Rabbi Ḥayim Ozer Grodzenski (third from right) with other rabbis and students at a festive gathering in Vilna in honor of the visiting Rabbi Yosef Carlebach (second from right), chief rabbi of Hamburg, ca. 1930s. (YIVO.)
The Rabbinate after 1800 AD. Rabbi /ˈræbaɪ/ 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. Within the various Jewish denominations there are different requirements for rabbinic ordination, and differences in opinion regarding who is to be recognized as a rabbi. For example Orthodox Judaism does not ordain women as rabbis, but other movements have chosen to do so for halakhic reasons (Conservative Judaism) as well as ethical reasons (Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism.)
The Rabbinate before 1800. The defining task of the communal rabbinate, from at least the sixteenth century on, was to provide leadership for the local religious court, as is evident from the communal rabbi’s conventional title: av bet [ha-]din. Often, a rabbi’s duties included serving as head of the local yeshiva (resh metivta or rosh yeshivah). The use of a formal writ of ordination and the professionalization of the rabbinate had developed in the late Middle Ages in Europe; formal ordination recognized a high level of learning and good character. Not every rabbi, however, performed what came to be regarded as a rabbinic function.