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In the Talmud, the title Rav generally precedes the names of Babylonian Amoraim, whereas the title Rabbi generally precedes the names of ordained scholars in Palestine (whether Tannaim or Amoraim).
In the Talmud, Rav or Rab (used alone) is a common name for Abba Arika, the first Amora, who established the great yeshiva at Sura, which, using the Mishnah as text, led to the compilation of the Talmud.
The term rav is also a generic term for a teacher or a personal spiritual guide. For example, Pirkei Avot tells us that "Joshua ben Perachyah said: Provide for yourself a teacher (rav)."
From the 16th century and onwards, Rav or the Rav generally referred to Rabbi Obadiah ben Abraham, a.k.a. haRav miBartenura (the Rav from Bartenura). Rabbi Obadiah miBartenura becomes an acronym in Hebrew for Rabbi `Obadiah of Bartenura (רע"ב).
More recently, as a sign of great respect, some rabbis are simply called the Rav even outside of their personal followings. Note that when the word is pronounced using a Patakh, the meaning is almost universally Rabbi Obadiah ben Abraham of Bartenura. When using a Kamatz, the term can refer to, among others:
- Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik: Among Centrist and Modern Orthodox Orthodox Jews, particularly in North America. Sometimes spelled "The Rov".
- Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi: His Code of Jewish Law is often called the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, "Shulchan Aruch of the Rav" .
- The Vilna Gaon: The line of his disciples and their actual descendants is called "Beit HaRav," "The House of the Rav."
- The Brisker Rav: In most Haredi yeshivos, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik is referred to by his Yiddish name ("Rav Yoshe Ber"), and the term "Rov" (Kamatz Katan pronounced as in Ashkenazic) means the Brisker Rav.
- Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook: His followers in Israel will often refer to him as "The Rav".
- Rabbi Moshe Feinstein: A leading halachic authority of his generation from the mid to late 20th century; his p’sakim (halachic rulings) were accepted worldwide.
See also the list of people called Rabbi.