' (or or ; he, סמיכה) traditionally refers to the of a within . In recent times, some institutions grant ordination for the role of ' (cantor), extending the "investiture" granted there from the 1950s. Less commonly, since the 1990s, ordination is granted for the role of lay leader - sometimes titled '. Ordination may then also be specifically termed , "rabbinical ordination", , "cantorial ordination", or , "". The original ''semikhah'' was the formal from through the generations. This form of ''semikhah'' ceased between 360 and 425 CE. Since then ''semikhah'' has continued in a less formal way. Throughout history there have been several attempts to reestablish the classical ''semikhah''. The word ''semikhah'' derives from a Hebrew root סמכ (''smk'') that means to "rely on", in the sense of "lean on", or "to be authorized"; the literal meaning of ' is "leaning f the hands.


In concept, ''semikhah'' represents a "bond" (') dating back to the time of (Moshe) and (Yehoshua). It is held that ' taught the to Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) on in 1312 BCE and that since that time, the knowledge of Torah has been passed from generation to generation by the conferment of ''semikhah'', rabbinic ordination, or the unbroken transmission of authority dating back to that time. This unbroken chain of Torah teaching is thus believed by many to have continued for over 3,300 years, and continues to this day. The ancient formula for ''semikhah'' was ''"Yoreh Yoreh. Yadin Yadin"''. ("May he decide? He may decide! May he judge? He may judge!"); and in the early days of rabbinical Judaism any ordained teacher could ordain his students. Classical ''semikhah'' was granted by a court of three judges, and it later required the participation of at least one who had attained this status, himself. According to the other two need not be ''semukhim''. Today, ''semikha'' is generally through an institution, a ' or specialized ', but is often granted by an individual. The testing here''Catalog''
''Semikhah Requirements''
Rabbinical College
confirms one's ability to decide ("") a question in ' (Jewish law). The examination has a dual concern: firstly it confirms knowledge of the law as presented in ', the (with more recent applications from relevant , or responsa); secondly, it also confirms an understanding of the underlying ''principles'', by testing the relevant Talmudic ''s'', together with their development in the ' and ', especially ; see .

Varieties of ordination

The Talmud lists three classes of ''semikhah'' issued: * ''Yoreh Yoreh'' (Hebrew: יורה יורה): The recipient of this ''semikhah'' demonstrated sufficient education and proper judgment to be able to render ' judgments on matters of religious law as it pertains to daily life, focusing on ' (referred to as ) and ', and permissible or forbidden activities on and . The holder of this ''Semikha'' is referred to also as a ''Moreh Hora'ah'' (מורה הוראה “one who teaches alachicdecisions”); the ordination itself is called ''Heter Hora’ah'' (היתר הוראה “permission to decide”).Hattarat hora’ah
* ''Yadin Yadin'' (Hebrew: ידין ידין, pronunciation: ''Yoden Yoden''): The recipient of this ''semikhah'' demonstrated sufficient education and proper judgment to be able to render ''halakhic'' judgments on matters of religious law as it ; the basis here is the ' section; this ''semikhah'' is usually required for a rabbi to act as a , and, typically, is granted only to those already holding ''Yoreh Yoreh''. * ''Yatir Bechorot Yatir'': The recipient of this ''semikhah'' demonstrated sufficient education and proper judgment to determine the ritual status of firstborn animals that have developed a blemish. This degree required extensive veterinary knowledge. See . While the first two classes are still issued today, the last one is not. Additional forms of ''semikhah'' issued in modern times include: * ''Rav U'Manhig'', "(pulpit) Rabbi and (community) leader". This essentially testifies that the recipient has sufficient Torah knowledge to serve in a position of leadership (as "rabbi" essentially means "teacher", not necessarily "halachic authority"). The testing here covers ''Orach Chaim'' extensively, usually with less emphasis on the underlying ''sugyas''. * The confers a ''semikhah'' known as ''Rav Ir'', " hiefRabbi of a City", covering relevant topics from all sections of Shulchan Aruch, such as '; as for ''Dayanut'', ''Yoreh Yoreh'' is a prerequisite; see . * grant an ordination titled "''Rav U-moreh/morah BeYisrael''" (Rabbi and Teacher in Israel). The curriculum here may emphasize "the other functions of a modern rabbi such as preaching, counselling, and pastoral work”, as opposed to ''Halacha''. See . Many ''Yoreh Yoreh'' programs, for example the Chief Rabbinate's and , include testing in ' (Laws of mourning; ''Yoreh Deah'') and/or (' section). Traditionally – and on the other hand – ''Yoreh Yoreh'' covered ''kashrut'' only, and this is still often the case. Although apparently limited, the basis here is that, as mentioned, ''semikha'' is in fact a confirmation of the ability - and right - of the holder to ''pasken'' in general,
Yoreh De'ah 242:14
/ref> and that, as required, the rabbi can correctly apply his Talmudic and ''Halakhic'' knowledge to other areas (and where necessary refer complex cases to a ', a more qualified authority; see ). A ''semikha'' focusing on the laws of ' is sometimes granted, similarly. Often, ''niddah'' will require a separate specialized certification, as an element of ''shimush'' (apprenticeship) pertains to these ''halakhot''. It is not uncommon for a rabbi to hold several certificates, with each ''semikha'' covering a specific area of ''halakha''. Certification, with similar testing, is also required for one to qualify as a ', ', ', or ; these inhere a major practical element, and thus require significant ''shimush''.

