Home / Legacy /

Who Can Be Called Rabbi?

 

I. Respecting Torah Scholars

Calling someone by a title is a public display of respect, which is why it raises so many complex issues. Who is worthy of that respect and who, even if he once deserved that title, has lost the right to that level of respect? Convention varies by community and culture, some valuing titles more than others. However, in a culture where a title conveys authority, its proper use is even more important.

In the letters section of the latest issue of Hakirah (link – PDF), writers discuss whether Conservative rabbi and scholar Elliot Dorff should have been mentioned with the title “rabbi.” I do not have a final opinion on the matter but can begin a discussion of the various issues.

The biblical source for the obligation to respect Torah scholars is in last week’s Torah portion: “Rise before the aged and honor an elder” (Lev. 19:32). The Talmud (Kiddushin 32b) understands “elder” in this verse to refer to a Torah scholar. There are four types of Torah scholars for whom you must show respect: your mentor(s) (rebbe muvhak), world-class Torah scholars (gedolei ha-dor), someone who taught you a little Torah and regular Torah scholars who have not taught you anything.

II. Respecting Your Teachers

You must show extra respect to your mentor, such as rising from the moment he enters a room (as opposed to when he approaches your immediate vicinity – Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 242:16). Among the obligations to your mentor is refraining from calling him by his name (ibid., 15). The Rema adds that you may call him by his name if you preface his name with the title “rabbi” (or another title of respect). The Shakh (no. 24) says that this is only when he is not there but if he is there you must call him simply “rebbe.” R. Akiva Eiger and the Pischei Teshuvah (no. 10) quote some who disagree. (Note that par. 30 in the Shulchan Arukh clarifies that this is all referring specifically to your mentor and not just any teacher.)

We see that you must use the title “rabbi” when referring to your mentor. Tosafos (Berakhos 31b sv. moreh, as understood by Terumas Ha-Deshen 138) state that the rule that you may not issue a halakhic ruling in front of your mentor also applies to a “gadol ha-dor.” This is generally understood as meaning that you must apply the extra level of respect reserved for your mentor to the great Torah scholars of the generation. For example, the Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 244:10), in the context of the distinction between when you must rise for a Torah scholar (mentioned above), states that you must treat a gadol ha-dor like your mentor. Similarly, the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 472:5) rules that you need not lean at the Passover seder in the presence of a gadol ha-dor, just like in the presence of your mentor. Therefore, you must also refer to a gadol ha-dor with the title “rabbi.”

You must also respect someone who taught you a little Torah–even just one word. However, the respect you must show him is less than what you must show your mentor (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 242:30). The Sedei Chemed (Ma’arekhes Khaf, no. 104) quotes the Tzapichis Bi-Dvash who argues that you may call such a teacher by name, without a title, while the Tzelach (Berakhos 4a sv. va-ani) holds you must use a title although you need not call him just “rebbe.” The Tiferes Yisrael (Avos 6:3 no. 50) also contends that you are obligated to call him by a title.

III. Respecting Torah Scholars

The Sifra (Lev. 19:32, quoted by Rashi, ad loc.) posits that the obligation to honor the elderly also applies to all Torah scholars, even if they never taught you anything. Quite surprisingly, no subsequent Medieval or early Modern source repeats that obligation. The Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 243:6, 244:1) follows the unanimous precedent and states that your only obligation to respect Torah scholars consists of rising when they enter your vicinity and refraining from insulting them. The Birkei Yosef (Yoreh De’ah 244:6) notes that the Sifra’s extensive list of mandatory respectful practices was disputed and concludes that the law requires nothing more than rising and refraining from insulting. However, the Chafetz Chaim (Asin, n. 8 in asterisk) assumes that the law follows the Sifra and leaves as an open question why the codes neglected to mention it.

Apparently, according to the Birkei Yosef, you need not refer to a rabbi with the title “rabbi” unless he is your mentor or a world-class Torah scholar. Failing to use the title hardly classifies as an insult for which someone can be sued in a religious court because it is only an implied insult by omission. And according to the Chafetz Chaim you must refer to any Torah scholar with the appropriate respectful title. In my experience, widespread practice follows the Chafetz Chaim and we reserve extra respect for Torah scholars beyond the standard respect shown to all people.

