I was looking more into R' Yaakov Chaim Sofer's 'Yishmach Israel' when I came across a unique quote by the Sages.

To explain this, Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer states that since the first three tribes (Judah, Shimon, and Benjamin) were the most well-known, it was unnecessary to employ the term nassi for them. This is in keeping with the teaching of the Sages: “Greater than being called ‘Rabban’ is to be called by one’s own name [i.e., not by a title].”

Here is one of few place online I've seen this quoted, however, none seem to source where it's found. My suspicions suggest Tosefta based on the footnotes of this article by Chabad.org.

  • I vaguely recall hearing something to that effect in the daf yomi shiurim I listen to, but I'm more interested in this distinction of judah/shimon/benjamin, as these coincidentally are the three tribes that remained unified and connected to the temple (shimon was contained in judah's portion)... Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 1:17

1 Answer 1


You suggested:

My suspicions suggest Tosefta

If you look in the Tosefata - מסכת עדיות - end of Ch. 3:4 - you will see that it does not directly address the quote “Greater than being called ‘Rabban’ is to be called by one’s own name [i.e., not by a title].”.

Rather it says:

מי שיש לו תלמידים קורין אותו רבי נשתכחו תלמידיו קורין אותו רבן נשתכחו אלו ואלו קורין אותו בשמו.‏

"One who has students is called Rebbi. If he's students are [no longer] known, he's called Rabban. If both are unknown, he'd called by name."

I'm not sure who the both are in the above sentence. As a result I am not sure it makes him "greater".

  • "Both" seems to mean both the rebbi and the students. I'm also not sure if this is a sign of being greater. It seems more like a sign that he and his students have both been forgotten; no one knows he is great (or has great students) anymore, so people just call him by his name.
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 6:21
  • @Fred: What precisely would it mean that the Rebbe is forgotten yet we know his name? Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 11:39
  • I just mean that his greatness is forgotten. Similar to how people might not know, for example, that the 90 year old man who davens in their minyan daily was a Nobel Prize recipient and president of some famous organization 50 years earlier. But they still know he is named Yankel.
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 20:13
  • @Fred - which would make it difficult to explain why Hillel, Shamai and Yehoshua are all called without appellations. Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 9:52
  • 1
    How so? This doesn't seem to be a hard and fast rule that these particular honorifics were always used, and used this way, throughout history. Even among Tannaim and Amoraim you find some without honorifics, and it wasn't always because they were so old and already forgotten (e.g. Ilfa). However, there are certainly various approaches to this Tosefta; see the Aruch (the entry Abayei), as well as sources cited in Migdal Tzofim (II, YD 33).
    – Fred
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 18:53

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