This definition of the nature of a Messianic Jewish Rabbi builds upon an understanding ofthe essence of what has been and continues to be common to all rabbis throughout every generation. A rabbi is defined first and foremost by his or her relationship to our sacred tradition and our community. In this role, a rabbi serves as a teacher and symbolic exemplar of Torah for the community, principally in matters of religious practice and instruction. This historical understanding of the nature of a rabbi is reflected in the text of the UMJC's Teudat Semikha (Ordination Certificate):
This know in all of Israel that so-and-so was appointed to the role of rabbi and teacher by the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, by virtue of finishing a course of study in Scripture, learning the mitzvot, and studying the traditions of Israel in our yeshiva under the authority of the council of supervising rabbis. The recipient of this certificate obligates himselfto carrying out the ways of the Holy One, blessed be He, and is found to be on the path of acquiring knowledge and studying the pleasant ways of the Almighty and Mashiach Yeshua.
From the date written above the recipient of this certificate may function in the role of rabbi and teacher among our people Israel. May the Holy One, blessed be He, enlighten our eyes and attach our hearts to his Torah.
According to this definition, five things qualify an individual to serve as a Messianic Jewish Rabbi. First, a Messianic Jewish Rabbi must be Jewish in accordance with the standards of Jewish status affirmed by the MJRC. Stating explicitly that a Rabbi must be a Jew is an assertion that the MJRC stands in the historic understanding of the rabbinate in the wider Jewish community.
Second, a Messianic Jewish Rabbi must be a follower of Yeshua who exhibits commitment to Yeshua in both word and deed. Commitment to Yeshua is what distinguishes the Messianic Jewish rabbinate. Messianic Jewish Rabbis should exemplify the life, message, and teachings of Yeshua as they seek to teach "Israel the ways of God and model this tradition for the members of the Messianic Jewish community."
Third, a Messianic Jewish Rabbi must be qualified by a supervised course of study. Attainment of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinate cannot be acquired through self-study. Anyone aspiring to rabbinic ordination must study Scripture, learn halakhah and the traditions of Israel, and be strengthened in devotion to Yeshua the Messiah through a course of training under the supervision of one or more Messianic Jewish Rabbis (1 Peter 5:5). Such a course of study is essential for the personal and spiritual formation ofthe candidate and for the development of Messianic Jewish Rabbis who display integrity of thought and action (kol talmid chacham she'ein tocho kevaro einno talmid chacham "Any talmid chacham whose character does not correspond to their exterior is not a talmid chacham"; b. Yoma 72b; cf. Matthew 15:11). This understanding of rabbinic education is modeled on the practice of Messiah Yeshua and his disciples and is also evinced in classical rabbinic education (e.g., Matthew 4:18-25; b. Berachot 27a).
Fourth, ordination to the Messianic Jewish rabbinate can only be authorized through the agency of an ordaining authority, which is normally affiliated with the educational institution overseeing the candidate's preparation for the rabbinate. This understanding ofthe role of the ordaining authority in ordaining a Messianic Jewish Rabbi is adopted from traditional Jewish practice and is consonant with historic Christian practice.
Fifth, a Messianic Jewish Rabbi must be empowered by the Spirit through the rite of ordination. The Spirit plays a central role in ordaining people to particular vocations (e.g., Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9; 2 Kings 2:14-15; Acts 6:5-6, 13:2-3; 1 Timothy 4:14). Throughout the Scriptures, the giving of the Spirit is conjoined with the laying-on ofhands by those in authority.
According to this definition, four functions are the essential responsibilities of all Messianic Jewish Rabbis. First, Messianic Jewish rabbis "expound and apply Torah as fulfilled in and mediated through the person, teaching, and work of Yeshua." The statement understands Torah in the broadest sense. At its core, the Torah entails the Scriptures revealed to Israel and canonized in the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. The Messianic Jewish Rabbi expounds and applies this Torah in light of the tradition, including the historical enrichment of the biblical heritage within the life of the community. For a Messianic Jewish Rabbi, his or her relationship to our sacred tradition and our community is approached through the person, work, and teaching of Yeshua our Rabbi and is informed by the teaching of the historic and universal Body of Messiah.
