The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia


Words and phrases applied to persons to distinguish their noble birth, or their official or social rank and station, or as marks of acknowledgment of their learning and piety.

Origin. —Biblical Data:

The title "adon" = "lord" was given to the owner of property and slaves; also to the person to whom homage was paid as a guest of honor (Gen. xviii. 3) or who has done an act of kindness (ib. xix. 18). Abraham was entitled "lord" and "nesi elohim" = "mighty prince" (ib. xxiii. 6), also "prophet" (ib. xx. 7). The representative of the people was a "melek" = "leader," or in some cases "king." Next in rank was the "aluf" = "duke" or "chieftain." Each of the dukes of Esau was the ruler of a family or clan (ib. xxxvi. 15), and was probably subject to the head of the whole tribe. The king appointed a viceroy termed "mishneh"="second." Joseph was mishneh to Pharaoh, with the title "abrek" = "bow the knees" (ib. xli. 43), denoting the reverence due to his dignity; though according to the Talmud "ab-rek" () is a compound word whose two elements signify respecttively "father" (in wisdom) and "young" (in years), the whole denoting "young father" in the sense of "Jupiter" = "Ju" + "pater" (Levinsohn, "Shorashe Lebanon," s.v. ). Pharaoh renamed Joseph "Zaphnath-paaneah"="the revealer of secrets."

Moses as a spiritual leader was recognized by the titles "ish ha-Elohim" = "the man of God" (Deut. xxxiii. 1) and "'ebed Yhwh" = "the servant of the Lord" (ib. xxxiv. 5). These titles were applied to other prophets also (I Sam. ii. 27; Isa. xlii. 19).

The civil administration was conducted by judges who had the title of "prince," "ruler" ("sar," "sarim") over certain divisions of the people, comprising thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (Ex. xviii. 21). In a later period the judges ("shofeṭim") became the real rulers of the Israelites, till, like the Gentiles, the latter adopted a king. In Moses' time these were called also the "zeḳenim" = "elders" and the "nesi'im" = "rulers" (Lev. iv. 22) of the congregation.

Titles of Birth and Nobility.

The title of birth, "bekor," assigned to the first-born son in every family, carried with it special privileges of inheritance. The title "kohanim"= "priests," applied to all descendants of Aaron, and that of "Lewiyim"="Levites," to the rest of the tribe of Levi, carried with them privileges with regard to tithes and certain duties in connection with the administration of religious services in the Temple; thus the senior priest was called "kohen mashiaḥ" = "the anointed priest" or "kohen gadol" = "the high priest." The prophet ("nabi") bore also the titles "ro'eh" and "ḥozeh" = "seer" (I Sam. ix. 9; II Kings xvii. 13).

Titles of nobility not connected with the tribe of Levi, but recognized by the people or conferred by the king as distinctions of ancient and noble stock, high descent, and gentility, were the following: "aẓil," "ḥor" = "freeman"; and "nasik," "rozen," or "razon" (Prov. xiv. 28) = "prince." Titles of civil officers chosen by the people were: "aluf," "nasi," "nagid," "ḳaẓin," and "rosh" = "chief." Titles of officers connected with the royal palacewere: "abi ha-melek" (the father of the king, i.e., prime minister); "saris" (eunuch, chamberlain, the king's friend; I Kings iv. 57); "rab ha-ṭabbaḥim" (executioner); "yoresh 'eẓer" (crown prince); "mishneh" (viceroy); "shalish" (third in rank, chief of staff); "niẓẓab" or "neẓib" (tribal governor; I Kings iv. 7); "peḥah," "sagan" (lieutenant and deputy; Jer. li. 23); "abir," "addir" (knight and hero); "kereti" and "peleti" (royal couriers and headsmen forming the body-guard of David); "seren" (satrap of the Philistines); "ṭifsar" (a military prefect); "partam," "'aḥashdarpan" (satrap under the Persian government); "sarek" (overseer; Dan. vi. 3); "rab," "rabreban" (chief, chieftain); "mazkir" (recorder). During the Exile the Persian king gave his courtiers titles: thus Daniel was renamed "Belteshazzar" (ib. i. 7), and Nehemiah "Tirshatha" (Neh. viii. 9). For later titles see Exilarch, Gabbai, Gaon, Nasi, Parnas, Rabbi, etc.

J. J. D. E.Aristocracy. —In Rabbinical Literature:

The Rabbis lay stress on the distinction due to "yiḥus" and "zekut abot" (see Patriarchs). A descendant of a noble family is a "yaḥsan" (well-born; comp. "gentle" in "gentleman"). The destruction of Jerusalem is ascribed to the lack of distinction between the nobles and the common people: "As with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with the master" (Isa. xxiv. 2; Shab. 119b). With the exception of Simeon ha-Ẓaddiḳ (= "the just") the members of the Great Assembly and of the Sanhedrin were not referred to by any title (Ab. i. 2).