Who is a Torah scholar? The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 244:2) defines a Torah scholar for whom one must rise as someone who is more knowledgeable than you and worthy of learning from. The Shakh (ad loc., no. 2) adds that he must be an exceptional scholar who is greater than most others (muflag be-chokhmah yoser mi-sh’ar ha-am).

IV. Sinful Scholars

The Gemara (Kiddushin 32b) states that we need not show respect for an ignorant elder (zaken ashmai). I translate this as “ignorant elder” rather than “wicked elder” following Tosafos (ad loc., sv. zaken; see Arukh Ha-Shulchan, Yoreh De’ah 244:2 who argues that Rashi agrees) because we are specifically forbidden to show respect to a sinful but knowledgeable individual, even a rabbi. Presumably, we must distinguish between his improper actions and the Torah for which he would otherwise deserve respect. The Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 243:3), as understood by Arukh Ha-Shulchan (ibid.), rules that we are prohibited from showing respect for a Torah scholar who lacks care for the commandments (mezalzel be-mitzvos) and lacks fear of God, but must rather treat him like a lowly member of the community (kal she-ba-tzibur).

This vague definition allows for a certain amount of flexibility to specific circumstances and seems to me to include those who unambiguously deny fundamental beliefs of Judaism. It would certainly include rabbis who permit blatant halakhic violations, although we must be careful to distinguish between disregard for Jewish law and legitimate leniencies within the halakhic process.

My working assumption is that most Reform and Conservative Jews servings as rabbis fail to meet Orthodox religious standards, and some Orthodox Jews serving as rabbis do as well. Based on the above, it would seem that we should withhold the title “rabbi” from them. We need not (but may) call “rabbi” those Jews who do not reach the definition of a Torah scholar and may not call “rabbi” those who fail religious standards even if they are Torah scholars. However, other issues complicate the matter.

V. Other Considerations

To many people, “rabbi” is a professional title. Failing to use that title confuses people and, to a small degree, hurts the subject’s livelihood. Is it proper, in such a circumstance, to withhold the title “rabbi” from someone who fails the religious standards mentioned above but serves in that professional capacity?

Additionally, failing to refer to a community’s leader with the title its members believe he deserves will be considered insulting. Is this offense to an entire community, even though only by omission, acceptable? And what about the personal offense when we distinguish between individuals we believe sufficiently knowledgeable or observant to merit the title “rabbi” and those not?

Furthermore, the right to refuse title can be easily distorted into the “right” to insult rabbis we do not like. Many will withhold the title based on rumor or unproven allegation, thereby perpetuating a questionable accusation. And some will blow out of proportion the acceptance of leniencies they don’t like, such as accepting a particular eruv, and consider that lacking care for commandments. The ease of abuse argues for a liberal application of the title.

All these potential offenses are aggravated if the convention in general society is to refer as “rabbi” to people who have achieved some sort of rabbinic ordination, regardless of their actual qualifications. When nearly everyone calls a person “rabbi,” failing to do so is even more offensive.

On the other hand, the title “rabbi” has long been understood as implying that its bearer is qualified to rule on halakhic matters and serve on a religious court (see these posts: I, II). In reference to someone who lacks those qualifications, do we have license to use the title colloquially and imprecisely?

Additionally, calling someone “rabbi” who fails to meet basic Torah standards can be seen as admission that Torah observance is subject to compromise. How can we honor a sinner, whether affiliated with Orthodoxy or not, with the title “rabbi”?

VI. Inconclusion

As I mentioned above, I have no conclusion to this question. I have seen three general attempts to delicately navigate this minefield:

  1. Praise those from whom you are withholding the title “rabbi” or use another respectful title, to eliminate or reduce the offense.
  2. Use “rabbi” as a professional description rather than title, as attempted in the second paragraph above.
  3. Refer even to those undeserving with the title “rabbi” and reserve the title “rav” for those deserving.

I don’t know what is halakhically proper in every situation. However, while I personally feel profoundly uncomfortable withholding a professional title someone regularly uses, I feel even more uncomfortable conferring the title “rabbi” on someone who eats treif and violates Shabbos.

UPDATE: Here are links to some past posts on the issue of the nature of rabbinic ordination and positions:

 

Share this Post

 

Related Posts

About the author

Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

58 Responses

  1. Tal Benschar says:

    The obligation to honor one’s rebbe (what you call one’s mentor) is learned out from a kal va chomer from honoring one’s parents.

