Because rabbinic ancestry
is a major part of Jewish genealogy and because we see
the need for the study of rabbinic ancestry to be
represented on the JewishGen web site, we created a
special interest group for rabbinic genealogy under the
auspices of JewishGen.
transcends geographic areas, vast time periods in Jewish
history, and designations as Ashkenazic or Sephardic.
For most Ashkenazic Jews, surnames are a relatively
recent invention -- less than 200 years old. Rabbinical
families seem to have been the exception to this rule.
The use and adoption of surnames for these families
dates back to as early as the 15th century, if not
earlier, thus preceding all other family names by about
Examples of rabbinical
surnames derived from place names are: Auerbach,
Bachrach, Bloch, Broda, Ettinger, Fränkel (Fraenkel),
Halberstadt, Heilprin, Horowitz, Gordon,
Katzenellenbogen, Landau, Lipschütz (Lipshuetz), Luria, Mintz,
Muravchik, Rapoport, Rothenberg, Spira, and Treves.
Examples of rabbinical surnames based on the Hebrew
lexicon are: Ashkenazi, Heifetz, Jaffe, Margolioth,
Shor, Teomim, and Zak. A number of these surnames
evolved into many variations of the original.
Some prominent Ashkenazi
rabbinical families were originally Sephardic, for
example, the Epstein and Horowitz families. They appear
to have assumed Ashkenazi customs when they left Spain
in 1492 and settled in Eastern Europe. The Sepharadic SIG
site lists many prominent Sephardic rabbis such as Don
Isaac Abrabanel, Joseph Karo, Saadiah Gaon, Solomon
Luria, and of course the RaMBaM: Rabbi Moses ben
Maimon, the Maimonides.
Many rabbinic families
did not adopt surnames until more recently, however.
Uniquely identifying these people is important,
especially in rabbinic dynasties which can go back many
generations, with the given name repeating as often as
every third generation.
Some authorities estimate
that perhaps as many as one in fifty Jews alive today
have a rabbinic ancestry. Many may not be aware of such
an ancestry, nor, if some awareness exists, how or where
to locate resources to begin a search of this unique
aspect of their Jewish ancestry. We believe that
providing the means for researching one's rabbinic
ancestry, whether for the novice or experienced
researcher, is a great service to the JewishGen
Rabbinic Genealogy Special Interest Group