Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
New rabbis attend a rabbinic ordination ceremony of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem.

The term semicha, as it is used today, refers to a diploma that certifies the recipient’s proficiency in halacha and authorizes him to serve as a rabbi.1 Semicha in the classical sense, however, refers to the original teacher-to-student rabbinic ordination which began with Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah tells us that Moshe ordained Yehoshua as his successor by performing semicha (lit. “laying of the hands”) upon him.2 Moshe also ordained the seventy elders of Israel, who in turn ordained additional students.3 This chain of semicha continued right through to the Roman Empire, at which time the authorities made a decree forbidding the continuation of this sacred tradition, and as a result, the original semicha was lost.4 There have been a number of attempts throughout history to revive and reinstate the original semicha, but these efforts have been unsuccessful.5



The Popularity of Semicha Today

The popularity and interest in pursuing semicha studies has surged in recent years, and there is even a widespread practice for men to make an effort to receive semicha before marriage. This is true even if one has no intention of serving professionally as a rabbi. This is because the material studied in the course of rabbinical ordination includes many practical halachic issues that arise frequently in a Jewish home, especially in the kitchen. In fact, we are told that one should endeavor to become proficient enough in all areas of halacha so that one will not need to contact a rabbi for halachic queries.6

It may have been the late Lubavitcher Rebbe who revitalized the practice of students studying for rabbinical ordination on such an extensive scale.7 Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik was no less a pioneer in organizing and preparing students for rabbinical ordination. However, in most cases he did so with the intention that the graduates would enter the rabbinate in some professional capacity. The Rebbe encouraged it primarily for the advantages in being proficient in practical halacha and also for professional purposes. It is worthwhile to try to receive semicha from three rabbis if possible.8 One should hold a celebration in honor of receiving semicha, complete with a festive meal and the singing of appropriate songs.9


The Semicha Candidate

Before a yeshiva or other semicha-granting institution admits a student into its semicha program, it is necessary for them to ensure that the candidate has already achieved a high level of scholarship. This is especially important because semicha programs generally do not concentrate on the details of routine halachic matters, as it is assumed that a semicha candidate is already fluent in such matters.

While the completion of a semicha program and receiving the title “rabbi” is certainly grounds for both recognition and honor, it does not confirm that the newly-ordained individual is proficient in all areas of Torah law. The granting of semicha merely testifies that the recipient has studied and amassed knowledge in very specific areas of halacha. It does not imply that the graduate is especially knowledgeable in areas of halacha that were not part of his semicha studies, but it does imply that the ordained individual has been found competent to make decisions in other areas of halacha after carefully reviewing all the relevant texts.10

A rabbi who issues halachic rulings in areas of halacha in which he is not especially fluent is called “and evil and arrogant person.”11 Semicha is not required for one who simply wishes to teach Torah or to guide others in basic halachic matters that most people are well versed in anyway.12


Curriculum and Varieties of Semicha

The primary text traditionally studied in preparation for semicha is the Yoreh Deah section of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch, along with the major commentaries. While semicha studies in the past often focused exclusively on the laws of kashrut, it has become common to only issue semicha after testing students in the laws of Shabbat, niddah, and other areas as well. Each institution is entitled to add to its semicha curriculum according to the standards it deems fit. The semicha received after such study is generally referred to as the “Yoreh Rauchsemicha, which allows the bearer to issue rulings in ritual law. It is also occasionally referred to as “Issur V’heter” or “Heter Hora’ah.”13 Until the 10th century or so the designations ktav manui and shtar masmich” were also used.14

Another, higher form of semicha is known as the “Yadin Aydinsemicha, which confers upon the recipient the authority to adjudicate cases of civil and monetary law. The order of study for receiving Yadin Aydin ordination generally includes most of the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch that deals with civil and monetary matters. Most institutions that offer Yadin Mish pat semicha also require students to complete significant portions of the Even Ha’ezer section of Shulchan Aruch that deals with marital law as well. One who holds Yadin Heizer semicha and serves on a Beit Din is often referred to by the title Dayan (judge), though most such individuals simply continue using the title “rabbi.”

In the time of the Beit HaMikdash there existed an even higher form of semicha known as the “Yatir Bechorot Yatirsemicha, which conferred upon the recipient the authority to determine matters relating to animal sacrifices. This included authorizing or disqualifying animals for ritual and sacrificial purposes based on the animal’s physical health or any blemishes that the animal might have. In many instances, 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 expertise that the recipient was required to have regarding Temple and sacrificial proceedings, he also underwent extensive veterinary training. This semicha will return when the Beit HaMikdash is rebuilt, may it be speedily in our days. The designations of Yoreh Berhorst, Yadin Berhorst, and Yatir Bechorot Yatir are taken directly from the Talmud.15

There is a somewhat new form of semicha current today known as the “Rav U’manhigsemicha, which, although functional, is also somewhat honorary in nature. It does not necessarily certify the recipient’s knowledge or competency in halacha but rather testifies that the recipient is worthy to be called “rabbi” and to serve in a position of leadership. In some yeshivot there is a formal curriculum which must be completed before receiving this semicha, usually comprising extensive sections of the Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch. Some rabbis will issue the Rav U’manhigsemicha to students who are simply well-rounded and have an impressive grasp of general Jewish scholarship, rendering them worthy of the title “rabbi.” Indeed, it is important to recall that “rabbi” essentially means “teacher,” and not necessarily “halachic authority.”

(To be continued)



  1. Rivash 271; Rambam, Hilchot Sanhedrin 4:2; Rema, YD 242:14.
  2. Bamidbar 27:15-23, Devarim 34:9.
  3. Bamidbar 11:16-25, Rambam, Hilchot Sanhedrin 4:1.
  4. Sanhedrin 14a.
  5. For more on the attempts to revive semicha, see:
  6. Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchot Talmud Torah 4.
  7. Sefer HaMinhagim (Chabad) p.75.
  8. Sanhedrin 13b.
  9. Ketubot 17a.
  10. See: Aruch HaShulchan, YD 242:29.
  11. Sota 22b; Avoda Zara 19b; Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:4.
  12. YD 242:8,9.
  13. 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.
  14. See Sefer HaShtarot.
  15. Sanhedrin 5a. See also Eruvin 53b, Rashi s.v. “nityaetz.”

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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: [email protected].