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date: 05 December 2023



  • Hayim Lapin


The term “rabbis” generally refers to Jewish scholars and ritual specialists who flourished in Palestine and Babylonia, from the late 1st to the 6th centuries ce. Although some evidence for rabbis exists outside literary texts, most of our knowledge derives from rabbinic or Talmudic literature itself. This literature is undoubtedly rich, but also produced by and for a community of insiders. This makes drawing historiographical (especially chronological or biographical) conclusions problematic. Traditionally and in some older scholarship, rabbis were viewed as the leadership of the Jewish people, at least in Palestine and Mesopotamia, and were often thought to derive their authority from formal or informal imperial mandate. A more common view today recognizes that rabbis were a numerically small group with little or no official power, although there remains considerable debate over how influential or representative of a wider population rabbis may have been.


  • Jewish Studies

Updated in this version

Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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