Ordination ceremony

The ceremony where ordination is conferred is known as ''Chag HaSemikhah'', the festival of ordination. Today in most branches of Judaism, there is no laying on of hands; ordination is conferred as an academic degree with a diploma, signed by the officiating rabbis, often hand-written on parchment. In fact, receiving ordination has been a festive occasion accompanied by celebration since Talmudic times. According to the Talmud, when the rabbis ordained , they sang a bridal song in his honor: "Even though she painted not her eyes with , neither darkened her cheeks with , nor her hair, she is still a graceful doe f exceptional beauty" the analogy and implication being: just as a bride is inherently beautiful, so for ordination, one's Torah knowledge must be immediately apparent. They also sang at the ordination of and : "Just like these, just like these, ordain for us!" This wording (כל מן דין סמוכו לנא) as per the certificate displayed, is still often included on ''semikhah'' diplomas.

Contemporary usage

In the prevailing sense, "" generally refers to the of a rabbi within all modern from to . This "'" signifies the transmission of rabbinic authority to give advice or judgment in , thus overlapping to some extent with the classical usage, per above; see also . In this context, ''""'' is sometimes used to refer to a student's primary teacher. , ordination as a , similarly signifies the transmission of authoritative knowledge about Jewish musical and . This is granted within some denominations.

Status of current rabbis

Although presently most functioning (i.e. "") rabbis hold ''semikhah'', this was until quite recently not always required, and in fact many rabbis may possibly not be required to hold a "formal" ''semikhah'' even though they may occupy important rabbinical and leadership positions. The reasons being that what is prized in the communities they serve and lead is most of all a supreme mastery of the with a vast knowledge of the commentaries of the and and , added to knowledge of the and ("Jewish Law"). In the UK, a communal minister who does not have ''semikhah'' has the title "Reverend" rather than "rabbi". Many s and s of major Orthodox yeshivas are not required to "prove" to their flocks that they do or do not hold formal ''semikhah'' because their reputations as Torah-scholars and sages is unquestioned and esteemed based on the recommendations of trusted sages, and the experiences and interactions that many knowledgeable Torah-observant Jews have with them, which thus gives practical testimony based on experience that these great rabbis are indeed worthy to be called as such. For example, according to some reports Rabbi (known as the ''Chafetz Chayim'') did not officially receive ''semikhah'' until late in life, when a formal rabbinic qualification was necessary for him to call himself "rabbi" on an immigration application. Most current ''poskim'', however, do have ''semikhah''. Just as a debate exists about who is a Jew, there is little consensus as to who is a rabbi. The Reform movement in a Responsa states that for their Temples, pulpit rabbis need to attend and complete their academic program at the Reform movement's rabbinic schools. But they further state that this does not negate other sects of Judaism from accepting the time-honored ''semikhah'' of one-on-one. Nor do they deal with the issue of rabbis who are not pulpit rabbis but teach, study, and do research. They do say that the need for three rabbis is unneeded as the two additional rabbis are just witnesses and cannot attest to the new rabbi's knowledge.

