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MORENU (lit. "our teacher"):

Term used since the middle of the fourteenth century as a title for rabbis and Talmudists; and the abbreviation (= ) was placed before the name of the scholar in question. Thus the abbreviation ("MaHaRaM") stands for "Morenu ha-Rab R. "Meïr," or "R. Moses," and "MaHaRiL" for "Morenu ha-Rab R. Jacob Levi." This title was firstused in Germany, and after R. Meïr b. Baruk ha-Levi, rabbi of Vienna (1360-90), had revived the ancient custom of ordination ("semikah"), every one ordained as rabbi received the degree of morenu. The first who bore this title were, according to David Gans, R. Shalom of Austria, rabbi of Wiener-Neustadt, and R. Jacob Mölln (MaHaRiL). It can not be determined definitely why a special title was applied to rabbis, or why the term "morenu" was chosen. Isaac Abravanel says in his commentary on Abot v. 1 that the German rabbis conferred the title of morenu upon their scholarly pupils as an equivalent for the degree of doctor granted by the universities. Zunz thinks ("Z. G." pp. 185 et seq.) that the title was intended to add to the rabbinical dignity, for the title of rabbi had lost its significance of "scholar" or "master," since it had become customary to bestow it, perhaps in opposition to the Karaites, upon every Rabbinite Jew, even though he was not a scholar. The candidate for the degree of morenu receives it upon successfully passing an examination in the Talmud and the "posḳim." He is then called upon by this title to read the lesson from the Torah, and since the degree testifies to his rabbinical and Talmudic scholarship, he is thereby empowered to decide questions of religious law, to perform marriages, and to grant divorces. Formerly the title of morenu was conferred only upon married men—so that Jonathan Eybeschütz was prevented from granting it to Moses Mendelssohn while the latter was unmarried ("Kerem Ḥemed," iii. 225)—and the dignity was generally conferred upon the candidates on the day of their marriage (Ephraim Luntschütz, "'Olelot Efrayim," on aphorism 366), but it is now given to unmarried men as well. Every ordained rabbi has the power to grant it; and it occasionally happens that it is conferred as an honorary title in recognition of services rendered to a community, even though the recipient may not be distinguished for Jewish learning. See Mar.

Bibliography:
  • David Gans, Ẓemaḥ Dawid, p. 42b, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1692;
  • Zunz, Z. G. pp. 185 et seq.;
  • Grätz, Gesch. viii. 10 et seq.;
  • Güdemann, Die Neugestaltung des Rabbinerwesens im Mittelalter, in Monatsschrift, 1864, pp. 393 et seq.
W. B. J. Z. L.
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