    There are halakhic differences between the honor due one’s rebbe and the honor due a Talmid Chacham who is not your rebbe. One example, for a rebbe one must rise any time you see him, whereas for a Talmid Chacham who is not your rebbe, only when he comes within 4 amos of you.

    The Rambam seems to imply that while a rebbe can waive the honor due him (mochel al kevodo) that is not the case regarding the honor due a Talmid Chacham.

    The standard Brisker explanation of these differences (only some of which I have mentioned), is that the obligation owed to a rebbe is one of hakaras ha tov, and therefore is owed to him personally. Therefore he can waive it, just like a father can (which is the source, as I mentioned.)

    A talmid chacham, OTOH, who is not your rebbe is not someone you owe anything to. THe obligation to honor him is simply an extenstion of honoring the Torah, and is an obligation to Hashem. (R. Aharon Soloveichik quoted the gemara, “mipaneihah omdim, mi pnei lomdeihah lo kol she kein.” A talmid chacham is like a living sefer Torah, whose honor is due as an obligation to Hashem.)

    The two are thus conceptually quite different.

  2. Tal Benschar says:

    3.Refer even to those undeserving with the title “rabbi” and reserve the title “rav” for those deserving

    FOr what it is worth, this seems to be the minhag of the religious newspapers in EY.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps a post such as this should pay some attention to the profligate use of the title ‘rabbi’ in frum society. In this context, refusing someone the title can be construed as an even greater offense, since all one needs to do to be called “Rabbi” among us is to be in ones early 20s and teaching little kids aleph beis or mishnayos, without necessarily being ordained or even being a talmid chochom. Note, it may well be appropriate for the children to refer and think of their rebbe as Rabbi So-and-So, regardless of semicha or even how learned he is. But seems like everyone else automatically calls a rebbe Rabbi with the greatest of ease.

  4. Anonymous says:

    R’ Moshe Feinstein differentiated between רבי and ראביי and conferred the later on conservative and reform rabbis. It seems he didn’t to think the the title was worth much. His own use of the title is always derogatory, and it’s not clear if he would permit its use in english where it is generally thought of as a becoming title.

  5. IH says:

    There will always be someone, generally “to your right”, who does not think you meet their standard. Let’s leave 20th century culture wars in the 20th century.

  6. Charlie Hall says:

    “All these potential offenses are aggravated if the convention in general society is to refer as “rabbi” to people who have achieved some sort of rabbinic ordination”

    The title inflation has now gotten to the point that people with honorary doctorates are now being called “Dr.”

    ‘On the other hand, the title “rabbi” has long been understood as implying that its bearer is qualified to rule on halakhic matters and serve on a religious court’

    That certainly has NOT been the understanding in America over the past century and a half or so, at least since the time of “Rabbi” Isaac Mayer Wise.

  7. Dov F. says:

    You must also respect someone who taught you a little Torah–even just one word. However, the respect you must show him is less than what you must show your mentor (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh De’ah 242:30). The Sedei Chemed (Ma’arekhes Khaf, no. 104) quotes the Tzapichis Bi-Dvash who argues that you may call such a teacher by name, without a title, while the Tzelach (Berakhos 4a sv. va-ani) holds you must use a title although you need not call him just “rebbe.” The Tiferes Yisrael (Avos 6:3 no. 50) also contends that you are obligated to call him by a title.

    I have not seen the Tzlach or the Tiferes Yisroel inside so I do not know where they are coming from, but I believe Tosafos is mefurash not like them.

    The Gemara in Niddah (14a-b) discusses a particular opinion of R’ Chiyya which he changed in his later years. The Gemara is trying to ascertain exactly what he held later on, and to this end cites a baraisa which records a dialogue between him and Rebbi:

    בדקה בעד שאינו בדוק לה והניחתו בקופסא ולמחר מצאה עליו דם רבי אומר טמאה משום נדה ורבי חייא אמר טמאה משום כתם אמר לו ר’ חייא אי אתה מודה שצריכה כגריס ועוד א”ל אבל אמר לו א”כ (אתה) אף אתה עשיתו כתם

