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The title "rebbe" (as opposed to "rabbi") is often given to leaders of hasidic groups. It is also often used by both hasidim and non-hasidim to refer to one's personal teacher. What is the origin of this word, and how is it different from rabbi?

Why are the two words used in different contexts?

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You tagged this hebrew. Are you asking about a Hebrew word, then? Then the answer to your last part ("how is it different from rabbi?") should be clear: it's Hebrew. Or am I missing something? – msh210 Jul 3 '13 at 16:40
@msh210 I just thought that the word might have Hebrew origins. I don't actually know. – Daniel Jul 3 '13 at 16:41
isn't this just a North-eastern yiddish formation of ravi (my rav)? Rabbi (rhyming with Cab-bye) is an anglicization of the yiddish rebbe (rhyming with Deb-bee) – Charles Koppelman Jul 3 '13 at 20:17

1 Answer 1

Rabbi, as in my Rav, is referring to ones teacher, their 'Moreh Hora'ah'. The one who instructs them on what to do in practice.

Rebbe is a Roshei Teivot for 'Rosh B'nai Yisroel', 'Head of the Jewish People' as in parshat Ki Tisa (Shemot 30:12). This is also brought by Rabbi Nachman Goldschmidt of Techerin in Parparot l'Chochmah, section 111.

In midrash and other places, the Jewish people are compared to a single individual, like in the concept of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה. This same concept is why for example we say Viduy in the plural instead of the singular and confess to things that we may not be individually guilty of committing. Rabbi Moshe Cordevero explains that confessing to something you have no connection to is a false confession and is prohibited. But because the Jewish people are all one, spiritually and physically, we can make the entire Viduy truthfully.

Each individual corresponds to a particular limb or part of a limb. This idea can also be seen in parshat Shoftim (Shemot 18:21,25) where the judges are also referred to as 'head' and are compared to the eyes of the community (עיני העדה). In the commentaries to this citation, it explains that these "judges" are referring to the establishment of the Sanhedrin which is headed by the Nasi.

In the specific case of the individual called Rebbe, it is the idea of the complete head, from which life flows out to all the other limbs. This follows the explanation of Rabbi Yosef Caro in Maggid Mesharim on parshat Ki Tisa and also Yalkut Shimoni on Tetzaveh 376.

And this concept is also associated with the idea of the term 'Nasi', which is referred to in Aramaic in the case of the tribes as 'אמרכל' which translates as 'speaking for the whole'.

Nasi, like Rebbe, is another Roshei Teivot meaning 'Nitzutz shel Yaacov Avinu', a spark of Yaacov avinu. The Lubavitcher Rebbe brings this from Sefer Kehilat Yaakov in his talk from the 10th of Shevat, 5722, which can also be found in Likkutei Sichot, volume 4, page 1051, note 18.

Sefer Kehilat Yaakov by Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Yolles of Dinov explains the origin of the word "Rebbe" and clarifies why they referred to Rebbe, meaning Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi as Nasi. He associates the title of Rebbe to that of Nasi and explains that the source of this title (Nasi) is because he is a spark of Yaakov Avinu (נצוץ של יעקב אבינו).

The Lubavitcher Rebbe goes on to explain that the Kehilat Yaakov is basing this upon what is found in Bava Batra 58a which compares the beauty of Yaakov Avinu to that of Adam HaRishon. Just as all mankind came from Adam HaRishon, so too all the tribes of Israel came from and were connected to Yaacov, and so too all the Jewish people are connected to the Nasi of their generation.

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What are the sources of those roshei teivot? – Daniel yesterday
I don't think this really answers this question. It's a nice derasha but it doesn't really answer what the origin of the term is. – Daniel 18 hours ago
@Daniel: A short bio from Rav Yaakov Tzvi Yalish (Yolles) of Dinov, (1778-1825). He was born in Premeshyl, but moved in with his grandfather, the Rav of Mezhibuzh, after his mother passed away at an early age. He was a chassid of the Chozeh of Lublin. Rav Yaakov Tzvi served as Rav in Dinov, and later of two other cities, but decided to devote himself to full-time learning and left Rabbanus. He also authored Beis Vaad Lechachamim on the history of the Tana’im and Amora’im, – Yaacov Deane 16 hours ago
Emes Le’Yaakov on Torah, Chinuch Beis Yehudah (named for his grandfather) on Chanukah, Parashas Derachim Zuta, Kol Yaakov (on Torah and Nach), and his most famous sefer Melo Haro’im. – Yaacov Deane 16 hours ago
Sorry but -1. 90% of this answer doesn't have anything to do with my question and the other 10% tangentially has to do with the question but is still not an answer. – Daniel 6 hours ago

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