Monday, November 8, 2010

"Rabbi, Teacher and Preacher"

A question was received at the JTS Library's Reference Desk:

The Jewish Theological Seminary's certificate of rabbinical ordination proclaims the recepient as worthy of being a "rabbi, teacher and preacher". What is the history of this phrase and why was it chosen?

So far our inquiries have not turned up any relevant information on this matter. If anyone has information on this topic, we are interested in hearing from you in the "Comments" section. Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. Ira Rohde, Hazan, Congregation Shearith IsraelNovember 11, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    The Amsterdam Ets Haim Seminary, the mother of the British and Dutch Spanish & Portuguese Congregations, did have some unusual titles, as well as different degrees they gave out. (They had a cantorial degree, as well, for example.) Presumably the Italian Sephardim did the same. Moreh veDarshan (perhaps with the word “Rav,” or perhaps not) sounds like it might be a type of degree Amsterdam might give; essentially a teaching degree, a “teacher/preacher.” However, JTS ordination seems not to have been based upon mastery of Shulhan Arukh. Sephardim often did not use Yoreh Yoreh, you are right about that. The lack of a clear “ordination” in Judaism was a major concern of American Jewry, since the YMCA made it the basis of their objection to Jewish military chaplains, and American Jewish clergyman had trouble in general with non-Jewish recognition of their status. This was one of the reasons for establishing HUC and JTS in the first place. It would not surprise me if this type of phrasing was a new innovation, meant to clarify unambiguously (although the lengthy formulation “and he should be called a hakham and a rabbi,” with the implication that the person is not really such a scholar but he should be called one anyway - to my mind, this would seem to cast doubt upon the person’s real worthiness of that title) that the person is considered a clergyman, an innovation made here in America by Reverend Doctor Mendes, whose main specialty was as a preacher (and taught homiletics in his later years at YU). Mendes was never called a Hakham, as far as I know, and was never called a Rabbi, although he was called a minister and a Hazzan, I believe. Mendes himself probably had no training as a “Hakham,” and that title was anyway seldom given out except to the absolute chief cleric of the country. The best thing is to check the history of such titles in Amsterdam and England. The Ashkenazi use of the title Rav or Ribbi or Rabbi or Rebbi based upon study of Shulhan Arukh was easier to work with, and I believe the first recognized military chaplains had such Ashkenazic credentials, I believe. It would not surprise me if Sephardim and Ashkenazim collaborated in inventing this “new” type of title. Remember that HUC was founded first, and JTS had to compete with HUC for authority from the very beginning. How did the early HUC “ordinations” read, or for that matter, how did Mordecai Kaplan’s early YU ordination read? It took until the last ten years for Shearith Israel to openly use the title “Rabbi” for its ministers. With the appointment of unordained Orthodox women clergy, that innovation may go out of vogue yet.
    -Ira Rohde, Hazan, Congregation Shearith Israel

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