The Mishna says: Avot 1:10

וּשְׂנָא אֶת הָרַבָּנוּת

I have been struggling with that one for a while. It has been translated variously as "despise lordliness", "despise positions of power", "hate acting the superior", "hate the holding of high office", "hate authority over others", etc. The Gemara even tells us that Joseph died before his brothers because he occupied a position of power. [Sotah 13b]

What bothers me is not the meaning, which is plainly that, while we need leaders, such leaders should not take pleasure in their exercise of authority. It's the word used. Doesn't "Ha-rabbanut הָרַבָּנוּת" mean "the rabbinate"? Why is that particular word used? Why bring rabbis (teachers) in particular into this, when there are so many other positions of power?

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    What other term should it have used? The term רבנות literally means "mastery." – DonielF Apr 12 '19 at 17:34
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    "Rav" means Master, like the owner of a slave. It doesn't just mean master of Judaic law. Consider Jonah 1:6 רב החבל master of the ropes – Double AA Apr 12 '19 at 21:44

The simple answer is that רַבָּנוּת doesn't mean "the rabbinate." The Israeli rabbinate of today is called רַבָּנוּת, but it didn't exist in antiquity. The closest thing to an official body of rabbis is the Sanhedrin or the court (בֵּית דִּין), which is not referred to as רַבָּנוּת. The sages as a whole were usually referred to as חֲכָמִים, sometimes רַבּוֹתֵינוּ, but never רַבָּנוּת.

The word רַב means "master" (as in the master of a slave, e.g. in Gittin 4:5). The word רַבִּי "my master" is used as an honorific for sages in the same way that אֲדוֹנִי is used as a term of respect in Hebrew (e.g. 1 Samuel 1:15). The word רַבָּנוּת is a derivative of the meaning "master" and not specifically from its usage as an honorific. The passage that you quoted as an example of negative portrayal of authority in fact uses the word רַבָּנוּת to describe it.

רַבָּנוּת is probably not the only term that fits here (I think שְׂרָרָה would have also worked), but it wouldn't have carried any connotations of hating rabbis at the time the Mishna was taught.


See Avot derabbi Nathan 11.2. From the contents the Rabanut is Grandiosity.

ושנא את הרבנות כיצד, מלמד שלא יניח אדם עטרה מעצמו בראשו, אבל אחרים יניחו לו. שנאמר, (משלי כז) "יהללך זר ולא פיך, נכרי ואל שפתיך". A man needs to let others decide if he deserves to be honored

אמר רבי עקיבא כל המגביה עצמו על דברי תורה למה הוא דומה, לנבלה מושלכת בדרך. כל עובר ושב מניח ידו על חוטמו ומתרחק ממנה והולך, שנאמר, (שם ל) "אם נבלת בהתנשא ואם זמות יד לפה". If someone stand up himself because of his level in Tora,, people will be disgusted by him אמר לו בן עזאי: דרשהו מעניינו אם מנבל אדם עצמו על דברי תורה, ואוכל תמרים חרובים, ולובש בגדים צואים, ויושב ומשמר על פתח של חכמים - כל עובר ושב אומר שמא שוטה הוא זה. לסוף אתה מוצא כל התורה כולה עמו.

רבי יוסי אומר, רד מטה למעלה ולמעלה למטה כל המגביה עצמו על דברי תורה סוף שמשפילין אותו. וכל המשפיל עצמו על דברי תורה סוף שמגביהין אותו: If someone stand up himself because of his Tora level, people will humiliate him, and inversely if he belittle oneself, they will honor him.

From this Berayta, we says that rabbanut is greatness, grandiose attitude. It's not rabbinical function as Says. The contents of this text focuses on how to behave. Rav is a quantitative expression. To be great, greater, grandiose.


DonielF is correct in that the term implies "mastery" or a sense of haughtiness. Have a look at R. Bartenura's explanation. To summarize his main point, R. Bartenura refers to the beginning of the same mishna which says "love work". He says that one should not establish a sense of "mastery" or a leader type attitude that says "I am a 'lord' or 'important' and doing work is beyond me." In other words, regardless of your title or position, you still should contribute to some type of work and not assign all work to others. Note that "work" doesn't necessarily mean "employment" or "occupation" necessarily. It means the performance of a task, in general.


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