Ordination of cantors

Many cantorial institutions in the currently grant to their students. Some have historically used the term ' to describe the conferral of cantorial authority onto their graduates. The term ''investiture'' was originally intended to make a distinction between the ordination of rabbis and that of cantors. However, in response to the increased responsibility of the cantor in contemporary American synagogues, some institutions such as () have recently begun to use the term "ordination" instead of "investiture." Other institutions that ordain cantors include (pluralistic), the (pluralistic), and (). As of 2021, the () will begin ordaining its cantors.

Modern Lay Leader Ordination

Beginning in the mid to late 1990's, the Reform, Renewal and Conservative Jewish movements have ordained lay leaders to positions such as spiritual director, (chaplain), and . Lay leaders within Judaism serve both in formal spaces like synagogues, independent , in Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, hospitals and community centers. Several yeshivas and other academies now train and certify lay leaders, such as , , the , and 's chaplaincy school

Classical ''semikhah''

Classical ''semikhah'' refers to a specific type of ordination that, according to traditional Jewish teaching, traces a line of authority back to , , and the . The line of classical ''semikhah'' is generally believed to have died out in the 4th or 5th century CE, but it is widely held that a line of Torah conferment remains unbroken.

Hebrew Bible

According to the , was the greatest prophet, and the one individual who received the from God. Traditionally Moses is also assumed to be the "first rabbi" of the . He is still known to most Jews as ''Moshe Rabbeinu'' ("Moses our rabbi"). Moses, before his death, ordained as his successor by resting his hands on Joshua: :Moses spoke to God, saying, 'Let the Omnipotent God of all living souls appoint a man over the community. Let him come and go before them, and let him bring them forth and lead them. Let God's community not be like sheep that have no shepherd.' God said to Moses, 'Take Joshua son of Nun, a man of spirit, and lay your hands on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before the entire community, and let them see you commission him. Invest him with some of your splendor so that the entire Israelite community will obey him. Let him stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall seek the decision of the Urim before God on his behalf. By this word, along with all the Israelites and the entire community shall he come and go.' Moses did as God had ordered him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and before the entire community. He then laid his hands on him and commissioned him as God had commanded Moses. This procedure caused the "spirit" in Moses to enter Joshua as well: :Joshua son of Nun was filled with a spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him. The Israelites therefore listened to him, doing as God had commanded Moses. Similarly, when Moses found the task of leadership too difficult, God caused the "spirit" in Moses to enter 70 additional elders (though no resting of hands is mentioned here). According to later tradition, the elders later ordained their successors in the same way. Their successors in turn ordained others. This chain of hands-on ''semikhah'' continued through the time of the , to an undetermined time.

Mishnah and Talmud

Despite the name, the classical ''semikhah'' did not actually require a literal laying on of hands; the operative part of the ceremony consisted of a court of three, at least one of whom himself had ''semikhah'', conferring the authority on the recipient. Both the givers and the recipient had to be in the Land of Israel, but they did not have to be in the same place. In the Mishnaic era it became the law that only someone who had ''semikhah'' could give religious and legal decisions. The title ''ribbi'' (or "rabbi") was reserved for those with ''semikhah''. The sages of the Babylonian Jewish community had a similar religious education, but without the ''semikhah'' ceremony they were called ''rav.'' The Talmud also relates that one can obtain the title of rabbi by those to whom he teaches or counsels. After the failed by in 132–135 CE, the Romans put down the revolt, and the emperor tried to put a permanent end to the . According to the Talmud, Hadrian decreed that anyone who gave or accepted ''semikhah'' would be killed, any city in which the ceremony took place would be razed, and all crops within a mile of the ceremony's site would be destroyed. The line of succession was saved by Rabbi , who took five students of the recently martyred to a mountain pass far from any settlement or farm, and ordained all five students. When the Romans attacked them, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava blocked the pass with his body allowing the others to escape, and became one of Judaism's ten Rabbinic Martyrs himself by being speared 300 times. The five new rabbis – , Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi , Rabbi and Rabbi – escaped and became the next generation of Torah leadership. The exact date that the original ''semikhah'' succession ended is not certain. Many medieval authorities believed that this occurred during the reign of Hillel II, around the year 360 CE. However, forbade the Sanhedrin to assemble and declared illegal. (Roman law prescribed capital punishment for any rabbi who received ordination and complete destruction of the town where the ordination occurred). It seems to have continued until at least 425, when executed and suppressed the and Sanhedrin.

