In Judaism, Rabbi is Hebrew for "teacher." The basic form of the rabbi developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era, when learned teachers assembled to codify Judaism's written and oral laws. The title "rabbi" was first used in the first century CE. In more recent centuries, the duties of a rabbi became increasingly influenced by the duties of the Protestant Christian minister, hence the title "pulpit rabbis", and in 19th-century Germany and the United States rabbinic activities including sermons, pastoral counseling, and representing the community to the outside, all increased in importance.
The Hebrew word "master" רבrav[ˈʀäv], (irregular plural רבניםrabanim[ʀäbäˈnim]), which literally means "great one", is the original Hebrew form of the title. The form of the title in English and many other languages derives from the possessive form in Hebrew of rav: רַבִּיrabbi[ˈʀäbbi], meaning "My Master", which is the way a student would address a master of Torah. The word Rav in turn derives from the Semitic root ר-ב-ב (R-B-B), which in biblicalAramaic means "great" in many senses, including "revered", but appears primarily as a prefix in construct forms. Although the usage rabbim "many" (as 1 Kings 18:25, הָרַבִּים) "the majority, the multitude" occurs for the assembly of the community in the Dead Sea scrolls, there is no evidence to support an association with the later title "Rabbi." The root is cognate to Arabic ربّ rabb, meaning "lord" (generally used when talking about God, but also about temporal lords). As a sign of great respect, some great rabbis are simply called "The Rav".
A rabbi is not an occupation found in the Hebrew Bible, and ancient generations did not employ related titles such as Rabban, Ribbi, or Rab to describe either the Babylonian sages or the sages in Israel.[note 1] The titles "Rabban" and "Rabbi" are first mentioned in Jewish literature in the Mishnah. The term was first used for Rabban Gamaliel the elder, Rabban Simeon his son, and Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, all of whom were patriarchs or presidents of the Sanhedrin in the first century.[note 2] The title "Rabbi" occurs (in Greek transliteration ῥαββί rhabbi) in the books of Matthew, Mark, and John in the New Testament, where it is used in reference to "Scribes and Pharisees" as well as to Jesus.
According to some, the title "rabbi" or "rabban" was first used after 70 CE to refer to Yochanan ben Zakkai and his students, and references in rabbinic texts and the New Testament to rabbis earlier in the 1st century are anachronisms. Other scholars believe that the term "rabbi" was a well-known informal title by the beginning of the first century CE, and thus that the Jewish and Christian references to rabbis in this period can be accurate.