07 May 2006

On the Grammatical Question of WomenRabbis

Much discussion on the JBlogosphere has erupted on the topic of Orthodox women rabbis since the Jerusalem Post reported the ordination of a woman by an Orthodox rabbi a few days ago (for a runthrough of many blogs discussing this issue, scroll to the bottom of this post). As I really don't know what to make of the permissibility, necessity, or prohibition of such a thing, I would like to discuss a separate point. That point is a grammatical point.
The main term is rabbi, which means "my master". As Hebrew is a gendered language, the root is Rav, which is masculine. If one were to feminize it, the result would be rabbah, thus resulting in the equivalent of rabbati to rabbi.
While some would like to discount this pragmatic possibility, there are others who would also like to discount this semantic possibility, probably on grounds that it would distinguish the women, assuming that the women would be automatically placed in a second-rate category.
Nevertheless, I wanted to offer up this issue.
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JBlogosphere discussions: Not the Godol haDor, Hirhurim, Jewschool, Jewlicious, On the Fringe, Seth Chalmer, Harry Mayles, Jewish Adoption Blog, Purim Hero, Alexis (no, not my sister), InContext
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Tags: , , , , , , rabbati, , , ,

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know Haviva - she introduced my sister to her husband (whom happens to be her husbands old business partner). I know it's not the issue of your post, but she's been working towards this for so long and is bright and intelligent and has done all of this while raising 5 children - a task not many could do. I'm so happy that she finally got her ordination!!!

jdub said...

umm, if you read the various articles carefully, she really didn't get any kind of ordination. The rav from whom she supposedly got ordination gave a kind of wishy-washy answer as to what happened. So she's not ordained.

And Drew, with regard to your semantical point, I'm not sure I agree that rabbi comes from the Hebrew resh bet yud, (i.e., the name used for Tanna'im) as much as it did from European languages, such as German (rabbiner) etc. Not that they're not related, but I think you conflate it too much to say "rabbati" would be an appropriate term. Note that in hebrew, the term for rabbi is still Rav, not Rebbe/Rabi/Rabbi.

jdub said...

see further: http://englishhebraica.blogspot.com/2006/04/rabbins-and-rabbis.html

Drew_Kaplan said...

JDub,
As to the terminology, pointing out that it's still Rav, the corresponding feminine would be Rabbah.
What's found on the link you posted, rabbin, which is French is also masculine, thus one could feminize it to rabbine. I'm sure there are other gendered languages, etc.

jdub said...

The link I posted also made clear that the term "Rabbi" comes from the Greek translation of the new testament.

Not that I'm at all in favor of this, but I prefer Rabbanit, feminizing Rabban.

Or calling them educators or to'anot/yo'atzot.

Drew_Kaplan said...

the only problem I have with your grammatical point is that we don't go around calling rabbis "Rabban" - it was only tannaitic heads of the Sanhedrin who held this title (so it seems), so it would be kind of weird to impute to women that they are as if they are heads of the Sanhedrin, thus convincing me more of the more grammatical correctness of rabbah

Anonymous said...

Better I think to use Aramaic -
Mar and Marta

Happy finals
Billski

jdub said...

well, Rabbah sounds kind of silly, l'fi aniyat da'ati. Moreover, the point is moot.

Judaism is not, and never has been, a religion of equality. Seems to me there's no reason that a learned woman has to have the same or equivalent title as a man. Egalitarianism is not and never has been a goal of Judaism, and I think once you open that Pandora's box, you slip-slide right down into an ahalachic, or even anti-halachic state.

I know that's not the point of your post, but I'd still say that the issues are better addressed with titles/certifications that don't try to mimic "rav"

mordechai said...

Haviva is not a Rabbi. Read her book and you will realie she is not even an observant Jew. She is a conservative Jew. I am sure she will be very active at the gay parade