Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Semicha (Part III of III)

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

One who received semicha and is also knowledgeable in other areas of halacha is still forbidden to involve himself with matters relating to divorce until he receives a semicha specific to this area of halacha.[1] Similarly, only one who is well versed in the laws of kiddushin -officiating at a wedding- should ever do so.[2] In fact, a person should have a separate semicha for each major area of halacha in which he is an expert. The text of any semicha should clearly state what areas of halacha the individual has studied and is proficient in.[3]

Click here to read moreEven one with semicha should never issue a halachic ruling before first looking up the halacha in a sefer, unless it is something quite obvious or simple.[4] A rabbi must always make himself available to others for guidance and halachic consultation[5]and must never decline dealing with an assignment because he feels it is beneath his dignity to tend to.[6] One should never issue radical rulings that appear foreign to the public unless there is ample basis for doing so.[7] So too, a rabbi should not necessarily permit something even though the halacha may allow it, since at times a strict ruling is appropriate even when not truly required.[8] The rulings of a rabbi who demands payment for deciding halacha are null and void[9] and all such monies must be returned.[10]

Although most practicing congregational rabbis today have semicha, and it is essentially required that they do,[11] this was not always the case. This is because semicha is not necessarily a prerequisite for issuing halachic rulings. An individual who is a recognized scholar and who is known to have mastered the Talmud and related halachic works is permitted to issue halachic rulings, even without an official semicha.[12] In fact, many Chassidic Rebbes and Roshei Yeshiva do not have a formal semicha, nor is one needed, as their reputations as advanced Torah scholars are simply beyond reproach.

It matters little from which institution a rabbi received his semicha. Rather, what is important is how the individual conducts himself and uses his semicha to further the glory of Torah. A rabbi who strays from the path of Torah observance and later returns is forbidden to serve as a rabbi until he receives semicha anew.[13] More important than what he knows, a rabbi should be an individual who is wise, God fearing, humble, modest, and beloved among mankind. [14]The Chafetz Chaim was a world renowned halachic authority who never had semicha until he once needed proof that he was a rabbi for the purpose of a government registry towards the end of his life. The Chazon Ish also never received any formal semicha.

For Part II: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2009/12/semicha-part-ii-of-iii.html

For Part I:



[1] Y.D. Rema Y.D. 242:14, Chatam Sofer O.C. 206
[2] Kiddushin 6a, E.H. 49:3
[3] Rambam Sanhedrin 4:8
[4] Pitchei Teshuva 242:3. See Minhag Yisrael Torah Y.D. 242:2 for extensive elaboration on this
[5] Minhag Yisrael Torah Y.D. 242:8
[6] Berachot 4a
[7] Minhag Yisrael Torah Y.D. 242:3
[8] Menachot 99b, Chullin 15a, Y.D. 124:24,160:16
[9] Bechorot 29a
[10] Bach C.M. 9
[11] Chatam Sofer O.C. 206
[12] Chatam Sofer O.C. 206
[13] Rivevot Ve'yovlot 1:90
[14] Rambam Sanhedrin 2:8

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