1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Rabbi
RABBI, a Hebrew word meaning “my master,” “my teacher.” It is derived from the adjective rab (in Aramaic, and frequently also in Hebrew, “great”), which acquired in modern Hebrew the signification of “lord,” in relation to servants or slaves, and of “teacher,” “master,” in relation to the disciple. The master was addressed by his pupils with the word rabbi (“my teacher”), or rabbenu (“our teacher”). It became customary to speak of Moses as Moshe rabbenu (“our teacher Moses”). Jesus makes it a reproach against the scribes that they cause themselves to be entitled by the people rabbi (ῥαββί, Matt. xxiii. 7): and He Himself is saluted by the disciples of John as rabbi (John i. 38, where the word is explained as equivalent to διδάσκαλε). As an honorary title of the scribes, with whose name it was constantly linked, “Rabbi” only came into use during the last decades of the second Temple. Hillel and Shammai, the contemporaries of Herod, were mentioned without any title. Gamaliel I., the grandson of Hillel, was the first to whose name the appellation Rabban (the same as rabbon, and also pronounced as ribbon, cf. ῥαββουνί, Mark x. 51; John xx. 16) was prefixed. This title, a higher distinction than that of rabbi, is in tradition borne only by the descendants of Gamaliel I., the last being Gamaliel III., the son of Jehuda I. (Aboth ii. 2), and by Joḥanan b. Zaccai, the founder of the school of Jamnia (Jabneh). Otherwise all Tannaites (see Tanna), the scholars of the Mishnah period, were distinguished by the title of “rabbi.” The Jehuda I. mentioned above, the redactor of the Mishnah, was honoured as the “Rabbi” κατ’ ἐξοχήν (“par excellence”), and in the tradition of the houses of learning, if it was necessary to speak of him or to cite his opinions and utterances, he was simply referred to as “Rabbi,” without the mention of any name. Scholars who were not definitely ordained—and among these were men of high distinction-were simply mentioned by their names without the Rabbi-title. In the post-Talmudic age the Qaraites, who rejected the tradition of the Talmud, designated the Jews who adhered to that tradition as Rabbanites. Similarly the term Rabbins, or Rabbis, is applied to modern Jewish clergy. The plural rabbanim was employed to describe the later Jewish scholars (so, for example, in the historian Abraham Ibn Daud, 12th century). By “rabbinical literature” is understood the post-Talmudic Jewish literature; in particular, so far as its subject is the literature of the tradition and its contents.
Rab became a proper name as the standing nomenclature of the celebrated amora, Abba Arika (q.v.). (W. Ba.)