Role of Rabbi and Cantor in Judaism

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  • Created by: Isidora
  • Created on: 29-04-13 16:58

Role of Rabbi

  • Means 'teacher', 'sir' or 'my master'
  • Not a priest, though may coincidentally be a 'cohen' (of priestly line)
  • Spiritual leader of a Jewish community
  • Title itself seems to originate around the time of the destruction of the Temple (70 CE)
  • His legal work is confined to religious matters and questions of conversion, marriage and divorce
  • His function is mainly the interpretation and teaching of Jewish tradition, the guiding of and preaching to the people and the pastoral role of caring for the community
  • Strives to be a dedicated 'scholar of the Torah'
  • Must be able to advice on how to apply Jewish law (Halachah) to everyday life
  • He also counsels, giving advice, preparing Bar Mitzvah candidates, couples for marriage, offering advice on all matters of family life and community living
  • Pastoral duties include visiting the sick, the bereaved, those in prison, caring for Jewish students attached to any nearby university or college
  • In traditional communities, Rabbis spend much of their day studying, teaching or deciding on matters of Jewish law. Some Jews bring disputes to the Rabbi for settlement according to Jewish law rather than civil courts
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  • The Rabbi presides over services and ensures that everything is conducted according to Jewish law
  • He ensures that the structure of services follows the SIDDUR (daily prayer book)
  • He reads or oversees the Torah and Haftorah readings or any special readings on festivals (e.g. the Scroll of Esther for Purim)
  • The correction portion (SIDRA) of the Torah must be read. 
  • He prepares for and delivers the weekly sermon
  • Training - today, those preparing for the Rabbinate usually study in a rabbinical college (seminary) or a YESHIVA. Some have a degree is Jewish studies and other disciplines before embarking on the rabbinical course.
  • Rabbis HAVE NEVER BEEN SEEN AS INTERMEDIARIES BETWEEN GOD AND HUMANS. They are not thought to be imbued with special powers. Their status delivers largely from their scholarship.
  • A synagogue service need not be conducted by a rabbi. In orthodoxy, any able congregant may lead prayers. However, as the rabbi has come to be viewed more as a 'minister of religion', conducting services has come to be viewed as part of his role.
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Role of Cantor (chazan)

  • Reuben Turner: 'The Chazan has the task of preserving synagogue music'
  • Many synagogues employ a cantor to lead prayers, Psalms and blessings.
  • He has a trained voice which often creates a special mood or atmosphere at key Jewish festivals (eg. Kol Nidrei at Yom Kippur) or Rites of Passage (the Chazan sings the betrothal and nuptial blessings at a wedding - Kiddushin) 
  • Delivery is in the form of a TROP or CHANT and there are particular ones for key festivals
  • Usually not ordained, though he has had training in Torah and Siddur
  • May teach in the community
  • If the community lacks a rabbi, he may act as spiritual leader
  • Origins of this role may come from the LEVITES who sang in the Temple - song and prayer have always been a part of Jewish liturgy
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Role of Men


  • Clear distinction made that men should take lead in public life (eg. synagogue)
  • Required to pray three times a day, at set times, (shacharit - morning, mincha - middle day and maariv - evening) This does not have to be in the synagogue. but if they are able to go there then they will
  • Can make up a minyan (required for congregational prayer)
  • Required to wear ritual dress (kippah/yarmulke, tallit, tefillin) 
  • Only men can enter the rabbinate
  • Study of Talmud is a male domain, women should encourage their husbands to do so
  • Males responsible for opening the Ark and carrying the Torah scrolls to Bimah 
  • Rabbi, Cantor and choir members are male 
  • Only men can lead synagogue worship
  • Enter into a covenant with God through 'Brit Millah' - The covenant of cutting, Wouk 'A mark at the source of life', Mohel is also male
  • Presides over the Sabbath Rituals and Pesach rituals
  • Orthodox is very much based on Genesis 2 idea of creation, that Eve was made from Adam's rib, ie. their roles are complementary but distinctive
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  • No set roles men are required to fulfill, they may do whatever women do if they please eg. take lead role in family life
  • Emphasis is placed on Genesis 1 - man and woman were made in the image of God, 'imago dei' - EGALITARIAN
  • Therefore in reform tradition, it is very much down to the personal decision of the couple on which role is fulfilled by whom
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