Honorifics as a Key to Periodization: The Sages and Beyond

Bar-Illan University Press


In many ways periodization in historical times is an arbitrary construct dividing into time frames that are chiefly marked by hindsight. Thus, the death of Rav Hai Gaon in Babylonia in 1038 CE marks the end of the geonic period despite the fact that we know that the institution continued for some two centuries and was honored by such luminaries as Maimonides. In this essay we point to significant linguistic markers that create distinctions between different periods of Jewish cultural history through the change of use of honorifics. These markers of respect changed from period to period while the borders of each period displayed blurred boundaries. Thus, for example, Rav the first amora in Babylon is also considered a Tanna known in Palestine as Rabbi Abba. He bears two titles that distinguish his various roles as people felt the changes in circumstances. Various titles, honorifics and such markers of distinction are studied and discussed.


Publication Type

Journal Name

Daat: Journal of Jewish Philosophy & Kabbalah

Volume Number

86, pp. 73-98