Post-Talmudic: The decline of classical ''semikhah''

The original line of succession seems to have died out in the 4th or 5th centuries. The , early medieval Jewish sages of Babylon, did not possess ''semikhah'', and did not use the title "rabbi". They were formally known as "rav" and were entrusted with authority to make legal and religious decisions. Some believe that classical ''semikhah'' may have even survived until the 12th century when semuchim from Lebanon and Syria were traveling to Israel in order to pass on semicha to their students. Others, such as Rav (1770–1839), believed ''semikhah'' may not have been broken at all but that it continued outside of the land of Israel. Since the end of classical ordination, other forms of ordination have developed which use much of the same terminology, but have a lesser significance in Jewish law (see ).

Attempts to revive classical semikhah

ruled that "if all the sages In Israel would unanimously agree to appoint and ordain judges, then these new ordinants would possess the full authority of the original ordained judges". His code of law was accepted as normative by the majority of Jewish scholars since that time, though this section was mainly viewed as theoretical, especially because he concludes that "the matter needs deciding". The Sanhedrin of Rabbi Jacob Berab purported to enact this into practical , changing minor details. However, since the legal existence of this Sanhedrin depends on the validity of Maimonides' view, the question is circular.

Attempt by Rabbi Jacob Berab, 1538

In 1538 Rabbi of , , attempted to restore the traditional form of ''semikhah''. His goal was to unify the scattered Jewish communities through the re-establishment of the . At his prompting, 25 rabbis from the land of Israel convened; they ordained Jacob Berab as their "". Berab then conferred ''semikhah'' through a laying on of hands to four rabbis, including , who was later to become the author of the ', widely viewed as the most important code of Jewish law from the 17th century onwards. In 1541, Karo succeeded Berab and he perpetuated the tradition by ordaining , and . In the 1590s, Alshich ordained , and between the years 1594 and 1599, ordained seven more scholars: , , (Jacob's brother), , , and . Berab made an error in not first obtaining the approval of the chief rabbis in , which led to an objection to having a Sanhedrin at that time. This was not an objection to the ''semikhah'', but to reinstituting a Sanhedrin. , the chief rabbi in Jerusalem, wrote that when the nascent Sanhedrin took the authority of a Sanhedrin upon itself, it had to fix the calendar immediately. However, by delaying in this matter, it invalidated itself. Rabbi (''Radvaz'') of was consulted, but when Berab died in 1542 the renewed form of ''semikhah'' gradually ground to a halt.

