The Semicha reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Semicha

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In Judaism, Semicha is the transmission of rabbinic authority in the form of an authorization to give advice or judgment in Jewish law. It is often referred to as rabbinic ordination.

Table of contents
1 Semicha in antiquity
2 Semicha in history
3 Semicha in the present
4 Semicha in sacrifices

Semicha in antiquity

The first semicha was given by Moses in the Hebrew Bible, to the Seventy Elders. This form of semicha was abolished after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Semicha in history

Since the abolishment of the classical semicha, Rabbis have traditionally transmitted authority to render decisions on Halacha (Jewish law) in a ceremony also called Semicha.

Rabbi Yaakov Bei Rav

In the 16th century, Rabbi Yaakov bei Rav from Safed attempted to reinstitute the classical semicha, so that Marraros (conversos) who felt they deserved punishment for pretending to be Christians under the inquisition, could indeed receive lashes. This was something a Beth Din (Jewish court) without semicha could not do.
Bei Rav based himself on an ambiguous passage in Mishneh Torah (by Maimonides). This approach met with resistance, led by Rabbi Levi ibn Chaviv, the Rabbi of Jerusalem. In the end, Bei Rav ordinated a number of disciples. Some holders of the Bei Rav semicha were Rabbi Moses Alshech and Rabbi Joseph Karo.

The Chafetz Chayim

Although presently most functioning rabbis hold semicha, this was until quite recently not automatic. The Chafetz Chayim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan) did not hold semicha until he had to apply for a passport and realized that unless he applied for semicha, he could not enter Rabbi as an occupation without lying. He was to receive his semicha by telegraph from Rabbi Chayim Ozer Grodzinsky of Wilna, an unusual arrangement - especially in the early 20th century!

Semicha in the present

Traditionally, a man obtains semicha (rabbinic ordination) after the completion of an arduous learning program in the codes of Jewish law and responsa.

Forms of semicha

The most general form of semicha is 'Yorei yorei' (he shall teach). Most rabbis hold this qualification, and in halachic terms they are called a "moreh hora'ah" (a teacher of lessons).
A more advanced semicha is 'Yadin yadin' (he shall judge). This enables the recipient to adjudicate cases of monetary law, amongst other responsibilities. He is addressed as a dayan (judge). Although not strictly necessary, many Orthodox rabbis hold that a Beth din (court of Jewish law) should be made up of dayanim.

In Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Judaism maintains all of these requirements. Women are ineligible from becoming rabbis in Orthodoxy. One does not need a bachelor's degree to enter most Orthodox rabbinical seminaries. Modern Orthodox rabbinical students study some elements of modern theology or philosophy, as well as the classical rabbinic works on such subjects.

Orthodox rabbinical students work to gain knowledge in Talmud, Rishonim and Acharonim (early and late medieval commentators) and Jewish law) They study sections of Shulkhan Arukh and its main commentaries that pertain to daily-life questions (such as on Kashruth and family purity).

In Conservative and Masorti Judaism

Conservative Judaism holds that one may obtain rabbinic ordination after the completion of an arduous learning program in the codes of Jewish law and responsa. It adds to these requirements by adding the study of: the Hebrew Bible, Mishnah and Talmud, the Midrash literature, Jewish ethics and lore, the codes of Jewish law, the responsa literature, both traditional and modern Jewish works on theology and philosophy.

Women are allowed to become rabbis and cantors in the Conservative movement. Conservative Judaism differs with Orthodoxy in that it has less stringent study requirements for Talmud and responsa study as compared to Orthodoxy. Conservative Judaism adds the following subjects as requirements for rabbinic ordination: one must first earn a bachelor's degree before entering the rabbinate. In addition studies are mandated in pastoral care and psychology, the historical development of Judaism; and academic biblical criticism.

In Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism

Reconstructionist Judaism and Reform Judaism do not maintain the traditional requirements for study. Both men and women may be rabbis or cantors. The level of Jewish law, Talmud and responsa studied in four years of these denominations is similar to that learned in the first year of Orthodox Jewish seminaries. The rabbinical seminaries of these movements hold that one must first earn a bachelor's degree before entering the rabbinate. In addition studies are mandated in pastoral care and psychology, the historical development of Judaism; and academic biblical criticism. Emphasis is placed not on Jewish law, but rather on sociology, cultural studies, and modern Jewish philosophy.

Acceptance of who is a rabbi

Orthodox Judaism generally rejects the validity of non-Orthodox rabbis; some within Modern Orthodoxy are willing to accept that non-Orthodox rabbis have some legitimacy (e.g. rabbi Norman Lamm), although to what extent is still being argued. All major branches of non-Orthodox forms of Judaism generally accept the legitimacy of each other's rabbis, as well as accept the legitimacy of Orthodox rabbis.

Non-denomination seminaries

There are several possibilities for receiving rabbinic ordination in addition to seminaries maintained by the large Jewish denominations. These include seminaries maintained by smaller denominational movements, and nondenominational (also called transdenominational or postdenominational) Jewish seminaries.

Semicha in sacrifices

A different meaning is the semicha before the offering of a
sacrifice in the Temple. This involved pressing quite firmly on the head of the sacrificial animal, thereby symbolically "transmitting" sins onto the animal.