Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Semicha (Part II of III)

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The primary texts which are traditionally studied in preparation for semicha are the Tur and Shulchan Aruch, along with their major commentaries. While historically semicha studies have focused solely on the study of the laws of kashrut, it has become normative practice to only issue semicha after testing students in the laws of Shabbat, Nidda, and a variety of other areas. Once the requirement for the study of the laws of kashrut have been met, each institution is entitled to add to their semicha curriculum according to the standards they deem fit. The semicha received after such study is generally referred to as the "Yoreh Yoreh" semicha, which allows the bearer to issue rulings in ritual law. It is also occasionally referred to as "Issur V'heter" or "Heter Horaah".[1]

Click here to read moreThere exists another, higher form of semicha as well, known as "Yadin Yadin" semicha, which confers upon the recipient the authority to adjudicate cases of monetary law. The order of study for receiving Yadin Yadin ordination generally includes most of the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch, which deals with monetary matters. Most yeshivot and institutions which offer Yadin Yadin semicha also require students to complete the Even Haezer section of Shulchan Aruch as well, which deals with marital law. One who holds Yadin Yadin semicha and serves on a Beit Din is often referred to by the title "Dayan" (judge) though most such individuals simply use the title "rabbi".

In the time of the Beit Hamikdash there existed an even higher form of semicha called the "Yatir Bechorot Yatir" semicha, which conferred upon the recipient the authority to determine matters relating to animal sacrifices. This included approving or disqualifying animals for ritual and sacrificial purposes based on the animal's physical health or any blemishes that it might have. In many cases, a blemished animal was unfit to be offered in the Beit Hamikdash or to be used for other ritual matters. In addition to the halachic proficiency that the recipient was required to have regarding Temple and sacrificial proceedings, the recipient also underwent extensive veterinary training, as well. This semicha will return when the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt, may it be speedily in our days. The designations of "Yoreh Yoreh", "Yadin Yadin", and "Yatir Bechorot Yatir" are taken directly from the Talmud.[2]

There is a new form of semicha which is circulating today, known as the "Rav Umanhig" semicha. This is essentially a semicha which does not necessarily vouch for the recipient's knowledge or competency in halacha, but rather, testifies that the recipient is worthy to be called "rabbi" and serve in a position of leadership. In some yeshivot there is a formal curriculum which must be completed before receiving this semicha, usually extensive sections of the Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch. Other rabbis and yeshivot simply issue this semicha to students who are well rounded and have an impressive grasp of general Jewish scholarship and are therefore worthy of the title "rabbi". Indeed, it is important to recall that "rabbi" essentially means "teacher", not necessarily "halachic authority".

It is somewhat unclear how or why this semicha evolved. According to one theory, the Rav Umanhig semicha may have been first created by the Ner Yisrael yeshiva in Baltimore in order to allow yeshiva students to evade the draft during the Korean and Vietnam Wars under the "clergy" clause. After the draft was over, the Rav Umanhig semicha continued for those wishing to enter Jewish communal work, though not necessarily as pulpit rabbis. In this way those in teaching and similar positions could legitimately be addressed as "rabbi" without having to go through the intensity of formal semicha studies and learning the Yoreh Deah material.

There have been sages in the past who would only issue semicha to those over forty years old.[3] In Lithuania, it was common for semicha to only be given to those who were over thirty years old and who had been married for quite some time.[4] In some communities, the local rabbis would issue semicha to a worthy individual on the day of his wedding.[5] Similarly, when the Chatam Sofer would issue semicha to an individual who was single, he would include within it the stipulation that the semicha would only take effect after the individual has married.[6] Rabbi Akiva Eiger acted likewise.[7]

For part one of the series: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2009/11/semicha-part-i-of-iii.html

And of related interest: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2009/11/using-title-rabbi.html


[1] "Heter Horaah" is also used to describe a form of semicha given by prominent rabbis which entitles the recipient to make halachic rulings in every area of Torah law, and even in place of the issuing rabbi. A "super semicha" of sorts.
[2] Sanhedrin 5a
[3] Beit Yosef Y.D. 242, Avoda Zara 5b
[4] Pinkas Medinat Lita, cited in Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) p.190. See there for a review of the different customs which existed as to when a rabbi should issue semicha to someone.
[5] Olelot Efraim 366, cited in Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) p.190. This was the tradition in which Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg received his semicha from Rabbi Bernard Revel
[6] Igeret Sofrim, cited in Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) p.190
[7] Devar Yehoshua 5:13, cited in Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) p.190

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