    Without getting involved in the sugya, the simple question is how exactly do we know that this conversation took place during R’ Chiyya’s later years? Answers Rashi, because Rebbi was R’ Chiyya’s mentor, and he would not have argued on him when he was still young. Tosafos is not satisfied with this answer. Says Tosafos (s.v. Mai):

    פרש”י מדפליג על רבי ואין נראה דמצינו הרבה תלמידים שחולקים על רבם בילדותם … ועי”ל מדקאמר רבי חייא אף אתה עשיתו כתם ולא קאמר אף אתה רבי ש”מ דבזקנותו היה דהוה תלמיד חבר כדאמר בשילהי מי שמת (ב”ב דף קנח:) בן עזאי תלמיד חבר של רבי עקיבא דאמר ליה (שב אתה ולא קאמר שב מר)

    You see from Tosafos even a talmid chaver who once considered this person a mentor doesn’t have to refer to him with a title now that they’re pretty much equal, kol she-kein where someone has always been on equal footing with someone else and simply happened to have learned one thing from him! And in truth it’s not just Tosafos, it’s the Gemara in Bava Basra too (which Tosafos cites).

  8. Charlie Hall says:

    ‘ the title “rabbi” has long been understood as implying that its bearer is qualified to rule on halakhic matters and serve on a religious court’

    A vanishingly small fraction of rabbis have yadin yadin semichah today. Was it the practice in the past to restrict the title to those with yadin yadin?

  9. IH says:

    The Wikipedia article, by the way, is worth reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semikhah

  10. aharon frazer says:

    I think it really just makes sense to call people what they expect to be called. And express disagreement by articulating it rather than stripping their title.
    rav yaakov medan pointed out thst tanach calls neviei sheker and neviei baal neviim, it doesnt mean we are their adherents its just their job title.

  11. Dov F. says:

    Aharon Frazer –

    tanach calls neviei sheker and neviei baal neviim…

    True, but it calls them nevi’ei haba’al, which would be analogous to calling someone, for example, a reform rabbi, as opposed to simply rabbi.

  12. IH says:

    I don’t see anything inappropriate about calling someone Reform Rabbi, Orthodox Rabbi, Chassidishe Rabbi, etc.

    One can then quibble when someone’s smicha and their preferred affiliation are different, but it’s fair to note the discrepency in those cases too.

  13. A Believer in Harchakos d'Rabbeinu Tam says:

    world-class Torah scholars (gedolei ha-dor)

    Do the poskim call world-class Torah scholars “gedolei ha-dor” or is that you using that term for world class Torah scholars?

  14. ba says:

    /Tal Benschar on May 8, 2012 at 9:47 pm/

    /The Rambam seems to imply that while a rebbe can waive the honor due him (mochel al kevodo) that is not the case regarding the honor due a Talmid Chacham./

    /The standard Brisker explanation of these differences (only some of which I have mentioned), is that the obligation owed to a rebbe is one of hakaras ha tov, and therefore is owed to him personally. Therefore he can waive it, just like a father can (which is the source, as I mentioned.)/

    I find the “standard Brisker explanation” problematic. The problem with Moshe hitting the water (for dam and tzefardea) was one of hakaras hatov. If hakaras hatov is between a person and the object of the hakaras hatov, there would be no need for him to respect the water; we can see from this that hakaras hatov is a concept for the self.

    Back to the original topic, don’t we have many rabbis not called “rabbi”? The Chida (Chayim Yosef David Azulai), not Rachida; ibn Ezra, not Rabbi ibn Ezra (although the Ramban does call him “Rabbi”); Sforno, not Rabbi Sforno.

  15. Nachum says:

    “A vanishingly small fraction of rabbis have yadin yadin semichah today.”

    Really? YU ordains a dozens every year.

  16. Sammy says:

    Not true Nachum, the last Chag HaSemikha which spanned 4 years of musmachim had only 2 Yadin Yadin fellows receiving Yadin Yadin semikha.

  17. Mike S. says:

    Dov F.: The Tanakh does call false prophets nevi’im without a modifier. For example, Eicha 2:15.

  18. Nachum says:

    Sammy, Charlie: Whoops! I thought it said “yoreh yoreh.” You are correct.

    Lots of people have informal yadin yadin. One of my rebbeim went to R’ Moshe, talked to him for a few minutes, and got it.

