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Jul 21, 2006

titles misused

This might be mundane considering their is a war going, however, life goes on and while overwhelmingly bloggers have been blogging about the war, other topics do arise occassionally that are worthy of being looked at.

This week my chavrusah got his semicha. Mazal tov. He is a big talmid chacham and very sincere. He spent a couple of years working very hard to mastering the material and gave a series of shiurim on the topics spanning a period of two years. He worked very hard and decided to cap it off by taking the test and he received his semicha.

Today when I went to learn with him, as I was waiting for hom to arrive, I saw a small booklet on one of the tables. I went over to look at it and saw it was put out by a local shul. They got various mispallelim of theirs to put together "chaburahs" (thouroughly researched essays in Talmud and Halacha) on various topics and they published it in a book.

I flipped through the book and some of the topics looked very interesting and one could see that much effort was invested by those who managed the project as well as by those who wrote the individual essays. Being curious as to who was involved in the project, I went to the Table of Contents. They had listed each essay with the name of the author. The name of the author was written in the form of Harav Yosef Cohen (name is made up).

Granted every single one of these people might be great talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) and I do not want to take that away from them. They are people who have been learning in kollel for a number of years and are accomplished scholars. However, while I did not know all the people in the list I did know many of them, at least many of the people in the list are not rabbanim. They did not take tests for semicha and they did not do anything to seserve the title of Harav.

It used to be common that people would be called Reb. Reb Yosef, Reb Chaim, etc. Regular kollel guys. I did not like that, but people told me it is meaningless, just a title like saying Mr., but maybe a little more respectable for a man in kollel. Now that has changed and kollel guys are being called Harav.

Last week my chavrusa had told me he was probably going to take the test for semicha and I had encouraged him, as I feel it is very important and worthwhile. When my chavrusa came in today, I told him I changed my mind. I said I do not think you need to bother with the test. He asked why not? I showed him this booklet and said, "Look. All these people got semicha and have the same title you will have, and they did not need to spend a few years learning the material and taking the test. Why waste your time if you can have the title just by spending a few days researching one topic and then writing a 1200 word essay!" Then he laughed and told me he already took the test and got his semicha, so it was too late.. :)

Why does this bother me so much? Because when people abuse titles and use them without respect, it does a disservice and causes a loss of respect to those who do deserve the title.

Would you call someone a Doctor just because he read a chapter of a medical book? No. But if you started calling people doctor, then that would degrade the status of those who spent many years studying medicine and working toward mastering the field.

The same with any title. A title is meant to define a persons status and knowledge. It is also a sign of respect to someone who has put forth effort and successfuly accomplished his task. If any guy can be called Harav for no particularly good reason, that causes people to respect the title less. Then real Rabbonim who have worked years to develop and master themselves, are not looked at with the same level of respect, just because some unworthy person called himself HaRav.

My chavrusah told me a story of a very accomplished Talmid Chacham in England who spent many years publishing some very important works in halacha and mussar. He told me this Rav who had a brilliant mind was once in a shul unfamiliar to him. He was called up to give a speech, and they called him up Harav Hagaon... This man just sat there and did not get up. They approached him and asked him why he refuses to take the pdioum. His response was that they insulted the gaonim and he is not a gaon and does not deserve the title. The Gaonim were from an illustrious period of Jewish history and you cannot just bastardize the title and use it for every smart guy on the street. The title means something and if it does not apply, it should not be used improperly.


  1. There is really nothing you can do on this one, although I do agree with you 90% of the way.

    But what do you do about the Chafetz Chaim who never had semicha till his very old age? Would we have called him Mr. Kagan?

    The line is very grey as to where Reb ends and Rabbi/Rav begins.

    Also, "Rabbi/Harav" can be used as both a noun, adjective, as well as a professioanl title, which does have some practical difference.

    And remember - there are 2 words in the word Rabbanim.. :)

  2. good point. I was not aware of that regarding the chafetz chaim. I understand there can be a fine line at times... but the chafetz chaim also had a position as Rosh Hayeshiva, which would give him the title regardless...

