I was reading about the life of Rabbi Zera, and it said he was originally a Rav. The Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael offered to confer on him the title of Rabbi and at first he refused, until they told of some special spirtual attributes he would gain and then he accepted.

So what was the difference in Talmudic times between a Rav and a Rabbi and what beneficial about the later?


Here is where I originally read about it in Wikipedia:

Ze'era was highly esteemed by Abbahu, the rector at Cæsarea, of whom he considered himself a pupil. He was ordained rabbi, a distinction usually denied to members of the Babylonian school, and though in the beginning he refused this honor (Yer. Bik. 65c), he later accepted it on learning of the atoning powers connected with the dignity (Sanh. 14a). Upon receiving Semicha, his title changed from Rav to Rabbi.

  • 2
    interesting question! where did you read this?
    – Baby Seal
    Oct 2, 2014 at 17:31
  • @BabySeal Don't remember, some kind of wikipedia style site - might have been in Hebrew - I'll see if I can find it. Rabbi Zera is a very interesting guy. Oct 2, 2014 at 18:16
  • 1
    It says in Tosefta: גדול מרב רבי, גדול מרבי רבן, גדול מרבן שמו
    – Yehoshua
    Mar 31, 2016 at 19:15
  • Was R' Zera's name really R' Z'era, as the quote implies, or is that a typo?
    – WAF
    Aug 12, 2016 at 11:45

1 Answer 1


The term "rabbi" means that the person received semikha (not to be confused with the modern form of semikha which is different). There was no semikha in Bavel, so none of the amoraim who lived there were "rabbi" unless they came to Eretz Yisrael.

An easy way to remember this is by looking at the last letter of the word. "Rav" ends with ב which is also the first letter in Bavel. "Rabbi" ends with י which is also the first letter of Yisrael. This is also a useful way of figuring out whether a person quoted in the Talmud is a tanna or an amora. There were no tannaim in Bavel, so if you see "Rav" it must be an amora. There were some amoraim in Israel, though, so "rabbi" does not necessarily mean tanna. For example, Rabbi Yochanan is an amora from Israel.

  • 1
    What about the special spiritual attributes / powers / status / I'm not sure what it was that I read about? Oct 2, 2014 at 18:18
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    @RobertS.Barnes, Sanhedrin 14a - anyone elevated to greatness has their sins forgiven. This is why he accepted, it elevated him to (a larger) greatness. (The main function of the proper Smicha is to be able to judge certain types of cases, such as those involving fines).
    – Yishai
    Oct 2, 2014 at 18:31
  • Why didn't Rav get smicha? He lived in Eretz Yisrael? Jun 12, 2015 at 17:50
  • @ShmuelBrin He did, see Sanhedrin 5a (יורה יורה ידין ידין יתיר בכורות אל יתיר). There are a couple places where he's quoted in braisos and called "Rabbi Abba."
    – Shamiach
    Jun 12, 2015 at 18:48
  • One other thing, I remember reading somewhere that only someone living in the land of Israel with biblical smicha had the authority to make legislate new halachot. Could you relate to that? Jun 14, 2015 at 10:33

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