Jewish calendar, serve as a judge in the rabbinical court, help ensure a form of social welfare in the community, and try to increase religious observance.
The rabbis of talmudic times were the sole authority on the Oral Torah. (This was before Oral Torah was written, and no one had the opportunity to study the law for themselves). The rabbi was also revered as being a figure closer to God than anyone else in the community. He was thought to have the ability to curse and bless individuals. A rabbi has no actual power under Jewish law. While Catholic priests are often used as intermediaries between man and God, rabbis are nothing more than regular people who may be officially recognized through a process of ordination, or informally by virtue of the respect they have earned for their knowledge and righteousness.
Among the Sephardim (in particular the Spanish and Portuguese Jews) "hakham" is the official title of the local rabbi, but it is not known how old the title is. Solomon ben Aderet addresses some of his responsa to people with "le-hakham Rabbi . . ." (Responsa, Nos. 79, 395), others again with "la-rab Rabbi . . .", but it is possible that "le-hakham" simply means "to the wise."
In Muslim countries, a rabbi was often called a ḥākhām because al-rab in Arabic was one of the names of God and may have caused offense due to misunderstanding. Thus the chief rabbi of the Ottoman Empire was called the Hakham Bashi (Hahambaşı حاخامباشی).
Today the role of a rabbi mirrors, in many ways, that of a Protestant minister. He/she serves the community as an educator, social worker, preacher, and conducts prayer services. The rabbi is not required to lead prayer services - as any knowledgeable congregant can carry out the service. Catholic priests can give absolution for sins, rabbis can't (unless you're asking forgiveness for something you've done against the rabbi personally).
The Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform movements now grant women s'micha, with the Reform movement leading the way since 1972. (The word s'micha - refers to the "laying on of hands" - the process whereby, one rabbi or rabbinic court, stood by and for the process and education of a student in their training and learning of tradition, culminating in a student being called Rabbi). The Orthodox (more traditional world) do not ordain women as rabbis, as they follow the stricter interpretation in the Talmud prohibiting women from serving as witnesses, judges or leading prayer.
- Geni Jewish Dynasties Wiki Project
- Revered Rabbis, Kabbalists, Sages, Torah Scholars and Luminaries of Renown
- Memorial to European Rabbis that Perished in the Holocaust
- Chief Rabbinical Judges - Av Beit Din
- Roshei Yeshivot - Torah Luminaries
Notable Rabbis - Spiritual and Community Leaders (selected profiles list)
- Rabbi Judah haNassi (ca. 135 – ca. 219) רבי יהודה הנשיא also known as Rabbeinu HaKadosh רבינו הקדוש, "Our Holy Rabbi", was a key leader of the Jewish community of Judea toward the end of the 2nd century CE, Best known as the chief redactor and editor of the Mishnah.
- Rashi (1040 – 1105) רש״י Preeminent Biblical Commentator of the Middle Ages; lived in France and Germany.
- Maimonides / Rambam (ca. 1138 – 1204) הרמב״ם The preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars of the Middle Ages.
- Maharal of Prague (ca.1512 – 1609) המהר״ל מפראג A towering giant in Torah and Kabbalah and a fearless leader of European Jewry during the sixteenth century.
- Moses Isserles, REMA (1520 – 1572) משה אירליש, רמ״א An eminent Ashkenazic Rabbi, Talmudist, and Posek, renowned for his fundamental work of Halakha (Jewish law), entitled HaMapah (lit., "the tablecloth").
- Yitzhak Luria / The Holy Ari (lion) (1534 – 1572) האר"י הקדוש - יִצְחַק לוּרְיָא A foremost rabbi and Jewish mystic in the community of Safed in the Galilee region of Ottoman Palestine.
- Baal Shem Tov / Besht (1698 – 1760) בעל שם טוב / הבעש״ט Jewish mystical rabbi in the Russian Empire (Ukraine). Founder of Hassidic Judaism.
- Mari Yihia Tsalekh / Maharitz (1713 – 1805) מארי יחיא צאלח, המהרי״ץ The foremost spiritual leader of Yemenite Jews in the 18th century and one of the greatest ״Late Poskim" (adjudicators) (פוסקים אחרונים).
- Gaon of Vilna (1720 – 1797) הגר״א אליהו, הגאון מוילנה One of Judaism's greatest spiritual and intellectual leaders of modern times, and the leading opponents (Misnagdim - מתנגדים) of Hassidic Judaism.
- Shneur Zalman of Liadi / The Alte Rebbe / Baal HaTanya (1720 – 1797) שלמה זלמן מליאדי, הרבי הזקן, בעל התניא An Orthodox Rabbi; founder and first Rebbe of Chabad, a major branch of Hassidic Judaism.
- R' Judah Alkalai (1798 – 1878) רבי יהודה אלקלעי A Sephardic Jewish rabbi in Zemun (present day Serbia) and one of pioneers of modern Zionism.
- Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, HaRaAYaH, HaRav (1865 – 1935) הרב אברהם יצחק הכהן קוק was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate for Palestine, Halachist, Kabbalist and a renowned Torah scholar. He was one of the most celebrated and influential Rabbis of the 20th century.
- R' Abraham Joshua Heschel A leading American theologian of the 20th century
- R' Martin Buber Leading Scholar, Philosopher and Zionist
- R' Isaac Mayer Wise Preeminent American Reform Rabbi
- R' Mordechai Kaplan Co-founder of Reconstructionist Judaism
- R' Leo Baeck Leader of Progressive Judaism
- R' Samson Raphael Hirsch Leader of Modern Orthodoxy
- R' Milton Steinberg American rabbi, author and philosopher
- R' David Wolpe The most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine (2012) and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post (2012). A leader in Conservative Judaism.
- List of famous rabbis
- The 50 most influential rabbis in America 2010
- "Rav, Rebbe, Rabbi ..." by Philologos Sep 19, 2003 (Updated Apr 14, 2015). The Forward.
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