Rebbetzin vs Rabbanit

I first heard the term rabbanit about a year ago, and always had the impression it was the Hebrew equivalent of rebbetzin, which is Yiddish.

However, a recent conversation in the Midrasha showed me another viewpoint….

One of my classmates said to me that I was going to be a great rebbetzin. To which another responded immediately “No she won’t, she’ll be a rabbanit.” I thanked the first person and quizically looked at the second. She went on to explain that rebbetzin is simply the title one gets by being married to a rabbi and that anyone can be a rebbetzin. In her opinion, a rabbanit is  woman who is educated and respected in her own right, who happens to also be married to a rabbi.

Woah! Now thats an interesting distinction. It sort of had my mind reeling with the implications and questions, but I couldn’t come to any sort of conclusion.

So now dear readers, I ask you — Do you feel there is any difference between the terms “Rebbetzin” and “Rabbanit?” Does one of these trigger a guttural reaction like it did to my friend?

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12 thoughts on “Rebbetzin vs Rabbanit

  1. Hi Melissa !

    I think there is actually a difference between Rebbetzin and Rabbanit as your second friend at Midrasha mentioned.

    Actually some years ago I thought as you, that it was the same word only in two different languages. But recently (around 2 years ago) I learnt that more and more women nowadays who publish books about a high level topic on Judaism are called Rabbanit even if they’re not married to a rav. It’s a way to acknowledge their high-level of Torah study and Torah knowledge.

    So now I think like your second friend, a rebbetzin would be the wife of the rav, but the rabbanit not necessarily. But don’t worry tou’ll be a great rebbetzin and a great rabbanit with no distinction :).

    PS : it’s funny to notice that in french the word rebbetzin is translated by “rabbanite” which designs the wife of the rav … 🙂

    Layla tov chavruta !

  2. I never differentiated between rebbetzin and rabbanit before. To me they mean the same thing, although the people who use them would be different…like the only people I could really imagine using the term “rabbanit” would be more modern, left-leaning young women.

  3. I agree with Risa, they are definitely different terms. You would never think of called Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi a Rebbetzin – she is simply too much of a gadol in her own terms. I wonder whether the reference Rabbanit has something to do with having a community of followers? It’s an interesting discussion and it would certainly be fascinating to know more about the distinctions between the two terms.

  4. If this is true, it is a new social phenomenon. My generation in Israel (your parents) did not make this distinction. Language continually changes and adapts, so this could be a new development, but it is not rooted in any actual linguistic source or distinction. We used interchangeably ‘rabanit’ and ‘ishto shel harav’.

    The only definition Even Shushan gives for rabanit is:
    אשת רב. אשת מורה הוראה בקהילה

    BTW, since we missed it – happy birthday!

  5. Thank you all for your comments. It is really interesting to see such a diverse array of reactions that span age, gender, and location.
    This is something I am interested in doing some more investigating on and will hopefully be able to post follow ups with interesting findings.

  6. I’d have to agree with Mordechai above, since I run in Sefardi circles, mostly, and shutter at the notion that I would have what the other explanations give as kavod on my own, outside of my being the “wife of the rav.” What is about the Ohr of the sun and the ohr of the moon? The must reflect the ohr of her husband, not hope to overshadow it or dim it in anyway, chaz v’shalom. We do indeed ultimately receive our Ohr from the zechut of our husbands and so, whether it’s rabbanit or rebbetzin, it should be remembered that she deserves whatever kavod that comes her way – because of her husband’s Ohr, and not the other way around.

  7. “I agree with Risa, they are definitely different terms. You would never think of called Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi a Rebbetzin – she is simply too much of a gadol in her own terms.”

    This sounds like old-fashioned, ridiculous feminism. it’s totally bogus and reeks of the secular or “Reform” Jewish world.

    When a man and woman are married, they become ONE.

    I am a “recovering feminist” who realizes that if a woman is married to an Orthodox rabbi, regardless of her “own” level of learning, she is NOT a female rabbi. And there is no higher title than ‘REBBETZIN.”

    And there is no such thing as a female “gadol.” A woman may be a “tzadekas,” but not a “gadol,” or “rabbanit,” or whatever stupid, made-up term you’re using. Do you think Rebbetzin Kanievsky, who has no female peer, would call herself “Rabbanit?”

    • Funny, we live in Tiberias, in the heart of the community for Rav and RABBANIT Kook, the granddaughter of “Rebbetzin Kanievsky” and she’s surely known as “ha rabbanit.” They take in all kinds, as did her grandmother, and is famous for her amazing brachot, advice, listening ear, and yichus – Steipler Rav, etc. So, when we call her Rabbanit, it hardly lessens the impact that she’s a true tzedekes.

      That being said, I go to the makolet across the street and the shop owner calls EVERY WOMAN who’s husband learns in kollel, “rabbanit.” No matter if they’re Sefardi (like the majority of the community) or Ashkenazi. And, I suspect, even if they’re just frum, or he doesn’t know them, but their husbands may not necessarily be in kollel, he still calls them rabbanit.

      To Unlisted, above: In Israeli, sefardi circles men wouldn’t call a “Rabbanit” “Rebbetzin” it has a funny twang to it. “Rabbanit” is a very respectable term no matter how you slice it or no matter whom you’re addressing.

  8. There is no such thing as a “Rabbanit.” It simply means “Wife of Rabbi” and anyone claiming it means more is ignorant of Judaism on multiple levels. Man and woman are not equal under
    G-d because it is women as the backbone of the Jewish family who is more favoured. However, gender roles are distinct and cannot be interchanged. Just as a man can not give birth and mother Jewish children a woman cannot become a Sage and any woman imagining it otherwise is afflicted with Ashkenazi Post-Haskalah garbage. We are not Westerners. If you want to imbue Judausm with your subjective Feminist perspective you are no different than a Gay Rabbi with a husband. Judaism is not a buffet where you can pick that which agrees with you and reject that which does not.

    As for the commenter discussing the Montifiore Census of Jerusalem, if she truly believes that in 1895 there was a Feminist who was deemed a Torah giant that more power to you but please keep that garbage in your Reform Temple and stop polluting our tried and true ancient faith with it.

  9. It is unfortunate that so many seem to slander the title of a learned woman. Why is that such a threat? Patriarchy has blistered the minds to be overly sensitive to women functioning as anything other than a mother (and Hashem knows I am by no means denigrating that role). There is no shame in having earned, through many long hours of study and guidance from wise elders, the title of “rabbanit.” It means you are recognized to have sufficient legal understanding and wisdom to rule on halakhah. Rabbanit does not reflect marital status, though I am unaware of any single, traditional Jewish women who carry that title. But Rabbanit Shira Smiles, whose teachings I have followed for years, is promoted on the OU website with that title.

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