    My brother, after getting semikha, basically learned Choshen Mishpat on his own, went to his rebbe, and got yadin yadin formally.

  19. David Wolpe says:

    Please note that in my letter to Hakira I objected to Rabbi Berger not even conferring the title “doctor” or scholar” or Rabbi Dorff, much less Rabbi. This was a flagrant and unseemly lack of derech eretz. Rabbi Berger may conclude he determines who is entitled to the honorific “rabbi” but when his is the power to strip doctorates we may conclude that ideology has overridden decency.

  20. Jack says:

    David Wolpe:

    If a person who denies (or deems unimportant) whether the Exodus happened can be called a rabbi, then you are certainly right that Eliott Dorff can and should be called a rabbi as well.

  21. Dov F. says:

    Mike S. – That’s not a great example, because that verse itself is specifically saying that they spoke false things. It would be analogous to talking to Reform Jews and saying, “your rabbis don’t care about the correct halacha.” Besides, the “your” itself is a modifier. So still no support for the idea of generally referring to a such a person as rabbi.

  22. Charlie Hall says:

    “Sforno, not Rabbi Sforno”

    He was Rabbi Dr. Sforno!

  23. Charlie Hall says:

    IH,

    Another online semichah program:

    http://shemayisrael.co.il/

  24. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Jack: Neither you nor for that matter Dr. Berger replied to Rabbi Wolpe’s point. The way Dr. Berger referred to Elliot Dorff, without even a Dr. or Prof., but just “a person called Elliot Dorf, was in exceptionally poor taste.

  25. Dov F. says:

    Why is it called “yoreh yoreh” and “yadin yadin” anyway? Why isn’t it just plain “yoreh” or “yadin”?

    Clearly it comes from the Gemara in Sanhedrin 5a:

    אמר ליה רבי חייא לרבי בן אחי יורד לבבל יורה יורה ידין ידין יתיר בכורות יתיר

    Yet Rashi explains that R. Chiyya was asking Rebbi, “Yoreh?” and Rebbi was answering, “Yoreh,” and so on.

    So I am wondering why we call it yoreh yoreh and not plain yoreh. Has this been discussed anywhere?

  26. Rafael Araujo says:

    “Jack: Neither you nor for that matter Dr. Berger replied to Rabbi Wolpe’s point. The way Dr. Berger referred to Elliot Dorff, without even a Dr. or Prof., but just “a person called Elliot Dorf, was in exceptionally poor taste.”

    So David Wolpe rates a “rabbi” title but not Elliot Dorff :)

    This reminds of the classic scene in the movie “Spies Like Us” with Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd:

    “Doctor”…”Doctor”
    “Doctor”…”Doctor”
    etc.

  27. shaul shapira says:

    “Neither you nor for that matter Dr. Berger replied to Rabbi Wolpe’s point. The way Dr. Berger referred to Elliot Dorff, without even a Dr. or Prof., but just “a person called Elliot Dorf, was in exceptionally poor taste.”

    Just to be clear then- it has nothing to do with this post. A human being by the name of Wolpe thinks that a human being by the the name of Berger lacks derch eretz. me-anyayn oti?

  28. shaul shapira says:

    Anonymous on May 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm
    “R’ Moshe Feinstein differentiated between רבי and ראביי and conferred the later on conservative and reform rabbis. It seems he didn’t to think the the title was worth much. His own use of the title is always derogatory, and it’s not clear if he would permit its use in english where it is generally thought of as a becoming title.”

    IH on May 8, 2012 at 10:43 pm
    “There will always be someone, generally “to your right”, who does not think you meet their standard. Let’s leave 20th century culture wars in the 20th century.”

    IH- this is from a Conservative responsum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Conservative_Judaism#The_Roth_responsum

    “When someone says, “What can we do? The Torah is clear on the subject!”, what is being said amounts to a claim of infallibility and irrefutability for the text of the Torah. And that claim ultimately rests on the assumption that the words of Leviticus (and, of course, those of the other four books of the Pentateuch) express directly and completely the will of God. (Indeed, treating a text as infallible on any basis other than on such an assumption would surely count as a form of idolatry.) But that assumption (that the Torah is the direct and complete expression of God’s will) is one that, for all its currency in parts of the Jewish world, is not accepted in our Conservative Jewish world.[13]”

    Do you believe the difference between that and R Moshe Feinstein amounts to a culture war? I would really like to know. A straight and unambiguos answer would go a long way toward clarifiying your position.

