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Genealogy Guide: Rabbinical Genealogy


Many people have an ancestor who was a rabbi, or who they believe was a rabbi. Because Judaism is decentralized, with many yeshivot, rabbinical schools, denominations and leaders, there is no one repository for the personal papers of rabbis or biographical information about them. Further, a learned ancestor may have been called “rabbi” or may be remembered as such, even if he did not lead a congregation or possess a degree from a rabbinical school. The sources below contain biographical information; for congregational records, see our Synagogue Records research guide at

The Center for Jewish History holds the personal papers, writings, and biographies of many individual rabbis. In addition, it holds many directories, biographical dictionaries, and other reference works on rabbis from particular dynasties and from regions all over the world.  A selection of the Center’s major rabbinical resources is listed below. Additional materials (for example, on specific rabbis) can be identified by searching the Center’s online catalog at


Other particular issues for researchers of rabbinic heritage to keep in mind:

  • Official rabbis (known as a kazyonny ravvin) who worked for the Russian Empire’s administration had to speak and read Russian and were approved and appointed. However, many other unofficial community rabbis existed.
  • Rabbinical families sometimes did not include daughters, sons-in-law, or sons who were not scholars in their pedigrees. Alternately, sons-in-law sometimes took the surname of the rabbinic family into which they married.
  • Books written by rabbis may contain genealogical information in the introduction.


Note: These and other rabbinic genealogical research challenges are discussed in the JewishGen information file -