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    The Sages
    use different
    titles to refer
    to different
    levels of
    s c h o l a r s
    because not
    all rabbis
    have equal authority. In order
    of increasing importance: Rav,
    Rabbi, Rabban, the scholar’s name
    (Tosefta, Eduyos 3:4). Among the
    last group we include Hillel and
    Shammai. Generally speaking,
    Rabban refers to someone who led
    the Sanhedrin. You had to obtain
    classical rabbinic ordination in
    Israel in order to be called Rabbi.
    Rav is the diaspora equivalent,
    for those who could not obtain
    ordination in Israel.
    Nearly a thousand years after the
    close of the Talmud, it became
    apparent that divergent traditions
    had emerged for the proper
    pronunciation of what I spelled
    above as Rabbi. By the late
    eighteenth century, there were a
    surprising number of proposed
    vowelizations of the title, which
    seem to have converged in the
    nineteenth century into one primary
    spelling. In theory, matters like this
    can be easily resolved by looking
    at the Kaufmann manuscript of
    the Mishnah, which includes
    vowels. However, the manuscript
    consistently abbreviates the term
    Rabbi as R, leaving it without
    vowels. Similarly, because the
    word appears a few times in the
    prayerbook, in quotations from
    Talmud and Midrash, we should be
    able to check the vowelization in
    prayerbook manuscripts. However,
    they tend to diverge greatly.
    I. Ribbi
    Rav Shimon Ben Tzemach Duran
    (Rashbatz, 15th cen., Spain-Algeria;
    Magen Avos, Avos 2:1) insists that
    the proper pronunciation of the title
    is Ribbi, with a chirik vowel under
    the first letter reish, and not Rabbi,
    with a pasach under the reish. He
    says that if it was the latter, the title
    would be a diminution. It would
    mean “my master,” implying that
    he is not a universal authority but
    only an authority for you.
    R. Eliyahu Levita (Ha-Bachur,
    16th cen., Italy; Sefer Ha-Tishbi,
    entry for Rav) notes that many
    prayerbooks vowelize it as Rebbi,
    with a sheva under the reish. He
    argues that this cannot be correct
    because this would be an active
    sheva, which would render the
    second letter a veis and the word
    would be Revvi. He also says that
    “we Ashkenazim” (he moved to
    Italy after Jews were expelled from
    his town in Germany) pronounce
    the word as if there is a chataf
    kamatz under the reish — Robbi
    (like choli, illness). However, he
    sees no basis for this pronunciation.
    Rather, he agrees with Rashbatz
    that the title is pronounced Ribbi.
    He cites as proof the fact that
    some poets (paytanim) signed their
    poems be-ribbi (beis, reish, yud,
    beis, yud), as in R. Eliezer be-Ribbi
    Kalir, meaning R. Eliezer the son of
    R. Kalir. This indicates that these
    poets spelled the title Ribbi.
    II. Rubbi
    The controversial but influential
    grammarian, R. Shlomo Zalman
    Hanau (18th cen., Germany;
    Sha’arei Tefillah, par. 49) quotes
    R. Ya’akov Penso (17th cen., Italy;
    Divrei Agur) as saying that the
    title should be pronounced Robbi,
    with a chataf kamatz. R. Hanau
    dismisses this as untenable. Instead,
    he believes it is pronounced Rubbi
    (like ruby), with a shuruk (kubutz)
    under the reish. He says that it
    means “my master,” apparently
    unaware of or unconcerned with
    Rashbatz’s argument that this
    diminishes the bearer of the title.
    Rav Ya’akov Emden (18th
    cen., Germany) was, in general,
    incensed with R. Hanau’s
    grammatical innovations
    and his attempts to “correct”
    traditional texts. He published
    a book, Lu’ach Eresh, to defend
    traditional prayerbooks against
    R. Hanau’s grammatical changes.
    On this issue, Rav Emden (Siddur
    Beis Ya’akov, s.v. R. Yishmael)
    dismisses R. Hanau’s suggestion
    of Rubbi and instead advocates
    for the spelling Revvi (sheva
    under the reish).
    III. Rabbi
    Dr. Seligmann Baer (19th cen.,
    Germany; Siddur Avodas Yisrael,
    s.v. R. Yishmael), whose texts and
    served in some
    ways as the
    basis of later
    A s h k e n a z i c
    e d i t i o n s ,
    argues for the
    spelling of
    Rabbi, with a
    pasach under
    the reish. He
    says that it is
    an Aramaic
    form of the
    word “rav,
    m a s t e r , ”
    meaning “my master.” Dr. Baer
    disputes R. Levita’s proof from
    the signatures of poets. He claims
    that the signatures are only beirabbi, with the yud before the reish,
    not after it as R. Levita claims.
    This leaves the spelling of Rabbi
    Dr. Baer proves that Rabbi is the
    correct spelling by comparing it to
    the title Rabban, which everyone
    agrees is spelled with a pasach
    under the reish. The word ends with
    a nun, which makes it greater than
    Rabbi. Similarly, we find the words
    “Rabbo” (his rabbi), “Rabbach”
    (your rabbi) and “Rabboseinu”
    (our rabbis), which appear in
    prayerbooks with a pasach under
    the reish. “Rabbach” appears in
    the Mishnah (Avos 4:12) and is
    spelled this way in the Kaufmann
    Dr. Baer brings proof from Rav
    Yosef’s statement in Eruvin (75b)
    that he confused the words “Rabbi”
    (i.e. R. Yehudah Ha-Nasi) and
    “rabbim” (the public). He had
    heard a teaching about the public
    and mistakenly thought it was
    stating R. Yehudah Ha-Nasi’s view.
    Clearly, the title Rabbi sounds like
    the word “rabbim,” and should be
    pronounced with a pasach under the
    Rashbatz had argued that the
    pronunciation Rabbi diminishes
    the title, making it “my master”
    rather than everyone’s master. Dr.
    Baer counters that it is a sign of
    respect, just like the French word
    “monsieur,” which literally means
    “my lord.” Dr. Baer makes such
    persuasive arguments that his
    footnote is replicated
    verbatim in Siddur
    Otzar Ha-Tefillos
    (s.v. R. Yishmael).
    The pronunciation
    Rabbi has become
    standard. However,
    to this day,
    many Sephardim
    pronounce the word
    Ribbi as indicated
    by Rashbatz and Rav
    Ya’akov Emden.