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Rebbe Naftali Tzvi Labin of Zidichov Rabbiofzidichov.JPG
Rebbe Naftali Tzvi Labin of Zidichov

Rebbe (Hebrew : רבי: /ˈrɛbɛ/ or /ˈrɛbi/ [1] ) is a Yiddish word derived from the Hebrew word rabbi , which means "master", "teacher", or "mentor". Like the title rabbi, it refers to teachers of Torah or leaders of Judaism.

Hebrew language Semitic language native to Israel

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel; the modern version of which is spoken by over 9 million people worldwide. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name Hebrew in the Tanakh. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only living Canaanite language left, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.

Yiddish is the historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews. It originated during the 9th century in Central Europe, providing the nascent Ashkenazi community with a High German-based vernacular fused with elements taken from Hebrew and Aramaic as well as from Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages. Yiddish is written with a fully vocalized version of the Hebrew alphabet.

In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. The basic form of the rabbi developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era, when learned teachers assembled to codify Judaism's written and oral laws. The first sage for whom the Mishnah uses the title of rabbi was Yohanan ben Zakkai, active in the early-to-mid first century CE. In more recent centuries, the duties of a rabbi became increasingly influenced by the duties of the Protestant Christian minister, hence the title "pulpit rabbis", and in 19th-century Germany and the United States rabbinic activities including sermons, pastoral counseling, and representing the community to the outside, all increased in importance.


In common parlance of modern times, the phrase the Rebbe is often used specifically by Hasidim to refer to the leader of their Hasidic movement. [2] [3]

Hasidic Judaism Jewish religious sect

Hasidism, sometimes Hasidic Judaism, is a Jewish religious group. It arose as a spiritual revival movement in contemporary Western Ukraine during the 18th century, and spread rapidly throughout Eastern Europe. Today, most affiliates reside in Israel and the United States. Israel Ben Eliezer, the "Baal Shem Tov", is regarded as its founding father, and his disciples developed and disseminated it. Present-day Hasidism is a sub-group within Ultra-Orthodox ("Haredi") Judaism, and is noted for its religious conservatism and social seclusion. Its members adhere closely both to Orthodox Jewish practice – with the movement's own unique emphases – and the traditions of Eastern European Jews, so much so that many of the latter, including various special styles of dress and the use of the Yiddish language, are nowadays associated almost exclusively with Hasidism.

Terminology and origin

The Yiddish term rebbe comes from the Hebrew word rabbi, meaning "My Master", which is the way a student would address a master of Torah. It was an honorific originally given to those who had Smicha in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era. Since vowels were not written at the time, it is impossible to know historically whether it was pronounced rah-bee ( /ˈrɑːbi/ ) or r-bee ( /ˈrɛbi/ ). The English word rabbi ( /ˈræb/ ) comes directly from this form. In Yiddish, the word became reb-eh ( /ˈrɛbɛ/ )now commonly spelled rebbe ( /ˈrɛbə/ or just reb ( /ˈrɛb/ ). The word masterרבrav [ˈʁäv] literally means "great one".

The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in the Holy Land during the time of Second Temple Judaism. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Pharisaic beliefs became the foundational, liturgical and ritualistic basis for Rabbinic Judaism.

The Sages of the Mishnah known as the Tannaim , from the 1st and 2nd centuries of the common era, were known by the title Rabbi ( /ˈræbi/ ) (for example, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochoy). Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the leader of Jewry in Mishnaic Times, was simply called Rabbi ( /ˈræbi/ ), as being the rabbi par excellence of his generation.

Tannaim were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approximately 10-220 CE. The period of the Tannaim, also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasted about 210 years. It came after the period of the Zugot ("pairs"), and was immediately followed by the period of the Amoraim ("interpreters").

Rabbi Akiva Jewish rabbi, he was one of the tannaim sages.

