About Us - Leadership & Committees - Annual Report

About Us

Why a Rabbinic Genealogy Special Interest Group?

Because rabbinic ancestry is a major part of Jewish genealogy and because we see the need for the study of rabbinic ancestry to be represented on the JewishGen web site, we created a special interest group for rabbinic genealogy under the auspices of JewishGen.

Rabbinic genealogy transcends geographic areas, vast time periods in Jewish history, and designations as Ashkenazic or Sephardic. For most Ashkenazic Jews, surnames are a relatively recent invention -- less than 200 years old. Rabbinical families seem to have been the exception to this rule. The use and adoption of surnames for these families dates back to as early as the 15th century, if not earlier, thus preceding all other family names by about 350 years.

Examples of rabbinical surnames derived from place names are: Auerbach, Bachrach, Bloch, Broda, Ettinger, Fränkel (Fraenkel), Günzburg (Ginzburg), Halberstadt, Heilprin, Horowitz, Gordon, Katzenellenbogen, Landau, Lipschütz (Lipshuetz), Luria, Mintz, Muravchik, Rapoport, Rothenberg, Spira, and Treves. Examples of rabbinical surnames based on the Hebrew lexicon are: Ashkenazi, Heifetz, Jaffe, Margolioth, Shor, Teomim, and Zak. A number of these surnames evolved into many variations of the original.

Some prominent Ashkenazi rabbinical families were originally Sephardic, for example, the Epstein and Horowitz families. They appear to have assumed Ashkenazi customs when they left Spain in 1492 and settled in Eastern Europe. The Sepharadic SIG site lists many prominent Sephardic rabbis such as Don Isaac Abrabanel, Joseph Karo, Saadiah Gaon, Solomon Luria, and of course the RaMBaM: Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, the Maimonides.

Many rabbinic families did not adopt surnames until more recently, however. Uniquely identifying these people is important, especially in rabbinic dynasties which can go back many generations, with the given name repeating as often as every third generation.

Some authorities estimate that perhaps as many as one in fifty Jews alive today have a rabbinic ancestry. Many may not be aware of such an ancestry, nor, if some awareness exists, how or where to locate resources to begin a search of this unique aspect of their Jewish ancestry. We believe that providing the means for researching one's rabbinic ancestry, whether for the novice or experienced researcher, is a great service to the JewishGen community.

The Steering Committee
Rabbinic Genealogy Special Interest Group


  Search tips

Revised: October 22, 2002 .
Rav-SIG site is hosted by JewishGen, Inc.
Questions or comments about this web site? Please contact the Webmaster.
Copyright © 2001, 2002 Rav-SIG. All rights reserved. No part of this web site may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission.