rabbi

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

rabbi

rabbi [Heb.,=my master; my teacher], the title of a Jewish spiritual leader. The role of the rabbi has undergone a number of transformations. In the Talmudic period, rabbis were primarily teachers and interpreters of the Torah. They developed the liturgy, calendar, and other aspects of post-Temple Judaism. During the Middle Ages, the post of rabbi became a professional one, with the incumbent taking on the additional role of supervision of the religious life of the community. Rabbis of the Reform and Conservative movements pay considerable attention to pastoral and administrative duties, as well as preaching. Orthodox rabbis have to some extent also taken on such duties, although they continue to stress the traditional roles of judging, teaching, and studying Torah. The state of Israel has a dual chief rabbinate, representing the Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities. Rabbis have traditionally been male, but in the 20th cent. the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative movements began to ordain women.

See L. Ginzberg, Students, Scholars, and Saints (1985); J. R. Marcus and A. J. Peck, The American Rabbinate (1985).

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