Akiba ben Yosef also known as Rabbi Akiva, was a tanna of the latter part of the first century and the beginning of the second century. Rabbi Akiva was a leading contributor to the Mishnah and to Midrash halakha. He is referred to in the Talmud as Rosh la-Hakhamim "Chief of the Sages". He was executed by the Romans in the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba revolt.

The Sages of the Talmud known as the Amoraim , from the 3rd, 4th and early 5th centuries, those born in the Land of Israel, are called Rabbi ( /ˈræbi/ ); those born in the diaspora are known by the title Rav ( /ˈrɑːv/ ).

Amoraim refers to the Jewish scholars of the period from about 200 to 500 CE, who "said" or "told over" the teachings of the Oral Torah. They were concentrated in Babylonia and the Land of Israel. Their legal discussions and debates were eventually codified in the Gemara. The Amoraim followed the Tannaim in the sequence of ancient Jewish scholars. The Tannaim were direct transmitters of uncodified oral tradition; the Amoraim expounded upon and clarified the oral law after its initial codification.

Land of Israel The birthplace of the palestanian People. The land in which Jewish history took place. Traditional Jewish name for an area of indefinite geographical extension in the Southern Levant,which is occupied by dirty zionest

The Land of Israel is the traditional Jewish name for an area of indefinite geographical extension in the Southern Levant. Related biblical, religious and historical English terms include the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land, the Holy Land, and Palestine. The definitions of the limits of this territory vary between passages in the Hebrew Bible, with specific mentions in Genesis 15, Exodus 23, Numbers 34 and Ezekiel 47. Nine times elsewhere in the Bible, the settled land is referred as "from Dan to Beersheba", and three times it is referred as "from the entrance of Hamath unto the brook of Egypt”.

Diaspora dispersion of ethnic communities

A diaspora (/daɪˈæspərə/) is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. In particular, diaspora has come to refer to involuntary mass dispersions of a population from its indigenous territories, most notably the expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel and the fleeing of Greeks after the fall of Constantinople. Other examples are the African transatlantic slave trade, the southern Chinese or Indians during the coolie trade, the Irish during and after the Irish Famine, the Romani from India, the Italian diaspora, the exile and deportation of Circassians, and the emigration of Anglo-Saxon warriors and their families after the Norman Conquest of England.


Today, rebbe is used in the following ways:

  1. Rabbi, a teacher of Torah – Yeshiva students or cheder (elementary school) students, when talking to their Teacher, would address him with the honorific Rebbe, as the Yiddish-German equivalent to the Hebrew word Rabbi (רַבִּיrabi [ˈʁäbi] ).
  2. Personal mentor and teacher—A person's main Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva teacher, or mentor, who teaches him or her Talmud and Torah and gives religious guidance, is referred to as rebbe ( /ˈrɛbə/ [1] ), also as an equivalent to the term "rabbi".
  3. Spiritual leader—The spiritual head of a Hasidic movement is called a rebbe ( /ˈrɛbə/ [1] ). His followers would address him as "The Rebbe" or refer to him when speaking to others as "the Rebbe" or "my Rebbe". He is referred to by others as the Rebbe of a particular Hasidut. In Hebrew, a hasidic rebbe is often referred to as an AdMoR , which is an abbreviation for Adoneinu, Moreinu, veRabbenu ("Our Master, our Teacher, and our Rabbi"). In writing, this title is placed before the name of the Hasidut, as in "Admor of Belz"; while the title Rebbe comes after the name of the Hasidut when used as an adjective, as in "Lubavitcher Rebbe", "Amshinever Rebbe", and every rebbe of every Hasidic Dynasty. In the Litvishe world, when not referring to a hasidic rebbe ( /ˈrɛbə/ [1] ), the word can be pronounced "rebbee" ( /ˈrɛbi/ ). Sephardic Jews can pronounce it as "Ribbi" ( /ˈrbi/ ). The Lubavitcher hasidim have a tradition that the Hebrew letters that make up the word rebbe ( /ˈrɛbi/ ) are also an acronym for "Rosh Bnei Yisroel", meaning "a spiritual head of the Children of Israel".