Attempt by Rabbi Yisroel Shklover, 1830

In the 1830s, Rav , one of the leading disciples of the who had settled in Jerusalem, made another attempt to restart ''semikhah''. Rav Yisroel was interested in organizing a , but he accepted the ruling of and that we cannot create ''semikhah'' by ourselves. At the time the Turkish Empire was crumbling, and losing wars against Russia, Prussia, Austria and others. In attempt to modernize, the Turkish Empire opened itself up to more and more Western "advisors". For the first time the Arabian Peninsula and the Yemen was opened up to westerners. Scientists and Sociologists were convinced that in the Yemen lay communities that had been cut off and isolated from the western world for centuries. At the time, leading European scientific journals seriously considered that the remnants of the "" would actually be found in the Yemen. Rav Yisroel of Shklov, influenced both by this rush of scientific thought and interested in utilizing a suggestion of the Radvaz of receiving ''semikhah'' from one of the "", specifically Reuven and Gad. Rav Yisroel charted out where he thought the Bnei Reuven were probably located, and sent an emissary, Rav Pinchas Baruch, to locate them. Unfortunately, Rav Baruch did not succeed in locating the shevet of Reuven and he was either killed or died while attending to the medical needs of poor Yemenite villagers. An interesting point of Jewish Law arises in that Rav Yisroel raised the question how could the Tribe of Reuven have kept the ''semikhah'' alive, since they were outside the Land of Israel and the ''semikhah'' can be granted only in Land of Israel. He answered that since this tribe had been distant from the rest of the Jewish people before this ruling had been accepted, there is no reason to assume that they accepted this ruling, and there was a chance that they were still keeping the institution of ''semikhah'' alive.

Attempt by Rabbi Aharon Mendel haCohen, 1901

Rabbi Mendel collected the approval of approximately 500 leading rabbis in favor of the renewal of ''semikhah'' according to the view of . His involvement in the founding of and the intervening of distracted him from implementing this plan.

Attempt by Rabbi Zvi Kovsker, 1940

Rabbi came to the Holy Land from Soviet Russia. Seeing the condition of Jews in the years leading up to , he undertook an effort to contact and work with many rabbinic leaders in the Holy Land towards getting their approval for the renewal of ''semikhah'', and the reestablishment of a Sanhedrin, as an authentic government for the Jewish people (this was before the establishment of the State of Israel).

Attempt by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Maimon, 1949

In 1948, with the establishment of the modern , the idea of restoring the traditional form of ''semikhah'' and reestablishing a new "" became popular among some within the community. Rabbi , Israel's first minister of religious affairs, promoted this idea in a series of articles in the Religious Zionist periodicals "Sinai" and "Hatzofeh," later gathered together in monograph form as "Renewing the Sanhedrin in our New State." A small number of religious Zionist rabbis of 's voiced support for this idea; some rabbis within entertained the idea as a potentially positive development. However, most secular Jews, most m, and most non-Orthodox Jews did not approve of this goal. Israel's Chief Ashkenazic rabbi at the time, , was hesitant to support this goal, and the idea eventually died away.

Attempt in Israel in 2004

On October 13, 2004, orthodox rabbis of various streams met as a group in and declared themselves to be a re-established Sanhedrin. The basis for re-establishing ''semikhah'' had been made by Rabbi 's Sanhedrin, as recorded by Rabbi (author of ). An election was held, as required by halakha. Seven hundred rabbis were reached either in person or by writing, and Rabbi of the was the first to "receive semikhah" after rabbis and found him fit, although he was too old to actually serve as a . He then ordained Rabbi , who ordained more rabbis. This attempt was intended to improve upon Rabbi 's attempt by contacting seven hundred rabbis across Israel, as opposed to 's election by twenty-five rabbis of . The current members mostly behave as place holders and have publicly expressed their intention to step aside when more worthy candidates join. Rabbi (the of this Sanhedrin) said, "I'd be happy if in another few years these chairs are filled by scholars who are greater than us [sic] and we can say: `I kept the chairs warm for you.'"Nadav Shragai
Now that there's a Sanhedrin, who needs the Supreme Court?
/ref> The current attempt to re-establish the Sanhedrin is the sixth in recent history.

See also

* * * * * * *


Further reading

*{{cite EJ, author=Levitas, Isaac, , and , title=Semikhah, volume=18, pages=274-279 *Julius Newman: ''Semikhah (ordination). A study of its origin, history, and function in Rabbinic literature.'' Manchester University Press. Manchester 1950.

External links

*[ 130 "Documented" "Generations" of Semicha], from Mt. Sinai to the present
Rabbi Judah Leib Maimon, "Renewing the Sanhedrin in our New State"
(English translation)
Curriculum for the Semikhah Tests of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel
Hebrew words and phrases in Jewish law