Rabbi comes from a Hebrew word, רִבִּי', meaning "teacher," especially "teacher of the Torah." More literally, the word means "one who is great in knowledge." Jesus was addressed as a Rabbi (cf. Matthew 26:25, 49; Mark 9:5. Mark 10:51, Mark 11:21, Mark 14:45; John 1:38, John 1:49, John 3:2, John 4:31, John 6:25, John 9:2, John 11:18), as was John the Baptist John 3:26). However, Jesus also warned about hypocrites who love to be called "Rabbi," and advised his disciples not to accept that title (Matthew 23).

Following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship shifted to the synagogues. Only two forms of Judaism survived the destruction of the Temple: the messianic movement that became Christianity (the term was first used in Antioch; Acts 11:26), and the Pharisees, from which emerged Rabbinic Judaism.

Modern Rabbis are clergyman of the Jewish faith, and perform a function similar to a priest or minister in the Christian faith. Rabbis accept both the Tanakh and the Oral Law, compiled in works such as the Mishnah and Talmud. However, a minority of religious Jews (the Karaite sect, which numbers about 15,000) do not accept the Oral Law as compiled.

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