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The Yiddish word has a trilingual etymology: Hebrew, rebbə ("master"); the Slavic feminine suffix, -itsa; and the Yiddish feminine suffix, -in.
A male or female rabbi may have a male spouse but, as women and openly gay men were prohibited from the rabbinate for most of Jewish history, there has historically been no specific term for the male spouse of a rabbi. In liberal denominations of Judaism, a rabbi married to another rabbi would be both a rabbi and a rebbetzin. In a 2020 piece, Rob Eshman, the national editor of The Forward and the husband of a female rabbi, wrote: "Nobody knew what to call me" because "there wasn't a word for what I was." Some contemporary male spouses of rabbis have chosen to call themselves "rebbetzers."
In many Orthodox communities, rebbetzins have the role of spiritual counselors. In circles such as the Hasidic dynasty of Belz, the girls schools are run by the rebbetzin.
The rabbi's wife plays an important community role, especially in small communities. In many ways, she is called on to be as knowledgeable as the rabbi in the realm of woman's observances: In this manner, for something that does not require a psak (ruling), she can be approached when a woman does not feel comfortable approaching the rabbi, or where the rabbi maybe should not be approached. For instance, the rebbetzin may be consulted in personal questions regarding female sexuality.
When a rabbi is a "pulpit rabbi" (versus a teacher or a "lay rabbi"), his rebbetzin may become something of a "first lady" of the community, performing social tasks and ceremonial roles.
- "Rebbetzin". Your Dictionary. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
- "Advice to the Second Gentleman from a veteran male 'rebbetzin'". The Forward. 14 November 2020. Retrieved 2022-06-08.
- "Meet the rebbetzers: Husbands of female rabbis find the role challenging, fun". Jewish News of Northern California. 24 November 2011. Retrieved 2022-06-08.
- "The 'rebbetz-him' is the new rebbetzin". The Canadian Jewish News. 6 July 2016. Retrieved 2022-06-08.
- Wolowelsky, Joel (Winter 2002). "Rabbis, Rebbetzins, and Halakhic Advisors". Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought. 36 (4): 54–63.
- "Rebbetzin". Oxford English Dictionaries. Archived from the original on September 18, 2017. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
- Frank, Laura (February 21, 2017). "Yeshivish Women Clergy: The Secular State and Changing Roles for Women in Ultra-Orthodoxy". Lehrhaus. Retrieved 15 March 2021.