While the term “rabbi” is commonly used in Messianic congregations in the Diaspora, it is almost unheard of in Israel. Here are some thoughts:
1. There is a difference in culture between the diaspora and Israel. In the diaspora, there is a greater plurality of “Judaism”—Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, etc. There are many different kinds of “rabbis.” In Israel, the term has a much narrower, traditional sense—an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.
2. The point of Yeshua saying not to use the term “rabbi” in Matthew 23:8 was not that this particular term was worse than other terms for religious leaders, but that using and emphasizing titles of honor tends to cause pride, which can be both dangerous and hypocritical.
3. While the word “Rav” (rabbi) does in its origin mean “great one,” it is not essentially different from other terms, such as reverend, minister, father, priest, pastor, apostle, doctor.
4. Such terms may be used when referring to function rather than title. We should try to use titles as little as possible. There is a difference between saying, “Pastor John”, and saying “John, who serves in pastoral leadership.”
5. In our bio material, I use “Asher Intrater serves on the leadership teams at Ahavat Yeshua, Tikkun International, Revive Israel and Tiferet Yeshua.” In needing to describe the apostolic function, I try to use “founder and overseer” or “serves in oversight”.
6. When it is important to note the difference between the different fivefold offices (Ephesians 4:11), I would say, “serves in apostolic oversight.” It is essential to affirm the function of apostolic ministry and restore correct biblical terminology.
7. There are three positive reasons to use the term “Messianic Rabbi.” The first is to create the correct historical Jewish cultural context of the New Covenant, which has been altered by 2,000 years of Jewish-Christian polemic.
8. Secondly, within the context of a Messianic congregation, there are many congregational functions that the leader must fulfill which are distinctly Jewish, such as presiding at Brits, Bar Mitsvahs, weddings, holy days, liturgy, funerals, etc. These functions are performed by a rabbi in a traditional synagogue, and therefore the term Messianic rabbi allows the congregational leader to perform them within his congregation.
9. Thirdly, in the struggle for basic religious freedom, rights of religious expression, and cultural identity, the Messianic community is a legitimate stream within the greater Jewish community and Israeli nation. Therefore the use of the term is part of establishing that identity and right of social standing.
10. If the term Rabbi is to be used for the above reasons, in order not to cause misunderstanding, it would be important to affix the term “Messianic” (i.e. “Messianic Rabbi”), and not just say “Rabbi”, unless one was ordained with a traditional “smicha”.