An ordinary communal rabbi, or rebbe in Yiddish, is sometimes distinct from a rav ( /ˈræv/ , also pronounced rov /ˈrɒv/ by Jews of Eastern European or Russian origin), who is a more authoritative halakhic decider. A significant function of a rav is to answer questions of halakha (corpus of Jewish law), but he is not as authoritative as a posek . The short form reb is an honorific for Orthodox Jewish men, who are most likely to have profound knowledge of the Talmud and Torah, as opposed to Reconstructionist, Reform or Conservative Judaism. Originally, this title was added to the names of Jews at the time of the schism with the Karaite sect, as a sign of loyalty to the original rabbinic tradition, known today as Orthodox Judaism. [4]

Rav is the Hebrew generic term for a teacher or a personal spiritual guide. For example, Pirkei Avot (1:6) states that:

(..) Joshua ben Perachiah says, ″Set up a teacher [rav] for yourself. And get yourself a study partner. And give everybody the benefit of the doubt.″ Pirke Avot: Timeless Wisdom for Modern Life; William Berkson, 2010, p185.

Halakha is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the written and Oral Torah. Halakha is based on biblical laws or "commandments" (mitzvot), subsequent Talmudic and rabbinic law, and the customs and traditions compiled in the many books, one of the most famous of which is the 16th-century Shulchan Aruch.

Posek profession

Posek is the term in Jewish law for a "decisor" — a legal scholar who determines the position of Halakha in cases of law where previous authorities are inconclusive, or in those situations where no clear halakhic precedent exists.


As a rule, among hasidim, rebbe ( /ˈrɛbə/ ) is referred to in Hebrew as admor (pl. admorim), an abbreviation for Hebrew adoneinu moreinu v'rabeinu, meaning 'our master, our teacher, and our rabbi', which is now the modern Hebrew word in Israel for rebbe.

Hasidim use the term rebbe ( /ˈrɛbə/ ) also in a more elevated manner, to denote someone that they perceive not only as the religious leader or nasi [3] of their congregation, but as their spiritual adviser and mentor. The Rebbe or my Rebbe in this sense is a rav or rabbi whose views and advice are accepted not only on issues of religious law and practice, but in all arenas of life, including political and social issues. Sometimes a hasid has a rebbe as his spiritual guide and an additional rav for rulings on issues of halakha.

Hasidim use the concept of a (non-Hasidic) rebbe in the simple sense of rabbi, as the Yiddish-German equivalent to the Hebrew word רַבִּיrabi [ˈʁäbi] . For example: "I will ask my rebbe ( /ˈrɛbə/ ), Rabbi ( /ˈræb/ ) Ploni (so-and-so), for advice about this personal matter."

The Hasidic rebbe

A Hasidic rebbe ( /ˈrɛbɛ/ ) is generally taken to mean a great leader of a Hasidic dynasty, also referred to as "Grand Rabbi" in English or an ADMOR, a Hebrew acronym for Adoneinu-Moreinu-veRabbeinu ("our lord/master, teacher, and rabbi"). Outside of Hasidic circles, the term "Grand Rabbi" has been used to refer to a rabbi with a higher spiritual status. The practice became widespread in America in the early 1900s when Hasidic rebbes began to emigrate to the United States, and was derived from the German Grossrabbiner.

Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, is regarded by Hasidim as the first Hasidic rebbe. [2] During his lifetime he was referred to mainly as "The holy" rather than as "Rebbe", and his disciples were "magidim" or "preachers", such as the Magid of Chernobyl or the Magid of Mezritch.

The first "rebbe" to be known as such was the Baal Shem Tov's grandson, Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibozh, who was referred to as "The Rebbe" during his lifetime. After him, those who rose to positions of leadership and their successors began to be called rebbe. The title gradually came to suggest a higher spiritual status.

Each Hasidic group refers to its leader as "the rebbe".

