Sunday, January 12, 2014

On decrees concerning rabbinic ordination from 1603

In 1603 rabbis in Germany[1] held a synod in Frankfurt, where they enacted takkanot. The takkanot were translated into German (three separates ones, according to Rabbi Marcus Horovitz[1]) since, in the prior century, various rabbinic synods were treated highly suspiciously by the non-Jews. 

Many of these takkanot are of interest (such as #6, which comes down harshly against coin counterfeiting and the forging of debt documents, stating that much harm has come to the Jews because of this, and decreeing both herem and turning counterfeiters over to the king). But I want to highlight #5, because I came across a summary of it in English in a book from only a few years later, which is interesting to see.

Here is the text of the takkana, as printed by Horovitz. It concerns the manner in which rabbis can be ordained in Germany (and, incidentally, we see that the term bahur was used even for a young married man).

And here is how it is summarized in Purchas his Pilgrimage, v.5, (London 1626).[3] As you can see, he refers to this very takkana, enacted by the "Chief RR [=rabbis] of Frankford":

Since Purchas, in his attempt to explain the Jewish forms of ordination then in vogue, the titles Morenu, Chaver, and Bachur, relates them to the Christian university degrees of Doctor, Licentiate and Bachelour, I thought it worth highlighting an interesting couple of sentences from Abarbanel's commentary to Mishna Avot that I was recently looking at (link). He writes that in Spain and the places of its exiles, they did not ordain rabbis, following the old practice not to ordain outside of the and of Israel. He continues as follows:

"But after arriving in Italy I found there a widespread custom to ordain one another. I saw that the Ashkenazim had all been ordained, and ordained others, as rabbis, and I do not know who gave them permission to do so. [I thought] perhaps they had followed the gentiles in making themselves Doctors."

And since we mention Italy, here is how Rabbi Leon Modena described ordination in his Riti (1650 English translation:

[1] Obviously not in the modern sense. For example, Takkana 12 concerns printing, and refers to Basel, then a major center of Hebrew printing, and juxtaposes it with "or another city in Ashkenaz." Basel, in Switzerland, was in "Germany."
[2] Die Frankfurter rabbinerversammlung vom jahre 1603, p. 5. See also Louis Finkelstein Jewish Self-Government in the Middle Ages, Chapter 8, on the 1603 Frankfurt synod and the takkanas.
[3] The full title of this book, by Samuel Purchas, is: Purchas his Pilgrimage. Or Relations of the World and the Religions Observed in all Ages and Places Discovered, from the Creation unto this Present. And since this continues for a paragraph, here is the title page:


  1. Mind the older use of "chaver" as a sort of pre-rabbi degree for younger people, not as an honorific for 70-year olds who are nice, might have done some community work and attend (and can follow) the daf yowmi shier.

    Also, of course, that there's no title "rav", "horav" or "rabbi".

  2. Goodness, what would he say about the Monsey phonebook where every other person is a rabbi?

  3. Well, from his 17-ct point of view, he'd understand that as nothing more than "Mr" in today's sense. Js sayin.

  4. Ah, but after all, what is the point, if without סמיכת משה לדורות a knas cannot be collected! (See תקפו כהן להש"ך, I forget which siman)

  5. R' Dovid Messer Leon was basically openly addressing the Abarbanel here (though the discussion begins a few pages earlier):

    Re. parallel secular titles, see here what Pablo Christiani mentions (s.v. ענה פראי פול באותן):

    @ Phillip: maybe not in those 1603 takkanos but they were definitely in use long before.

    @ MyTurnAtBat: you can have a glimpse of some "Turkish" phonebooks that looked similar here in the author's intro. (not seriously, of course, but almost all the Rabbanim he mentions got a "החכם רבי"):
    @ Grunk: תקפו כהן? Ayin a few hundred years before that.

  6. Of course - just look at mishne and gemore - but usage changed over the years. (This isn't meant to be criticism, by the way.)

  7. Reb Chaim HaQoton1:51 PM, January 13, 2014

    The term בחור was also used by the Gemara to refer to married fellows.



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