Communal and Religious Titles.

The Biblical title "nasi" for the president of the community and "ab bet din" (father of the court of law) for the chief justice existed at an early period in the Palestinian academies. The title "rabban" (general master of the community) was given to Johanan b. Zakkai and to Gamaliel the Elder. The title "rabbi," designating an individual master, was only less honorable than "rabban." In the Babylonian schools "rab" was used instead. The title "rabbi" without the proper name was used to designate Judah ha-Nasi I. The scholars mentioned in the Mishnah, known as Tannaim, except those of the early period, have the title "rabbi" prefixed to their names, as have also the Palestinian amoraim, the Babylonian amoraim bearing that of "rab" (see Amoraim). The later Talmudists bear the title Mar (master). Ḥaber ("colleague") and Ḥakam were titles used in Palestine. Abba was used in Babylon, as was the title "resh galuta" (Exilarch), or "rosh ha-keneset" (head of the synagogue). Resh Kallah denoted the president of the students who assembled in the months of Adar and Elul. Parnas was the title of the administrator of the community; Gabbai, that of the public almoner, the collector and distributer of charities (Ned. 65b). The Ḥazzan in the mishnaic period was the sexton of the synagogue; in later times he was the reader of prayers; while the sexton or beadle was known as the "shammash." A teacher was called "melammed," and his assistant "resh dukana" (B. B. 21a). The latter taught the class of younger children stationed on a platform; hence the name Dukan.

Honorific phrases used as epithets were assigned to the great rabbis in the Talmudic period by their disciples and admirers. R. Johanan b. Zakkai was called "the light of Israel, the right pillar, the mighty hammer" (Ber. 28b). Jose the priest, a disciple of Johanan b. Zakkai, was styled "ḥasid" = "pious" (Ab. ii. 11); there was also a R. Simeon Ḥasida (Suk. 52b). R. Eleazar called R. Asi "mofet ha-dor" = "the wonder of the generation" (Ḥul. 103b). Metaphorical terms were similarly used: R. Eleazar b. Simeon was "a lion the son of a lion" (B. M. 84b); R. Ḥiyya b. Abin was exalted as "the lion of society" (Shab. 111); Samuel was known as "the lion of Babylon" (ib. 53a); R. Akiba, as "oẓar balum" = "a treasure of knowledge" (Giṭ. 67a); R. Meïr (whose real name was Me'ashah) was so called because he enlightened the eyes of the wise in the Halakah ('Er. 13b); R. Menahem b. Simeon, "the son of the holy" ('Ab. Zarah 50a); R. Eleazar, "the best scholar" (Ker. 13b); R. Joseph, a "sharp knife" (Yeb. 122a), meaning that he was keen and logical in reasoning. The last-mentioned title was given also to Raba, Joseph's son (Ḥul. 77a). R. Joseph was styled "Sinai," and Rabbah "'oḳer harim" = "mountain-razer" (Hor. 14a). The former title describes the traditional and logical scholar; the latter, the pilpulist who depends on technical argumentation.

Titles in the Middle Ages.

In the geonic period the title Gaon replaced "nasi" as referring to the president of the community. The principal of the academies of Sura and Pumbedita were known as "rosh yeshibah" or "resh metibta." The principal teachers were the "resh sidra" and the "resh kallah." The title "nagid" was conferred on R. Samuel (1027-55), the author of "Mebo ha-Talmud," and later replaced the title "gaon" in Egypt (see Egypt). The title "dayyan" (judge) appears to have been first used in the eleventh century, in Spain (see Baḥya, Joseph ibn Paḳuda). In France and Germany the title "parnas" was revived, "manhig" (leader) being applied to the same official. The title Gabbai for the receiver of the taxes and contributions of the congregation was revived among the Sephardim; he ranked next to the parnas. The title "rabbenu" (our master) was given to Gershom, Tam, Hananeel, and Nissim.

The title Morenu ("our teacher") as a rabbinical degree introduced by R. Meïr ha-Levi of Vienna, was first conferred on R. Shalom and R. Jacob Mölln at the end of the fourteenth century. The titles "darshan" and Maggid were given to preachers.

Among the titles conferred on eminent Jews by governments in various countries were the following: In England during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Bishop of the Jews, or "episcopus Judæorum," and Presbyter Judæorum, equivalent to the title "rabbi" or "ab bet din." In Germany the rabbi was sometimes called Hochmeister, "Judenmeister," or "Judenbischoff"; the learned Jew, "gelehrte Jude." "Court Jew" ("Hofjude") was equivalent to Shetadlan () the title of the attorney and representative of the Jews in their relationswith the government in Poland and later in Russia.