Second, Messianic Jewish Rabbis are custodians "of Israel's revelation and holy tradition." They stand at the nexus between the continuous tradition of the past and the communities of the present. They are the link mediating the heritage of the past to living communities today. For the Messianic Jewish rabbinate, the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible and the Apostolic Writings constitute God's special revelation to Israel. Israel's holy tradition consists of the historic tradition of rabbinic interpretation and halachic discourse. As custodians "of Israel's revelation and holy tradition, "it is incumbent upon all Messianic Jewish Rabbis to attain Hebrew literacy, i.e., the ability to read and teach our texts, including the Siddur, with comprehension. Attainment of competence in Modern Hebrew is also commended as it exhibits the concern of Messainic Jewish Rabbis for the State of Israel and the ability ofthe Messianic Jewish Rabbinate to interact with this significant center of Jewish life. Basic competence in Aramaic and Greek is also commended.
Third, central to the vocation of Messianic Jewish Rabbis is the role of teaching "Israel the ways of God." Their vocation is not merely exercised within the Messianic Jewish community but also extends to all Israel. Messianic Jewish Rabbis should call all Jewish people to deeper faithfulness to their covenantal responsibilities as Jews through the mitzvot and to clear and ongoing commitment to Messiah Yeshua. Messianic Jewish Rabbis should not regard the calling of teaching Israel the ways of God lightly. Assisting all Jews in life-cycle rituals or in the performance of any mitzvah is an opportunity to help another Jew fulfill his covenantal responsibilities and thus live in greater accordance with God's ways. In doing so, Messianic Jewish Rabbis model and teach Messiah's mandate to call all Jewish people back to greater covenantal faithfulness (Matthew 15:24).
Fourth, Messianic Jewish Rabbis are called to serve for the Messianic Jewish community as exemplars of the tradition they have received. The Tanakh, the Apostolic Writings, and rabbinic literature are filled with examples ofpeople learning the ways of God not only through verbal teaching but also through their actions. Messianic Jewish Rabbis should be attentive to the fact that their modeling of the tradition cannot be undertaken apart from the work of God's Spirit (Numbers 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 2:11-12). They should seek to model "this tradition for the members of the Messianic Jewish community in a manner imbued with the Spirit of God."
It is important to note that this definition is not meant to define how a Messianic Jewish Rabbi should spend the majority of his or her time, nor suggest that the essential and universal rabbinical role defined here captures the most important functions that every rabbi must fulfill. In fact, many, if not most, of our rabbis will continue to focus the majority of their time and energy in their roles as spiritual leaders for our congregations, administering our communal organizations, serving as chaplains, teaching in our educational institutions or serving bi-vocationally.
The MJRC affirms the wisdom of traditional Jewish practice of deferring to the senior rabbi appointed by that community to serve as their "mentor, guide and authority of matters of religious practice and teaching." This role, known in Aramaic as Mara d'Atra (literally "Master of the Place") is based on Tannaitic precedent (m. Avot 1:6; b. Chulin 116a) and is affirmed by the later Amoraim and Geonim (e.g., b. Shabbat 19b, 46a; b. Eruvin 94a). The importance of the Mara d'Atra in local synagogue life continues to be affirmed in the Conservative or Masorti and Orthodox communities.
The Mara d'Atra is appointed to serve his or her community and provide for them in all areas oflife. The Mara d'Atra should encourage personal and spiritual growth among the members of the community, guiding them to deeper fidelity to the Torah and Messiah Yeshua. This point is particularly important given that the Mara d'Atra is responsible for the spiritual care and leadership of the community (Hebrews 13:17). While the responsibility and authority of the Mara d'Atra are great in a local synagogue, he or she is not immune from criticism if his or her decisions are made in error or in opposition to explicit biblical commands (see the comments of Rabbi Menachem Meiri and Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham Asevilli, i.e., the Ritva, to b. Eruvin 94a).
The appointment of Mara d'Atra is important for each local community in that it establishes clearly from whom members of that community should seek definitive guidance in matters of religious practice and teaching. In communities of which several ordained rabbis are members or appointed to serve in rabbinical roles in the community, the adoption of the tradition of the Mara d'Atra clarifies lines of authority among them and for the community.