  29. shaul shapira says:

    The Teshuva I linked to in the previous comment is actually further down in the wiki article:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Conservative_Judaism#The_Tucker_dissent

    also,
    “I don’t see anything inappropriate about calling someone Reform Rabbi, Orthodox Rabbi, Chassidishe Rabbi, etc.”

    What do you suggest we call Steven Greenerg? He considers himself orthodox and is openly gay.

    And you didn’t mean to imply that chassidim aren’t orthodox, right?

  30. Aaron S says:

    You make a strong argument for the importance of respecting teachers with a respectful title, but unfortunately it is poorly applied in our schools. A young man with no formal training (but a beard) can be learning in a school’s beit midrash and receive the title Rav or Rebbe. A woman with a higher degree in Jewish Studies teaching Gemara, Chumash or Halacha is called Mrs. or Morah.

    It’s a shame that we are so worried about making sure any man who could be called Rabbi is, but we don’t recognize women educators with a commensurate title.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Honestly, what are the odds that someone who wrote “a person called Elliot Dorf” actually knew who Elliot Dorff was, either that he was a rabbi or a doctor? Why on earth would he decline to call him at least Dr.? As far as I know, frum people do not remove the Dr. title to diminish a person’s respect. On the contrary, when a frum person refers to a rabbi as “Dr.”, deserved doctorate and all, he often means to do so in order not to refer to him as rabbi. The fact that Rabbi Wolpe doesn’t realize this is fine, but he really ought to. Not calling him either rabbi or dr. probably only indicates that Berger had no idea who he is. I understand that Berger did not acknowledge this reason in his reply, but he did indicate that he didn’t know who Levy was. Furthermore, he did call Joel Roth “Rabbi.”

  32. Hirhurim says:

    Aaron S: In my personal experience, which is admittedly getting a little old, we were very careful not to call a teacher “rabbi” unless he had semikhah. I can remember a bearded “Mr.” (who taught Jewish subjects) and a bearded principal titled “Dr.” And the women with doctorates were called “Dr.” as well.

    I’m not sure why, in schools where anyone with a beard who teaches Jewish subjects is called “rabbi”, you don’t also call any female teacher of Jewish subjects “rebbetzin”.

  33. Steve Brizel says:

    Like it or not, Rabbanim who have smicha from a yeshiva that is worthy of the name or from a prominent Talmid Chacham and who serve the Torah observant community as their profession ( either as a rav, rebbe, or mchanech), or even as a chaplain at a health care facility or similar capacity deserve the title, whereas the clergy who serve the heterodox movements neither can vouch for their own level of observance and aherence to Halacha, let alone their Torah knowledge. I think that it is easy to refer such people as “C R or “R R”, solely for informative purposes.

    Many years ago, one of my oldest friends who is an OU officer was at a meeting with a prominent R clergyman who asked him what he thought about the then incipient granting of ordination by HUC. My friend answered that such a decision was wonderful for RJ-especially when one viewed the queries that would be posed to such a person by her potential congregants

  34. Joseph Kaplan says:

    1. When I was in elementary school (in the Middle Ages), many of our finest teachers of Torah went by the title “Mar.”

    2. When I was in college (a little more recently, but not much), there used to be a late night radio talk show whose host was Long John Nebel. A well-know Orthodox rabbi and communal leader was often a guest. Once, he was paired with a conservative rabbi and consistently referred to the CR as “Dr. X.” Finally the CR said: “Rabbi Y, I have ordination from JTS and my title is rabbi. I do not have a doctorate from any institution. While I prefer being called by mu professional title, if you feel you can’t do that please don’t give m a title I don’t deserve, and in that event please call me “Mr. X.” Rabbi Y did not directly respond and continued to call Rabbi X Dr.

    3. Another memory from college (which I believe is accurate but am not 100% sure). R. Ahron Soloveitchik, who was giving a shiur at YU then, was asked about this issue and said the polite and proper thing to do in such circumstances is to call the Conservative rabbi by his professional title “rabbi,” and doing so has no meaning other than civil behavior.

  35. Michael says:

    “Honestly, what are the odds that someone who wrote “a person called Elliot Dorf” actually knew who Elliot Dorff was, either that he was a rabbi or a doctor?”

