Referenced Messianic Jewish Review Blog

The official blog of the Referenced Messianic Jewish Review. The Referenced Messianic Jewish Review studies the history, composition and theology of the Messianic Jewish movement.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Who Is A Rabbi?

Rabbi. A seemingly straightforward designation. However, one of the more amazing things that I experience when reading Messianic websites is how most of the Messianic leaders call themselves "rabbis", the term used to designate a Jewish religious leader. None of these individuals actually have rabbinic ordination, yet they all seem to have no difficulty in claiming the term as their own. The argument that is often used is that the term "rabbi" translates as "teacher", so it makes sense for the religious leaders of Messianic groups to take on this title. But is this what the term "rabbi" really means, does it just mean "teacher" and nothing else?
Like many words, the word "rabbi" is misunderstood if it is directly translated without comprehending the proper usage of the word. A rabbi is more than just a teacher. To become a rabbi, a person must study under a rabbi and the rabbi must ordain them. As an example, let take two individuals, Student A and Rabbi B. To become a rabbi, Student A learns under Rabbi B. At the end of Student A's studies, Rabbi B ordains Student A, which makes Student A into Rabbi A. Without being ordained by Rabbi B, Student A has no rabbinical standing whatsoever.
To understand this properly, we must also understand how this ordination process began. The first ordination was when Moses ordained Joshua in the Torah. From that point, we have an unbroken line of ordination, leading to our rabbis today. In the Talmud, it lists lineages of rabbis, so a rabbi could list every single rabbi in his lineage, all the way back until Moses. Even today, about 1500 years since Talmudic times, some rabbis are still able to list all of the rabbis in their chain, all the way back to Moses! So, being a rabbi does not mean that one is merely a "teacher", but it means that a person is an ordained Jewish leader, whose ordination traces back to Moses. The Messianic leaders do not have this ordination, and therefore have no right to call themselves "rabbis." To proclaim themselves as "rabbis" because they consider themselves "teachers" (though they are teaching Christianity and not Judaism, as Messianic "Judaism" is truly a branch of Christianity), does not match the actual meaning of the term "rabbi." There are many, many teachers within the world of Judaism, individuals who lead congregations and educate others, but they are not rabbis, nor do they claim to be. Those in the Jewish world who teach are called "morim", "teachers". The term "rabbi" is a special term, that is reservered for the special people that have studied for such a long time and received rabbinic ordination.
This then leads us to another issue, namely, that some Messianic groups have created their own "rabbinic ordination." However, as was just reviewed, one can only call themselves a rabbi if one has been ordained, following this unbroken chain to Moses. It is simply not possible for a Messianic group, or any group for that matter, to spuriously invent their own "rabbinic ordination." It boils down to a simple idea; if you have not been ordained by a real rabbi, one whose rabbinic lineage traces back to Moses, you are not a rabbi.
If one truly respects Judaism, respects Jewish history and is knowledgeable of the proper usage of Jewish terms, then one understands how distressing it is that the Messianic movement inappropriately uses the term "rabbi" for its leaders, incorrectly lumping their leadership with the true leaders of the Jewish community, the real Jewish rabbis who trace themselves back to Moses himself.