What is semicha all about?

Classic semicha, as it appears in the Gemara, is when a talmid chochom is granted special authority to rule in certain areas of halacha.

Yoreh Yoreh authorizes a duly qualified individual to decide on issues relating to religious prohibitions;
Yodin Yodin to adjudicate monetary cases.

Is this the same type of semicha that we have today?

No. This legal form of semicha stopped at some point during the times of the Amoraim.

Classic semicha can only be conferred in Eretz Yisroel by someone who has himself received semicha in an unbroken chain leading back to Moshe Rabbeinu. Religious persecution and the fact that the yeshivos eventually moved outside of Eretz Yisroel made it impossible for semicha to continue.

What is the purpose of semicha nowadays?

There is a mistaken notion that our semicha is just a diploma, a certificate attesting to the recipient’s mastery of the subject matter.

In truth, however, although our semicha does not carry the same legal authority as the classic semicha, it continues to represent the transmission of Torah from Moshe Rabbeinu throughout the generations. The Rebbe points out that it also serves as an important nesinas koach for the ordained rav to serve in that capacity with extra sayatta dishmaya.

Is semicha for everyone?

It seems pretty clear that the Rebbe wants all talmidim that are capable to learn for semicha. It isn’t easy, but with diligence and commitment, almost everyone with a good yeshivah background should be able to pull it off.

Even those who do not plan to become practicing rabbis are encouraged not just to know the halochos, but also to receive semicha ordination.

The Rebbe points out that it is not always possible to reach the rav, so it is important to be able to serve as rav in one’s own house. Being a “resident rabbi” provides the proper foundation upon which to build a Torah home.

How does learning for semicha differ from yeshiva-style learning?

Yeshiva-style learning puts more emphasis on the underlying reasoning, whereas learning aliba dehilchisa focuses more on the rules that develop from the sugya.

Say Rashi and Tosfos explain a particular piece of Gemara differently. When learning Gemara l'iyuna, you will analyze what motivated each of the commentaries to interpret the Gemara as they did. By contrast, when learning halacha, you will focus on the nafka mina between the different interpretation.

Is there a universal syllabus for semicha or does every institution have their own requirements?

Besides for being a G-d fearing individual with several years of experience learning Gemara with rishonim, there are some core requirements of halacha study.

Traditionally, the sections required for Yoreh Yoreh include Hilchos Treifos, Melicha, Basar Bechalav and Taarovos. In the classic editions of the Shulchan Aruch these halachos are found in the first volume of Yoreh Deah and are referred to collectively as “Yoreh Deah Chelek Alef”. Many institutions require additional sections as well.

 

What is required by our program?

As a branch of Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva, our program requires five sections:

  1. Melicha (YD Siman 69-78)
  2. Basar Bechalav (YD Siman 87-97)
  3. Taaruvos (YD Siman 98-115)
  4. Maacholei Akum & Hechsher Keilim
    (YD Siman 112-122)
  5. Hilchos Shabbos (Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch: Siman 253-259, 308-328)

When can participants expect to receive semicha ordination?

The program is scheduled to complete Hilchos Melicha, Basar Bechalav and Taarovos during the course of the school year. Hilchos Maacholei Akum and Hilchos Shabbos are to be completed the following year.

Talmidim should allow about two to three months of preparation (independent study) for each of the two remaining sections, and contact Rabbi Barber to schedule a test.

So, typically, participants who stay the course will receive semicha in middle of the following school year. Those who wish to complete the course at a quicker or slower pace should discuss their options with Rabbi Barber.

Basar Bechalav seems to be the most practical of the Yoreh Deah subjects.

True.
Ironically, though, in the alte heim, the laws of Treifos and Melicha were by far the most practical. People would buy a chicken and bring it to the shochet. If there was any treifos question it was the responsibility of the owner to follow up. And every housewife would do the melicha herself at home. So the head of the household was always faced with many shailos.

Ever since the shechita and melicha process was commercialized, very few shailos come up in this area. Many institutions adapted to this change and have since replaced Hilchos Treifos with a different section.

What are the pros and cons of “Semicha Programs”?

Semicha programs have certainly had a positive impact. Most people would admit that generally speaking Yoreh Deah is studied much more thoroughly today than it was two decades ago.

That being said, the popularity of semicha programs also has its drawbacks. Many semicha programs are not part of a conventional yeshiva setting. This has led to the unfortunate reality that many students view their semicha studies as their first step out of yeshiva. They approach semicha like some sort of course rather than an advancement in their yeshiva experience.

Talmidim should carefully consider the importance of a yeshiva environment when choosing a semicha program.

What is unique about this program?

The program is located just one block from 770, so participants have the opportunity to be a real “770 Bochur”. They can learn chassidus in 770, attend Reb Yoel’s shiurim, daven in the Rebbe’s minyan, participate in the Release Time program and farbreng with their chaveirim in 770.

But they still get to enjoy the advantages of smaller, out-of-town semicha programs.