    If you read Berger’s response, he was quite aware who Rabbi Dorff is, and was intentionally rude. Rabbi Wolpe is correct on this. Irrelevant of the fact that Orthodox Jews believe that Conservative and Reform Jews are mistaken in their views and that their rabbis are not halachically rabbis, there is no need to be rude.

  36. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Joseph: Since I went to the same elementary school just a few years before you, I probably remember (most of) the same teachers. It occurs to me, however, that Mar X and Mar Y all taught Ivrit be-Ivrit, and we may have thought of them as Hebraists (not that we necesarily knew the word). But given the current crop of Elementary School teachers for Limudei Kodesh, who teach in English, if we don’t call them “Rabbi X,” what’s so special about them?

    I agree with Michael. It is clear that Dr. Berger intentionally went out of his way to be rude.

  37. IH says:

    Joseph Berger’s letter is more nuanced the comments here would lead one to believe. He is not making a distinction between non-Orthodox and Orthodox; he is withholding the Rabbi title from those he believes are “undermining in some way traditional Orthodox Jewish teachings.”

    He is perfectly happy to title (Conservative) Rabbis Roth, Levy and Frydman-Kohl as Rabbi; but, not (Orthodox) Rabbi Greenberg or (Conservative) Rabbi Dorff. (ref. p.21)

    I think he is wrong, but it is also important not to caricature his position.

  38. IH says:

    Using Joseph Berger’s methodology, by the way, it is reaonable to withhold the title of Dr. from his name, for the reasons highlighted in the first letter. To wit: “Most egregious, in our view, is Dr. Berger’s unsubstantiated claim that homosexuality entails a ‘failure to reach full psychosexual maturation.’ His view does not represent the predominant opinion either of modern day psychiatry, or of allied mental health disciplines. Moreover, the supposedly ‘sound scientific reasons’ Dr. Berger provides to substantiate his opinion are neither scientific nor logical.”

  39. David Berger says:

    I am happy to see a post that finally notes Joseph Berger’s first name.
    Let me add that R. Aharon Lichtenstein, in a guest lecture given at YU after he had already moved to Israel, said exactly what Joseph Kaplan reports in the name of R. Ahron Soloveichik in response to the same question. Either JK, who indicates some uncertainty about his memory of the incident, has confused the two R. Ah(a)rons, or they both said this under identical circumstances. Either way, I can confirm that this was said.

  40. Jack says:

    IH — feel free to leave out Dr. Berger’s professional title if it makes you feel good or superior or whatever. At the end of the day, he will still be a doctor, and Dorf still won’t be a rabbi.

  41. IH says:

    Counter-balancing Jack’s snarky rudeness, I found this review of Rabbi Dorff’s views on halacha for those with an open and enquiring mind: http://law.hamline.edu/files/RosenbergRev.pdf

  42. Charlie Hall says:

    “why, in schools where anyone with a beard who teaches Jewish subjects is called “rabbi”, you don’t also call any female teacher of Jewish subjects “rebbetzin”.”

    “Rebbetzin” would only be appropriate if she is married to a rabbi. And in any case, one should be addressed based on ones’ own qualifications. My wife has an earned MD and I have a earned PhD. She would not be happy to be addressed as “Phd’s wife”.

  43. Rabbi Zvi says:

    I think that the issue at hand is not one of showing respect, but rather one of publicly insulting another person.

  44. Hirhurim says:

    Charlie: If they’re calling anyone with a beard “rabbi” regardless of qualifications, there’s no reason not to call a woman “rebbetzin”. We aren’t talking about technical titles but ways to show respect.

  45. Steve Brizel says:

    IH-AFAIK, Dr Berger hasn’t lost his license or been threatened with the same because of his POV. The responses of R D David Berger and Joseph Kaplan based on the view of RAS are logically compelling-even if one disagrees with RJ or CJ, common courtesy would dictate that one great a heterdox clergyperson by their professional title, even and especially if you know that the term and title convey vastly different responsibilities in the Torah observant world.

