J ust wondering, but sometimes I think there are too many rabbis in the Jewish community. Not too many Torah scholars, mind you, not too many spiritual leaders, but too many people who call themselves by that title even though they are accountants or attorneys or counselors or businesspeople whose work has nothing to do with the Jewish community or with teaching Torah.

Try this test: Thumb through the Brooklyn, NY, telephone book, and you will find many more rabbis than synagogues or batei medrash or yeshivos. Yes, a certain portion of these are teachers of Torah, but the huge number of those calling themselves “Rabbi” does make one wonder: Even if most of them have a legitimate and recognized semichah, why do they persist in using the title if their work has nothing to do with the rabbinate or Torah teaching? It’s nice that my accountant is a knowledgeable Jew, but I need a good accountant, not a rabbi. (Someone once said that he wants an accountant who is expert at bookkeeping and numbers, and not necessarily expert at the Book of Numbers.)

Does an ordained Catholic priest-turned-businessman continue to call himself Father McCarthy? Does a former Protestant minister continue calling himself the Reverend Kennedy? I don’t have statistics, but it is my clear impression that only in the rabbinate — and, it seems, overwhelmingly in the Orthodox rabbinate — is the title so ubiquitous, used by all kinds of people in all kinds of non-Torah endeavors. Could this be why the thousand-member Rabbinical Council of America now addresses its members, not as “Rabbi,” but as “Rav” — because the “Rabbi” designation has begun to lose all meaning and currency, devalued and degraded because of overuse? Just wondering.

By the way, is there any agency that regulates the use of the rabbinic designation? Other than the formal rabbinic organizations, is there any oversight as to who may or may not use the title? Not everyone may call himself an MD. Not everyone may call himself an attorney. Even accountants need a CPA. But the “Rabbi” title seems to be available to anyone who claims the mantle — especially within the secular media, for whom a black hat, black suit, and full beard is equivalent to rabbinic ordination. Of course, most claims to the title are legitimate. Still, I was just wondering.

A wild thought: What if those not serving in the actual rabbinate or allied fields would, in an act of self-discipline, refrain from calling themselves “Rabbi”? Would that not be salutary? Similarly, what if those who issue private semichos were to do so only for those entering the actual field of Torah, while everyone else not engaged in furthering the agenda of Torah would, for the common good, refrain from using that designation and would revert to the respected and venerable use of “Mister”? This might restore the title “Rabbi” to its traditional, venerated status. Just wondering.

I realize that these musings will not win me new friends in Monsey, Boro Park, or Golders Green. But I mean no offense and was just wondering out loud. After all, some of my best friends are rabbis. At least, they used to be my best friends. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 680)