Government Titles.

King Matthias of Hungary created the offices of "princeps Judæorum," "supremus Judæorum," and "præfectus Judæorum," held by members of the Mendel family (1482-1539), who were responsible for the Jewish taxes and were clothed with special jurisdiction over the Jews. Other government officials were "doctor Judæorum" and "magister Judæorum," whom the emperor appointed to settle all disputes between the Jews (Jost, "Gesch. der Israeliten," vi. 54, Berlin, 1826). Rabbi Leon of Mantua in the fifteenth century received the title of Messer ("maestre"), usually given to physicians. The Turkish government confers the title "ḥakam bashi" on the chief rabbi of the Sephardim; it thus also occurs in Egypt.

In the sixteenth century the title "maran" (our lord) was applied to Joseph Caro of Safed, author of the Shulḥan 'Aruk; and for a long time thereafter it was not given to any other person. The title "gaon" was revived in honor of Elijah B. Solomon of Wilna (1720-97); and since it has been misapplied to ordinary rabbis, the gaon of Wilna is described also as "gaon amitti" = "the genuine gaon." The title "ḥarif," from the Talmudic title "sakkina ḥarifa" (sharp knife), was revived in the eighteenth century. The title Baḥur dates back perhaps to the fourteenth century. It was used later in combination with an adjective, as "baḥur heḥashub" (the honored or worthy youth); and "yeshibah baḥur" designated the student in the yeshibah. The title "'illuy" (par excellence) described the young Talmudic genius.

The Ḥasidim came into existence in the time of Elijah Wilna. Their rabbis are variously styled "ẓaddiḳ" (righteous), "ba'al mofet" (wonder-master), "ba'al shem" (renowned master), and in Judæo-German "Rebbe" or "guter Yid."

Modern Titles.

In modern times the principal rabbi is known as "rab ha-galil" (district rabbi) and "rab ha-kolel" (equivalent to "chief rabbi" and "grand rabbin"); also as "rabbi" and "dayyan" with "ab bet din" connoting the president of the religious and civil court. A new title, "zeḳan ha-rabbanim" (elder rabbi), was conferred by the United Orthodox Rabbis of America, at their convention in Philadelphia in 1903, on R. Jacob David Ridbaz.

The German titles are "Rabbiner," "Rabbinats Assessor" (dayyan), and "Rabbinats Verweser." The title "reverend," conferred by the chief rabbi of England upon a Hebrew teacher, was criticized on the ground that "it ranks among the most mischievous and un-Jewish innovations peculiar to latter-day Anglo-Judaism" ("Jew. Chron." Jan. 3, 1902).

Abuse of Titles.

During the nineteenth century all Jewish titles were used in great profusion and indiscriminately. The title "gaon" was applied to nearly every rabbi, and some were addressed as "ha-ga'on ha-gadol" (the great gaon), "ha-ga'on ha-mefursam" (the well-known gaon), and, as if to out-Herod Herod, "ga'on ha-Ge'onim" (the gaon of the Geonim); also as "hama'or ha-gadol" (the greater light), "me'or ha-Golah" (the light of the Exile), and "rabban shel kol bene ha-Golah" (the master of all the members of the Exile). The titles "ḥarif," "baḳi" (familiar with the Law), and "muflag" (extraordinary) were common ones for the ordinary learned layman. The abuse of titles has been the subject of biting criticism, sarcasm, and even ridicule by the Maskilim, especially by Isaac Erter and Leon Gordon.

As to the moral right to address one by an unmerited title, R. Samuel di Medina (1505-89) rules against it, though he permits such titles as are customary (Rashdam, "Eben ha-'Ezer," No. 65). Ḥayyim Hezekiah Medini, in his "Sedeh Ḥemed" (i., letter ח, § 140; ק, § 157, Warsaw, 1896), reviews the decisions in the responsa collections on this question, and comes to the conclusion that since the title "gaon" has become a common rabbinical one it would be a breach of etiquette to omit it in addressing a rabbi of some authority and repute.

Some authors in compiling their responsa are careful to remove personal titles from their correspondence. R. Akiba Eger in his testament ordered his executors to erase before publication all titles except "rabbi" in the numerous letters addressed to him on matters of casuistry.

Joel Höschel ("'Aṭeret Yeshu'ah," Wilna, 1799) and Jehiel Heilprin ("'Erke ha-Kinnuyim," Dyhernfurth, 1806) give lists of epithets of Biblical personages. Certain Hebrew letter-writers also contain various forms of titles; in particular that of Joseph Rakower, "Leshon Naḳi." (Prague, 1704, and often reprinted), should be mentioned. The only special work known on the subject of this article is one in manuscript by Jehiel Mendelssohn (d. 1904).

J. J. D. E.
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