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Shabbat Parashat Re'eh| 5766
The Renewal of Semicha - Harav Yedidya Kahane
We have been discussing how batei din (rabbinical courts) can operate without authentic semicha (ordination). After all, such semicha requires an unbroken chain from Moshe Rabbeinu, and this chain was broken some 1600 years ago. We now would like to ask: is it possible in our days to renew the institution of authentic semicha?
Basically, semicha can only be given by one who himself has semicha, as the Rambam writes (Sanhedrin 4:1). Yet it is the Rambam (ibid.:11) who opens the door to renewing semicha. “It seems to me that if all of the wise men of Eretz Yisrael agreed to appoint dayanim and to give them semicha, they will become semuchim, and they can judge penalty payments. If so, why were the sages sad about [the loss of] semicha so that penalty payments would not be stopped in Israel? It is because Bnei Yisrael are dispersed, and it is impossible for all of them to agree. If there is one with uninterrupted semicha, you do not require everyone’s agreement … and the matter needs to be decided.”
The idea that the opinion of the Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael has specific impact is used elsewhere. The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvot 153) discusses how we can sanctify the months in our days. The Rambam says that all of the calculations about the sighting of the new moon would not help if there would not be a beit din in Eretz Yisrael. Only they can pronounce the new month. The justification is the famous pasuk: “For from Zion shall emerge Torah, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim” (Yeshaya 2:3). In other words, it is the populace of Eretz Yisrael that is needed in order to enable Bnei Yisrael to set the months.
The Meshech Chuchma (on Shemot 12:1) explains that the two matters are related. He explains that when the Beit Din Hagadol (Grand, Central Beit Din) is not functioning, then Bnei Yisrael living in Eretz Yisrael have a standing of Beit Din Hagadol. For the same reason, the scholars of Eretz Yisrael have the authority to renew the semicha under those circumstances. Similarly they represent the fully authorized beit din in regard to the ability to set the months.
Next week we deal with the difficulties with the Rambam’s opinion. We will also discuss the controversy between the rabbis of Tzefat and those of Yerushalayim in regard to the renewal of semicha.
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