Rabbis first appeared around the year 70 of the Common Era. No man before that time had this title. Those who think that Jesus was a rabbi are mistaken. The Torah gives the responsibility to teach the Israelites to the tribe of Levy. Later, the priests assumed this role. When the temple was destroyed, priests lost their function and Judaism continued to be a people who focused on observing the practices in the Torah, but not people who offered sacrifices. Anyone could teach Torah. Men who were recognized by their teachers to be adept at teaching Torah were called rabbis.


My father, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Drazin, pointed out in his book History of Jewish Education that: “Education has always been the pride and the cherished ideal of the Jewish people. In the words of Simon the Just, in the third century BCE (recorded in Aboth 1:2), Torah is the first of the three pillars upon which the entire world was founded.” He reveals that the “Jewish school system went through three stages: first, the founding of academies for higher learning, later, establishing secondary schools for adolescents, and, lastly providing universal elementary schools.” The first stage began about 300 BCE. The final reform of free elementary schools for all boys was “put into effect about the year 64 CE.” In short, unlike ancient cultures that assigned religious responsibility to priests and kept religious knowledge restricted to this class, Judaism felt that all people should be educated and use their minds to solve life’s questions. Rabbis are teachers, no more, no less. Jews are encourages not to abandon their thoughts to others.


It is true that beginning with the eighteenth century, Chassidic Jews developed the practice of relying on rabbis, who they called rebbes, to distinguish them from non-Chassidic rabbis. It is also true that extremely Orthodox Jews today have adopted this Chassidic practice. They turn to a rabbi who they consider all-wise and an authority and ask him every kind of questions, such as, should I marry this girl, should I take this job, should I settle in Israel? But this innovation is contrary to the history of Judaism.


Rabbis are human beings who completed a course of study. Many of them have only a limited secular education.  Each has his own approach based on his education, intelligence, and life experiences and each has opinions that differ with those of other rabbis. How, then, should Jews relate to their rabbis? They should select a rabbi as they select physicians, looking for a person who is competent. They should evaluate everything the rabbi tells them and not accept what he says simply because he is a rabbi. They should consider the sources that the rabbi uses for his decision, and then make up their own mind how to behave. As with physicians, it sometimes pays to get a second opinion.