In the Jewish communities rabbis serve as teachers and interpreters of Jewish law and tradition. They also function as judges and even as inspectors of kosher food. Strictly speaking, they have no special liturgical functions or privileges, and their role is not really analogous to that of priests or ministers in the Christian tradition.

Judaism is a tradition of stories. Rabbis are in essence trained storytellers. They are educated in these narratives that have made the Jewish people who they are and are implored to continue telling their story.

In the past these stories were passed down in an oral tradition. Just after the destruction of the second temple in the time of the Roman occupation this all changed. A small group of rabbis were worried that they would lose a large body of wisdom under the oppression of the Roman empire. So they set out to do something they had never done: write down large portions of their oral tradition. This process is now referred to as the Gleanings and it's outcome was the mishnah or the "oral torah".

Today rabbis are the keepers of not only the spoken story but also experts in the written story. In some ways they are the thread that has held an exiled people together.

Rab"bi (rab"bI or -bi; 277), n.; pl. Rabbis (-bIz or -biz) or Rabbies. [L., fr. Gr. "rabbi`, Heb. rabI my master, from rab master, lord, teacher, akin to Ar. rabb.]

Master; lord; teacher; -- a Jewish title of respect or honor for a teacher or doctor of the law. "The gravest rabbies." Milton.

Be not ye called Rabbi, for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.
Matt. xxiii. 8.

 

© Webster 1913

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