  46. Charlie Hall says:

    An interesting degree inflation I’ve noticed in the past 50 years. PhDs used to be awarded to students completing programs in humanities, social sciences, and basic sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.) Other programs would award and ScD (Doctor of Science), DrPH (Doctor of Public Health), DBA (Doctor of Business Administration), DSW (Doctor of Social Work), etc. They were considered equivalent to a PhD but in a specialized field; my Division Head has an ScD in Biostatistics from Harvard. But the rest of the world got confused and so now more and more of these programs are granting PhDs.

  47. IH says:

    AFAIK, Dr Berger hasn’t lost his license or been threatened with the same because of his POV.

    Steve — AFAIK, neither had Rabbi Dorff.

  48. Charles says:

    When I lived in Baltimore I often attended a synagogue where Rabbi Weinreb was the mara d’atra. I am a Conservative rabbi although at the time I was working for a think tank. Everyone knew that I was a Conservative rabbi and I also attended a Conservative synagogue at times. Members of that shul were very makpid to address me as “rabbi” and to make sure that their children did so. Very rarely was I addressed as “Dr.” although sometimes I was, even though at the time I did not possess a doctoral degree. (Now I do, BTW.) I always assumed it was a matter of basic respect and a desire not to be insulting.

  49. Rabbi Zvi says:

    Charles:

    It IS a matter of basic respect.

  50. Steve Brizel says:

    IH wrote in response:

    “AFAIK, Dr Berger hasn’t lost his license or been threatened with the same because of his POV.

    Steve — AFAIK, neither had Rabbi Dorff”

    AFAIk, R C Dorff is not an Orthodox rabbi, but a C rabbi who, as per RAS, should be addressed as such as a matter of proper social discourse. While I previiously argued that there was a good halachic basis for not referring to a heterodox clergyperson as a rabbi, RAS’s POV that one should use the title in polite company with full recognition of the huge differences between a rav who has smicha and a heterodox clergyman is an solution that solves any presumed issue.

  51. IH says:

    Steve — Joseph Berger’s chiluk is not between Conservative and Orthodox Rabbis. He is perfectly happy to title (Conservative) Rabbis Roth, Levy and Frydman-Kohl as Rabbi; but, not (Orthodox) Rabbi Stephen Greenberg or (Conservative) Rabbi Dorff. (ref. p.21 Joseph Berger Responds.

    Without prejudice to other writings of his that I have not read, Joseph Berger’s stated criterion of “those people as undermining in
    some way traditional Orthodox Jewish teachings” (ibid) — and, therefore, “For such reasons I personally won’t refer to people […] as ‘Rabbi’ — appears to be based solely on their views regarding how to deal with homosexuality within a halachic framework.

    This is interesting in itself, but the point I was making that you seem to have missed, is that if such a methodology were applied to psychiatry, Berger’s own title might be withheld by some because as the academic psychiatrists in the first letter (p. 12) write “His view does not represent the predominant opinion either of modern-day psychiatry, or of allied mental health disciplines. Moreover, the supposedly “sound scientific reasons” Dr. Berger provides to substantiate his opinion are neither scientific nor logical.

  52. Joseph Kaplan says:

    “Either JK, who indicates some uncertainty about his memory of the incident, has confused the two R. Ah(a)rons, or they both said this under identical circumstances.”

    I did not confuse the 2 Rav Ahron’s since I heard that about RAS when I was still in YU which was before RAL went on aliyah. In fact, I was in his shiur. So both must have said the same thing. Not too surprising.

  53. Charlie Hall says:

    ” If they’re calling anyone with a beard “rabbi” regardless of qualifications”

    I’ve been called “rabbi” just because I have a beard and a yarmulke! A few years ago I was visiting a small city in New England, and I happened to stumble upon a Protestant Minister and Mormon Elder at the same time. They assumed that I was the new rabbi at the R or C shul in the city, welcomed me profusely, and insisted that I join the local interfaith council!

  54. Charlie Hall says:

    I should mention after my last post that I am NOT a rabbi.

  55. I am often called “Rabbi,” because of the way I look. See

    http://personal.stevens.edu/~llevine/

    Whenever I am called “Rabbi” I point out that I am not a rabbi and then quip, “Being a rabbi is no profession for a Jewish boy!”

    Interestingly enough, a number of practicing rabbis who have heard my quip have agreed wholeheartedly.

    Yitzchok Levine

  56. […] See here for more on who can be called rabbi: link. ↩ […]

 
 

Submit a Response

 

You must be logged in to submit a response.