Was Jesus a Rabbi?

Re the article linked below, is Jesus considered (in historical context) a “'Rabbi” by modern Jewish scholars?

From Jesus to Christ - Jesus As Rabbi

I’m no religious scholar, but rabbis aren’t the only ones who read and comment on Torah passages during a synagogue service. It’s traditional for a boy to do so at his Bar Mitzvah, for example.

You may get better answers tomorrow, on account of today being the Jewish sabbath (so observant Jews don’t post) and Christmas (so observant Christians are probably busy elsewhere).

My understanding is that the title “rabbi” was applied more loosely back in those balmy days. There wasn’t necessarily an ordination process and formal title, the way that major religions have today; the title “rabbi” (literally: “my teacher”) could be applied by students/followers/apostles without regard to a formal certification.

In modern Judaism, there is nothing ceremonial or religious that a rabbi can do that any knowledgable member of the congregation couldn’t do. Anyone who can read the Torah can do so, anyone who knows how to lead prayers can lead a servce, anyone can be invited to speak, etc.

The only exception would be that a rabbi could make a ruling on religious “legal” matters. Remember that traditional Judaism (Orthodox and Conservative) is partly a legal code, covering various aspects of life, and not just a belief-system.

I misread the header as:

Was Jesus a Rabbit?

Based on that interpretation, I think we can safely say no.

I think it would be safe to call Jesus a rabbi (in the sense of a teacher, as he had a group of students). Now, one needs ordination in order to be recognized as a rabbi, but back then there were no such requirements. Back then, too, rabbis were influential but probably not necessary (compared to today; but then today’s Judaism is explicitly Rabbinic Judaism).

I think, to use today’s language among certain Jews, one might also call Jesus a tzaddiq, literally “righteous,” but also refers to one who teaches, performs miracles, and around whom a community evolves. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (z"l), if I remember correctly, was a tzaddiq, as were most of the leaders of the Lubavitcher and Chassidic movements in Judaism.

Would Jesus be considered a rabbi according to today’s terms or from the perspective of today’s Jews? No, and no. Jesus did not claim to have been ordained by any rabbi, nor did he acknowledge a teacher. He gives no credentials for his learning. Therefore, he’s an uncredentialed preacher. At the most, he could be a tzaddiq. Furthermore, Jesus did not belong to the form of Judaism that later became Rabbinic Judaism. I would feel it safe to say that any religious figure outside of the authorities of Rabbinic Judaism would, legitimately, not be recognized as a rabbi by today’s Jews. More Jewish examples would be Saducee, Karaite, or Essene teachers or authorities. Today, possibly only the Karaites are the only Jews that do not belong to Rabbinic Judaism.


No, unlike those quoted in the Talmud, he did not engage in exposition of the Law that we would regard as splitting hares! :smiley:

Seriously, WRS has a distinct point. Rabbinic Judaism is principally a descendant of the good aspects of Pharisaism – the keeping of the Law for love of God. (Jesus condemns the Pharisees, not for keeping the Law, but for turning the keeping of the Law into an end in itself and for their condemnation of others for not abiding by it in the terms they held themselves to.)

The Saduccees were predominantly oriented towards the ceremonial aspects of Temple worship; the Essenes towards ritual purity and something of an esoteric, eschatological devotion; the Zealots might best be regarded as predecessors of the Zionists.

Jesus’s focus was on a humanism that has always been an important element of Judaism – a relationship with God that is expressed in one’s treatment of one’s fellow man. He taught as a rabbi, but not as a typical modern rabbi.

Since a large part of a rabbi’s traditional duties involved mediation of disputes, it’s worth noting that in Luke chapter 12, a man in a crowd calls out to Jesus for assistance in allotting an inheritance (precisely the type of situation for which a family would turn to a rabbi for fair, impartial judgment), and Jesus answers, “Friend, who appointed me judge or arbiter?”

Jesus was certainly a rabbi in the sense that he was a teacher, but he didn’t show any interest in a case in the kind of mundane case that Jews would have expected a rabbi to render judgment on.

The title “Rabbi” didn’t exist until after Jesus’s time. As Polycarp touched on, what became the rabbis were then called the Pharisees. Perhaps the question should be, “Was Jesus a Pharisee?” :slight_smile:

There was most certainly a title “Rabbi” in the time that JC lived, and there was most certainly a formal ordination ceremony. In fact, in those days, the ordination was more significant than the ceremonies that Yeshivos hold today, because back then, they had genuine ordination, known in Hebrew as Semicha, in a direct line from Moses which authorized the ordainee to sit on Rabbinical courts and try capital cases, and to confer the Semicha upon students of their own. And most of those are referred to by the Mishna and Talmud by the title “Rabbi.” Those few for whom the title is not used were outstanding individuals (such as Hillel and Shammai) whose names were considered to be sufficient distinction without a title to be shared with run-of-the-mill Rabbis.

There is nothing that indicates that JC was a Rabbi. Naturally, this is a very Pharasaic definition, and it’s pretty safe to say that if JC existed as described in the gospels, he was no Pharisee.


The Jewish People says that the title didn’t come into general use until the academy at Yavneh, after the destruction of the Temple. [p.81]

Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel, and Rabbi Yishmael the High Priest (a title that was not in use after the Temple’s destruction) and other Talmudical Rabbis would disagree with you.

Zev Steinhardt

Maybe it’s NOT so safe. More than a few Jewish scholars believe Jesus WAS a radical Pharisee, and that the anti-Pharisee comments in the Gospels reflect the growing divide between Christians and Jews long AFTER the death of JEsus.


Which is why I qualified my statement by saying if JC existed as described in the gospels.