Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 26 April 2003 / 24 Nisan 5763

A Rabbi

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Brian F. in Fort Worth, TX

Dear Rabbi:

What does being a rabbi mean? What training is required to become ordained/certified? What does being a rabbi entail?

Dear Brian F.,

Your question brings to mind a well-known story: Three elderly Jewish women were sitting on a park bench. One proudly proclaimed, "my son is a lawyer". To which another replied, "my son is a doctor". Turning to the third they asked, and what does your son do? Astonished by her response they asked, "What’s a nice Jewish boy doing being a Rabbi?"

But seriously (which is something rabbis are supposed to be after trying to be funny), the word Rabbi comes from the Aramaic word Rabi, and is related to the Hebrew word for "great". Rabi was thus the title reserved for the great Talmudic Sages who received their ordination in an uninterrupted tradition going back to Moses. Unfortunately, this tradition was severed when the Jews were exiled from the Land of Israel.

Nevertheless, even in the Diaspora, the terms Rav, Rebbe, and Rabbi were used for outstanding Torah scholars who by virtue of their piety and knowledge were natural leaders of their communities. Historically, then, there was little formal rabbinical training. Rather, all Jews were expected to learn the sacred texts, which, through life-long study, perfect one’s personality traits and sensitivity to human nature, while honing one’s analytical skills and amassing knowledge of Jewish law. Individuals who excelled in their study and practice of Judaism were therefore recognized as Rabbis.

In recent times, it has become common for Torah scholars to undergo rigorous training in specific areas of Jewish law such as monetary matters, marriage and divorce, dietary laws, the Sabbath, and more. Upon completion of the program and successfully passing the exams, one receives rabbinical certification.

In light of the above, being a rabbi first and foremost entails being a good person, being considerate and sensitive to people’s needs, and eager to perform acts of kindness. It also entails learning and practicing Judaism with a genuine enthusiasm that inspires others to do the same. As a leader, being a rabbi entails sharing one’s knowledge with others, either by teaching them Torah, or by instructing them in the practical observance of Jewish law. Finally, a rabbi should also have the common sense and insight needed to help guide people through the myriad challenges in life, helping them utilize each one for personal growth.

Public Domain

Re: Rice on Pesach (Ohrnet Pesach)

In your Pesach issue, you advised "Bonnie H.," a vegetarian that, according to Rabbi Huna (of Talmudic times), beets and rice can be used on the Seder Plate instead of cooked (meat) items.

Please advise her before she goes to the store that rice is acceptable for use on Pesach by Sephardim, but not by mainstream Ashkenazim. In fact, in Ashkenazic-dominated countries (with the exception of Israel), one cannot purchase rice that bears a "Kosher for Passover" certification.

David Schachter
Dresher, PA

Re: Lost and Found

The following note was recently sent by M. S. to Ohrnet:
"A friend of mine found a talit bag with a talit and 2 pairs of tefilin inside it. It was found in JFK airport on Sunday March 30. If anybody knows who it belongs to please email me (email address is with Ohrnet – Ed.). If not, please forward this to everyone you know because it will probably get to the person who lost it. I’m sure you all know that it is a huge mitzvah to help return the tefilin. Thank you.

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