Abbreviations and Titles in Rabbinic Names¹
Many rabbis are referred to by acrostics which are derived from their names. Examples include the Maharsha the first letters of the name Moreinu Harav Reb Shmuel Edels. Since this was the name of a prominent rabbinic commentator, he is referred to as such in most rabbinic texts. It is taken for granted that the reader knows that the rabbi referred to was Rabbi Shmuel Yehudah Edels. The most commonly known example is Rashi, the first letters of the name of the famous biblical and Talmudic commentator Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitskhak.
It is the accepted custom to refer to prominent rabbis not by their names but by the title of the most famous of the books they wrote. Rabbi Mordekhai Jaffe is known as the Levush, the title of his rabbinical commentaries. In some cases the popular title has a more obscure derivation based on the abbreviation of the title of the book. Rabbi Yoel Sirkes is known the “Bakh” which is the acrostic comprised of the Hebrew letters representing the title of the Sirke’s book Beit Khadash. There are cases where a combination of these two derivations applies: The first leader of Ger Chassidim was Rabbi Yitskhak Meir Alter. His book is called Khidushei Harim. “Harim” is an acrostic of the author’s personal name: Resh for Reb, Yud for Yitskhak and Mem for Meir. There are a number of sources which include alphabetical lists of the book titles, an invaluable aid to identifying rabbis who may be referred to in a particular source by the book title without stating the person’s name.
It has long been the practice to ascribe titles of honour to rabbis. These include Gaon (genius), Admor (a Khassidic title meaning Adoneinu Moreinu Verabbeinu, our lord, our teacher and our Rabbi). “Ordinary” rabbis may be ascribed the title in written texts of M”HRR, Moreinu Harav Reb (our teacher the Rabbi, Reb...).
It is common to use the abbreviation "mem hei" as a title of honour or respect, and it does not necessarily signify rabbinic status. Khevra Kaddishah records commonly adopt this practice. For example, the Pinkas of the Slutsk Khevra Kaddishah refers to nearly every male by such grandiose titles. Obviously not every male in the town over a three hundred year period was a rabbi.
Similarly, the term "gvir" was often used widely as a term of respect, and was not unique to any person who may have held a position of leadership in community.
One needs to take all these terms "with a grain of salt".
Tombstones are a particularly valuable source for rabbinical genealogy and therefore it is useful to recognize some commonly used abbreviations which appear in Hebrew inscriptions.
A Jewish male's Hebrew name is used in several formal circumstances:
For a woman comparable terms are:
Khaver in modern Hebrew means a friend or a member of an organization. But that has nothing to with its use on a tombstone. Khaver is an informal title used when referring to a learned person or religious functionary such as a Shokhet or Khazan, who does not have rabbinical ordination.
These titles are use particularly on tombstones, when calling up such a person to the Torah, in rabbinic literature and correspondence.
There are various other terms but the above covers the main ones.
1. Excerpted from: Freedman, Chaim. Beit Rabbanan: Sources of Rabbinic Genealogy. Petah Tikva, Israel: self-published, 2001. Used with permission. (return)