Common Misconceptions: Saying “The Rambam”

It is common in modern Rabbinic (and just generally Jewish) parlance to refer to certain scholars with the word “the” preceding the name. For instance: “the Rambam”, “the Ramban”, “the Rashba”, and on and on. Many are careful, though, to refrain from doing this as it is grammatically incorrect, and instead say simply “Rambam” or “Ramban”.

Indeed, when one ponders this phenomena for a moment, one finds it strange that there are certain names that this is never done to: Who ever has said “the Rashi” before? Regardless of the name or acronym, though, placing a “the” before it should be equally strange. “Rambam”, for instance, stands for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon; would one ever consider saying “the Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon”? Yet, somehow, when placed in acronym form, this becomes all too common.

When asked, Rav Shalom Carmy agreed that placing a “the” before these names and titles is inaccurate, and suggested that it is the Hebrew language that is responsible for this anomaly. When speaking in Hebrew it is, in fact, quite normal and correct to refer to Rabbis as “HaRav Ploni”, “the Rabbi So-And-So”. The same, apparently, holds true for Yiddish as well. This, Rav Carmy suggests, has influenced English speakers over time to the point that we now find it quite normal to say “the Rambam”, etc. (although, as pointed out above, this is seemingly only true with most names, and not all, as certain names sound downright weird with a “the” before them).1

To be sure, when it comes to certain Rabbinic names, prefacing them with a “the” might actually make sense. For instance, it would be perfectly grammatically sound to say “the Vilna Gaon”, and would actually be incorrect if said without a “the”, as the word “Gaon” is a noun and not a name. Acronyms that expand to regular names, however, like Chida, MaHaRal (which is here capitalized to point out that the acronym already includes the word “the” in Hebrew), and certainly Rambam, Ramban, Rashba, etc., should not be preceded by a “the”.

Certainly, none of this is a particularly big deal. No one is violating any laws (other than the most sacred laws of grammar) by saying something like “this is the opinion of the Rambam” as opposed to the more correct “this is the opinion of Rambam”. The latter is simply more correct despite sounding odd at first, with the former sounding absolutely odd when considered for a moment. Indeed, at the very least, care should be taken in writing to refrain from this most grievous of grammatical offenses, and the superfluous “the” should thusly be discarded.

1. Rav Carmy also pointed out that when one is referring to a sefer it would be acceptable to say something like “Pass me the Rambam”.

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