All In A Title

Q: […] I was wondering what the deal was in Matthew 23 when Yeshua was talking about not calling anyone Father, Rabbi, and the like. I have my suspicions that it really has to do with the people who are desiring such a title; however, there may be more to the explanation. I ask because we have recently had some “YAH” people visit the congregation and have stirred things up a little. I think you’ve dealt with this kind of group before so I thought you could give good advice and reproof for how to deal with the like. 

Yes. I have dealt with the “Yah” people [herein called Sacred namists], and they can be a formidable opponent… for the ignorant[1]. They interpret the Text with an eye toward “You only need the Ruach and the Bible.” They approach the text with a haughtiness that blinds them. Good luck. I’ve been able to change a mind or two in the past[2], but they prefer their own interpretation even in the face of overwhelming opposition.
     Like them, Arnold G Fruchtenbaum [the founder of Ariel Ministries] uses the Matthew 23 passage to forbid the term “rabbi” for leaders. I wonder how Arnold feels about the terms “Pastor” and “Reverend.[3]” Thankfully, Arnold and the Sacred Namists quickly part ways.
As my third draft, I finish with this as my last version. I restructured everything, thinking this approach may be better, because it ties the word of Yeshua with the word of Paul a tad clearer. I also removed many of the multisyllabic words. I provide nothing new here, of course, because the Rabbis of Old taught this far better. Verse Three of Matthew 23:1-12 sums the complete argument. Yeshua doesn’t stop there and uses verses four and beyond… through the woes to hammer the end of verse three into our brains. 

All their actions they do for the sake of appearances. [shem tov Hebrew matthew]

Yeshua warns us against hypocrisy. First blush causes a Christian to create a polemic response against Judaism since our beliefs, Rabbinic Judaism, find their fathers steeped within Pharisaic tradition. However, we must warn our Christian friends that the whole world thinks Christians are hypocritical. How quickly [and correctly] they will respond, “But they [the hypocrites] aren’t real Christians.” The Pharisee, also, would agree. “For Rabbi Huna spoke against the Pharisee who, lenient upon himself, taught others to obey the hardest rules.[4]”
The hypocrisy arrives as a three-petal flower:

  • They demand and set forth great unbearable burdens, but they themselves, even with their finger, are unwilling to move
  • They make their tefillin broad and their tzitziyot long; they love to recline first in the banquet halls, to be [seated] first at the synagogues
  • They love being greeted deferentially in the marketplaces and to be called Rabbi

How funny that is: Yeshua teach a lesson by using a rabbinic series of three. Nonetheless, the lesson is clear. The Rabbis’ actions [in the above three examples] are designed to garner attention and procure adoration of others. Their appearance is designed to catch the eye and to promote the sensation that holy men have appeared. The salutations expected or desired are ones of respect. To call one Rabbi was one of the highest forms of honor. All three examples provide a view of people who wanted terribly to be considered righteous, but of these self-gratifying examples, the third was the most narcotic. It seems we’re being told we should not esteem them as oracles, but as magistrates[5] [vv. 1-4]. However, piety designed for men’s eyes is not piety – it is a vehicle to massage one’s pride.

The opening pages of b.Berachot speak of the rules of how one is to conduct himself in prayer if travelling on a road. Does one simply pray on the street or does one take himself away to a private place? The discussion originates in the desire to pray in private because a pious man keeps his prayer life and his mitzvot private [Matthew 6:6]; but one must take care not to enter a region that exposes the traveler to danger or the opportunity for sin.

As for you, do not desire to be called Rabbi; One is your Rabbi and all of you are brothers[shem tov]
Call no man upon the earth Father; One is your father who is in Heaven [shem tov]
Do not be called Rabbi, because One is your Rabbi, the Messiah [shem tov]

Aruch says, “Now the order, as all men use it, is this: Rabbi is greater than Rav, and Rabban is greater than Rabbi; and he is greater who is called by his own [single] name, than he who is called Rabban.” Lightfoot states that the title Rabbi was not in use prior to the time of Hillel, and I see no reason to disbelieve this.

When one seeks to gain the title Rabbi because it feeds his selfishness and his desire for an artificially elevated sense of worth to the community, he is not worthy. The community has a perception that someone who is called Rabbi is wise, has undertaken a certain amount of schooling [in Torah, Tanakh, Talmud, as well as Jewish history], has been deemed worthy by a group who, themselves, have undergone the same training, and has been given a smichah… an ordination. Even those who undergo this long process should not be given the title if they do not possess humbleness of spirit. For the Sages say the student teaches the teacher; one who is haughty cannot be taught. Generally, I’ve discovered that those who seek the title should never attain it. One cannot husband sheep without patience and a calm spirit.

Just from a logical perspective, Yeshua’s comment cannot be a blanket restriction on the use of a title. After all, I used the title “Father” [or a derivative of it] for my own paternal parent, and I know every cognizant human has used the title as well. After all, what do we do with, “What father among you will give his son a snake if he asks for a fish,” if we separate this verse from its context? Paul said, “for in connection with Messiah Yeshua it was I who became your father by means of the Good News.[6]” The Talmud [Makkot 24a] has a passage that states, “He honors them that fear the L-rd;’ that was Yehoshaphat king of Judah, who would rise from his throne every time he beheld a scholar-disciple, embrace, and kiss him, calling him “Father, Father; Rabbi, Rabbi; Mari, Mari!” To be doers does not exclude the listening. Discouraging someone from having wide tefillin and long Tzitziyot in order to be noticed does not mean we should stop wearing them. Criticizing the man who wails his prayers in the street to attract attention does not mean we need to stop praying. Consistency should demand that in like manner, the titles should not be forbidden because some people need to have their egos massaged by the adoration of men.

The greatest among you will serve you. He who exalts himself will be humbled; he who humbles himself will be exalted. [Shem Tov]

The congregational leader of a Synagogue should not take on or allow himself to be called Rabbi without undertaking the training necessary as well as the smichah – otherwise this leader contravenes Yeshua’s constraint.
[1] Welcome to the world of the Sacred Namist: “There are some things in them hard to understand, in which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” For 1,800 years, Christians have read Matthew 23:2 without ever considering a trip to Barnes and Noble to purchase a copy of the Mishnah.
[2] One such dude believed Passover should be celebrated as the 14th begins, not as the 14th ends. He used the “bible” by Fred R Coulter called The Christian Passover. The author spends 482 pages proving that the Jews have it all wrong and that they’re missing out on G-d’s blessings. Fred Coulter spends his time dancing through the text… all the while ignoring one small verse [Exodus 12:6]. How could one watch over the Pesach Lamb until the 14th if the lamb had to be killed on the 13th for consumption as the 14th begins? Surprisingly, He tried to play with the words, but in the end, he celebrated the Pesach meal [his way, of course] on the correct day.
[3] See
[4] C.G.Montefiore & H Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology.
[5] They sit on Moshe’s [stone] seat.
[6] I Corinthians 4:15.

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3 thoughts on “All In A Title

  1. I believe what you posted was very reasonable. But, think about this, suppose you added a little content? I am not saying your content isn’t solid., but suppose you added something that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean All In A Title slade's torah thoughts is kinda boring. You ought to glance at Yahoo’s home page and see how they write news titles to get people to click. You might add a related video or a pic or two to get readers interested about what you’ve got to say. In my opinion, it might bring your posts a little livelier.


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