Hannah Rachel Verbermacher, also known as the Maiden of Ludmir or the "Ludmirer Moyd", was the only female rebbe in the history of the Hasidic movement; she lived in the 19th century in Ukraine and Israel. [5] [6]

Relationship of Hasidim to their rebbe

Rebbe as tzadik

According to Maimonides, [7] a tzadik is "one whose merit surpasses [his/her] iniquity", and every person can reach the level of a Tzadik. According to the Tanya, a tzadik has no evil inclination, and only a select few predestined to attain this level can attain it. According to Kabbalah (and particularly the Hasidic understanding of Kabbalah), the world is sustained on the "shoulders" of Tzadikim Nistarim, divinely predestined exceptionally righteous people in a generation. Nobody has knowledge about who was such a tzaddik, even one of these exceptionally righteous people would not know that they really are such a tzadik. These people are understood to have perfected their personal service of God to such an extent that they become literally and physically aware of God. These righteous people's perception (of both spiritual and physical, not to mention temporal matters) transcends the apparent boundaries of existence.

However, a Hasidic rebbe is generally said to be a righteous person, called a "tzaddik". [2] Furthermore, a rebbe is said to be able to affect divine providence, and a rebbe is said to be able to "see the future", or at least have strong insight into the life and trials of another.

As a result, Hasidim in some Hasidic circles seek their rebbe's advice for a variety of concerns: spiritual, physical, and even business concerns. Furthermore, many people seek the blessing (bracha) of a rebbe (and a Hasid will specifically seek the blessing of his own rebbe) for anything, from minor (and all the more so major) physical troubles, to grand spiritual concerns. Many famous and common stories of a rebbe's intervention involve women who successfully seek a rebbe's blessing for fertility so that they can conceive after having been barren for many years.

Kabbalah describes an extension of Moses in each generation, alternately identified with the Tzadik of the generation, and the potential Jewish Messiah of the generation. In Hasidism, each person's soul essence relates to the level of Moses. Moses speaks to the children of Israel.jpg
Kabbalah describes an extension of Moses in each generation, alternately identified with the Tzadik of the generation, and the potential Jewish Messiah of the generation. In Hasidism, each person's soul essence relates to the level of Moses.

Tzadik HaDor

In some movements the Hasidim believe that their rebbe is the "tzadik hador" (tzaddik of the generation) and would regard any thought that detracts from his perfection and holiness as heresy. Other sects lessen this idealization to some degree or another. Since many rebbes are sons-in-law or students of other rebbes, it makes sense that they would view themselves as subordinate to those other rebbes. Nonetheless, their Hasidim remain loyal to them because of their special loyalty, a family connection, or a belief that a specific tzaddik or Nasi HaDor (although others might have greater spiritual stature) connects best with one's soul. For example, the Kosover Rebbe makes yearly pilgrimages to the Tosher Rebbe. Nonetheless, his followers remain very loyal to him.

Rebbe as conduit

Unlike rabbis or non-Hasidic rebbes in other Jewish movements, Hasidic Judaism considers a "hasidic rebbe" to be a conduit between Jews and God. [2] On the basis of traditional Kabbalistic concepts and terminology, Hasidic philosophy bridged deveikut, a Jewish concept referring to closeness to God, to the Hasidic rebbe, embodying and channeling the Divine flow of blessing to the world, because Creation is dependent on the continuous flow of Divine lifeforce, without which it would revert to nothingness. [8]

Hasidic followers of a rebbe

Given a rebbe's physical awareness of God, and the rebbe's transcendent perception of Godliness, many Hasidim take special care to observe the specific and sometimes minute practices of their rebbe. Even things that seem mundane may nonetheless be seen by Hasidim as incredibly significant. For example, Lubavitcher Hasidim frequently shape their fedoras to match the way that the Lubavitcher Rebbe shaped his hat-which was more flat than many others. Many Skverer Hasidim (of the Skverer Rebbe in New Square) wear their peyos identical to those of the Skverer Rebbe. While Hasidim do not always follow the specific practices of their rebbe, the rebbe is able to create practices that may be specific and unique to his Hasidim. For example, Rabbi Aaron Roth (Reb Areleh, as he was called) the first rebbe of Shomer Emunim, told his Hasidim to pause frequently while eating their meals in order to keep them from overindulging. A Hasid will usually love his rebbe like a close family member, if not more so. The degree and nature of this belief varies, however, depending on the movement.

Functions of a Hasidic rebbe

The Bostoner Rebbe feert tish, lit. "runs [a] table" in his synagogue in Beitar Illit Bostonertischbeitar.jpg
The Bostoner Rebbe feert tish , lit. "runs [a] table" in his synagogue in Beitar Illit

There are some functions which are exclusively the domain of Hasidic rebbes:

A rebbe conducts a tish (Yiddish : פֿירט טיש: feert tish, literally, "to run [a] table") or a farbrengen—a communal festive meal with highly mystical overtones—on Shabbat and other occasions. At a tish, the rebbe distributes shirayim (lit. remnants) to the Hasidim seated at or gathered round the table. When a gathering similar to a tish is led by a rabbi who is not a rebbe (i.e. a Mashpia), it can be referred to as a botte (esp. amongst groups from Romania) or sheves achim.

A rebbe has times when Hasidim (and other petitioners) may come for a private audience. A kvitel (Yiddish for "note", plural kvitlach) is a note with the name of the petitioner and a short request for which the rebbe is asked to pray. The formula in which a person's name is written is one's own Hebrew name, the son/daughter of one's mother's Hebrew name, such as Shimon ben Rivkah (Simeon the son of Rebecca). Hasidim believe that rebbes read supernaturally "between the lines" of a kvitel, and in every Hasidic movement there are numerous anecdotes relating how the rebbe saw things that were not written in the kvitel. In most Hasidic groups, the kvitel is written by the rebbe's gabbai (secretary), however sometimes the petitioner writes it on his own. Usually, but with some exceptions, a pidyon (redemption) of cash is customarily handed to the rebbe under the kvitel, but this is not obligatory. This is considered to be the conduit through which the blessing is given, and a redemption for the soul of the petitioner. ("A gift makes its receiver glad" is given as an explanation: a blessing only comes from a joyous heart.) It is also customary to tip the gabbai, although this too is not obligatory.

Others are not exclusive to Hasidic rebbes, but are often an important part of their role:

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Oxford Dictionary of English, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
  2. 1 2 3 4 Heilman, Samuel. "The Rebbe and the Resurgence of Orthodox Judaism." Religion and Spirituality (Audio). UCTV, 20 Oct 2011. web. 31 Jul 2013.
  3. 1 2 Schneerson, Rabbi Menachem Mendel. "The Head". Kabbalah and the Mystical. Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center. Archived from the original on 19 June 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  4. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Halikhot Shlomo 1:370–373;
    Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, vol. 5 p. 283
  5. "YIVO - Maiden of Ludmir". Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  6. Deutsch, Nathaniel (6 October 2003). "The Maiden of Ludmir: A Jewish Holy Woman and Her World". University of California Press. Retrieved 1 May 2018 via Google Books.
  7. Tractate Yevamot of the Babylonian Talmud 49b–50a: "One whose merit surpasses his iniquity is a tzadik". Mishneh Torah, Sefer Madda, Laws of Repentance 3:1
  8. God and the Zaddik as the two focal points of Hasidic worship Ada Rapoport-Albert, in Essential Papers on Hasidism edited by Gershon Hundert, NYU Press 1991
  9. "Vienna Celebrates 'the Most Influential Rabbi of Modern History'". Alexandria, VA. Connection Newspapers. May 7, 2014. Chabad Tysons Jewish Center will present Paradigm Shift: Transformational Life Teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a new six-session course by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. The course will be offered as part of a series of local activities in Northern Virginia marking 20 years since the passing of "the Rebbe", Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory. The Rebbe was a visionary religious leader who inspired countless individuals during his lifetime and established a global network of educational, social, and religious institutions to revive the post-holocaust Jewish landscape.