    A modern day example would be Rabbi Firer of Ezra Lamarpeh. He is an expert in medical knowledge. Granted he does not practice medicine, only is there for a source of referals and consultations. But would you call him a doctor because he is involved in medicine and has the knowledge? I do not think so. Despite the knowledge, he is not qualified.

    Excuse me - I am slow. What 2 words are in Rabbanim? Ban (h)im?

  3. One could be as great without the smicha, but why give the title when one is not a rabbi? It is done all the time in yeshivos. To get smicha for the title is a waste of time. Get it to get the education and be more knowledgeable.

  4. not talking anout the reason to get semicha. There can be lots of reasons. One of those is to feel a sense of accomlpishment after spending much time learning the material. A sense of completion.

    The idea of calling someone Rav when he is not is what disturbs me.. just like in the army you do not call someone a general if he is not, nor an officer if he is not. You do not call someone a doctor if he is not. not a senator if he is not. Not a prince if he is not. Or anything else. The only thing we call people who are not qualified is Rav. Is that how little we respect our Rabbanim, that we use the title so freely?

  5. I agree, Rafi. The title of Rav/Rabbi is something that's earned.

  6. Perhaps you should have taken out your pen and cross off 'Harav'?

  7. I agree I wrote that point I think, I just wrote lots of other babble too lol.

  8. While I don't completely disagree with your point someone should point out that the term Dr. is not researved for those only in the medical field.

    You should already know that Rafi.

    Doctor means "a teacher, one who gives instruction in some branch of knowledge, or inculcates opinions or principles."(O.E.D)[1st usage]

    nowadays the title is researved, but not limited to, those who have recieved a degree such as md or phd or doctorate etc.

    the point is that there are many ways to achieve an end. The study and effort that these gentlemen applied may have earned them the usage (temporarily on that subject) of the rating of a scholar who can teach, expouse,inculcate information and therefore the readers of the booklet recognize the writers as valued opinions on that issue.


  9. Neil -thanks.

    anon - good idea, but there is no point in defacing a book just because I disagree with something..

    social - sounds good

    Dan - I understand your point. Dr. was an example. I accept your point that there are other uses of Dr. but they all include a qualification. You do not call someone a Dr. just because they teach you something. Your first grade teacher is not called a Dr. There are qualifications for the status.
    I understand you rpoint that they are teaching via the book and therefore possibly deserve the title. However, it is more likely the compilers of the book used the title in order to give the book more legitimacy. In other words, if someone picks up the book in a shul and sees the articles all written by what looks like important Rabbis they are more likely to consider the book respectable and read it, thereby by extension providing the initial institution behind the book a greater level of respect and support. So they are using the titles as a springboard for their own goals..

  10. I have a passion for Tanach and would love to teach it, however I recognise the fact that in order to do this and get jobs I may need smicha. I feel there s nothing particularly disingenuous about this, I feel the title of Rav has changed, people possibly might have to be a little cautious about attaching importance to this title in the future. There is a lot of Gaiva associated with this title, it is strange that the people most likely to deserve the title are those with less gaiva.

  11. Yossele - plenty of teachers do not have semicha and are qualified to teach and do teach regardless of the no semicha. Semicha is not a requirement for a teacher and never has been.
    I also have no problem with a teacher being called Rav, as he holds a position that requires the respect and deserves the title, regardless of whether or not he has semicha.
    I think gaiva is not really part of it, usually, though it might be sometimes. I do not in my day to day life tell people I have semicha and I do not use the title I earned. People do not call me Rav. I got it because I set a goal for myself and the goal of semicha kept me motivated and focused. I have not used the semicha to earn a position of teaching or in the rabbinate and therefore I have no interest in being called Rav.
    For the short period that I worked in a school as a teacher the students called me Rav and Rabbi, and I accepted it as part of the job.

    I feel it is an issue of respect. Only certain people deserve the title, either people who received the semicha or people who hold such positions in which the title is appropriate. If it is used freely, it causes a loss of respect for people who do deserve the title.

    Good luck finding a teaching position. It sounds like your students would really enjoy learning from you Tanach. And thanks for coming in and commenting..


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