1

At least one of the members of the Supreme Sanhedrin, a minor Sanhedrin, or a court of three must have received semichah (ordination) from a teacher who himself had been given semichah.

Our teacher, Moses ordained Joshua by placing his hands upon him, as Numbers 27:23 states: "And he placed his hands upon him and commanded him." Similarly, Moses ordained the 70 judges and the Divine presence rested upon them. Those elders ordained others, and the others still others in later generations. This tradition continued until the Talmudic era, when the Sages had received ordination one from the other in a chain extending back to the court of Joshua, and to the court of Moses.

A person who is ordained by the nasi and one ordained by another ordained judge have the same status, even if that ordained judge never served in a Sanhedrin.

א

אֶחָד בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל וְאֶחָד סַנְהֶדְרִין קְטַנָּה אוֹ בֵּית דִּין שֶׁל שְׁלֹשָׁה צָרִיךְ שֶׁיִּהְיֶה אֶחָד מֵהֶן סָמוּךְ מִפִּי הַסָּמוּךְ. וּמשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ סָמַךְ יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בַּיָּד שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר כז כג) "וַיִּסְמֹךְ אֶת יָדָיו עָלָיו וַיְצַוֵּהוּ". וְכֵן הַשִּׁבְעִים זְקֵנִים משֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ סְמָכָם וְשָׁרְתָה עֲלֵיהֶן שְׁכִינָה. וְאוֹתָן הַזְּקֵנִים סָמְכוּ לַאֲחֵרִים וַאֲחֵרִים לַאֲחֵרִים וְנִמְצְאוּ הַסְּמוּכִין אִישׁ מִפִּי אִישׁ עַד בֵּית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וְעַד בֵּית דִּינוֹ שֶׁל משֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ. וְאֶחָד הַנִּסְמָךְ מִפִּי הַנָּשִׂיא אוֹ מִפִּי אֶחָד מִן הַסְּמוּכִין אֲפִלּוּ לֹא הָיָה אוֹתוֹ סָמוּךְ בַּסַּנְהֶדְרִין מֵעוֹלָם:

2

How is the practice of semichah practiced for all time? The person conveying ordination does not rest his hands on the elder's head. Instead, he is addressed by the title of Rabbi and is told: "You are ordained and you have the authority to render judgment, even in cases involving financial penalties.

ב

וְכֵיצַד הִיא הַסְּמִיכָה לְדוֹרוֹת. לֹא שֶׁיִּסְמְכוּ יְדֵיהֶן עַל רֹאשׁ הַזָּקֵן אֶלָּא שֶׁקּוֹרִין לוֹ רַבִּי וְאוֹמְרִים לוֹ הֲרֵי אַתְּ סָמוּךְ וְיֵשׁ לְךָ רְשׁוּת לָדוּן אֲפִלּוּ דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת:

3

The semichah which ordains elders as judges may be conveyed only by three individuals. One of the three must have received semichah from others as explained.

ג

וְאֵין סוֹמְכִין סְמִיכָה שֶׁהִיא מִנּוּי הַזְּקֵנִים לְדַיָּנוּת אֶלָּא בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה הָאֶחָד מֵהֶן סָמוּךְ מִפִּי אֲחֵרִים כְּמוֹ שֶׁבֵּאַרְנוּ:

4

The term Elohim can be applied only to a court which received semichah in Eretz Yisrael alone . They are wise men who are fit to render judgment who were scrutinized by a court within Eretz Yisrael which appointed them and conveyed semichah upon them.

ד

אֵין קָרוּי אֱלֹהִים אֶלָּא בֵּית דִּין שֶׁנִּסְמַךְ בְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּלְבַד וְהֵם הָאֲנָשִׁים הַחֲכָמִים הָרְאוּיִין לָדוּן שֶׁבָּדְקוּ אוֹתָן בֵּית דִּין שֶׁל אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמִנּוּ אוֹתָם וְסָמְכוּ אוֹתָן:

5

At first, whoever, had received semichah would convey semichah on his students. Afterwards, as an expression of honor to Hillel, the elder, the Sages ordained that semichah would not be conveyed upon anyone unless license had been granted by the nasi.

They also ordained that the nasi should not convey semichah unless he is accompanied by the av beit din, and that the av beit din should not convey semichah unless he was accompanied by the nasi. The other elders could convey semichah themselves after receiving license from the nasi, provided they were accompanied by two others. For semichah cannot be conveyed by less than three judges.

ה

בָּרִאשׁוֹנָה הָיָה כָּל מִי שֶׁנִּסְמָךְ סוֹמֵךְ לְתַלְמִידָיו. וַחֲכָמִים חָלְקוּ כָּבוֹד לְהִלֵּל הַזָּקֵן וְהִתְקִינוּ שֶׁלֹּא יְהֵא אָדָם נִסְמָךְ אֶלָּא בִּרְשׁוּת הַנָּשִׂיא. וְשֶׁלֹּא יְהֵא הַנָּשִׂיא סוֹמֵךְ אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיָה אַב בֵּית דִּין עִמּוֹ. וְשֶׁלֹּא יִהְיֶה אַב בֵּית דִּין סוֹמֵךְ אֶלָּא אִם כֵּן הָיָה הַנָּשִׂיא עִמּוֹ. אֲבָל שְׁאָר הַחֲבוּרָה יֵשׁ לְכָל אֶחָד מֵהֶם לִסְמֹךְ בִּרְשׁוּת הַנָּשִׂיא. וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיוּ שְׁנַיִם עִמּוֹ שֶׁאֵין סְמִיכָה פָּחוֹת מִשְּׁלֹשָׁה:

6

Semichah may not be conveyed upon elders in the diaspora even if the judges conveying semichah received semichah in Eretz Yisrael. Even if the judges conveying semichah were in Eretz Yisrael and the elders to receive semichah were in the diaspora, they should not convey semichah. Needless to say, this applies if the judges conveying semichah were in the diaspora and the elders to receive semichah were in Eretz Yisrael.

If both of them were in Eretz Yisrael, semichah may be conveyed even though the recipients are not in the same place as those conveying semichah. Instead, the judges conveying semichah send to the elder or write to him that he has been given semichah and that he has permission to adjudicate cases involving financial penalties.

This is acceptable, because both of them are located in Eretz Yisrael. The entire area of Eretz Yisrael which the Jews who left Egypt took possession of is fit to have semichah conveyed within it.

ו

אֵין סוֹמְכִין זְקֵנִים בְּחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵלּוּ הַסּוֹמְכִין נִסְמְכוּ בְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל. אֲפִלּוּ הָיוּ הַסּוֹמְכִין בָּאָרֶץ וְהַנִּסְמָךְ חוּצָה לָאָרֶץ אֵין סוֹמְכִין. וְאֵין צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר אִם הָיוּ הַסּוֹמְכִין בְּחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ וְהַנִּסְמָכִין בָּאָרֶץ. הָיוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם בָּאָרֶץ סוֹמְכִין אוֹתוֹ אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינוֹ עִם הַסְּמוּכִים בְּמָקוֹם אֶחָד. אֶלָּא שׁוֹלְחִין לוֹ אוֹ כּוֹתְבִין לוֹ שֶׁהוּא סָמוּךְ וְנוֹתְנִין לוֹ רְשׁוּת לָדוּן דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת הוֹאִיל וּשְׁנֵיהֶם בָּאָרֶץ. וְכָל אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁהֶחְזִיקוּ בָּהּ עוֹלֵי מִצְרַיִם רְאוּיָה לִסְמִיכָה:

7

Judges who themselves were granted semichah may convey semichah on many individuals - even 100 - at one time. King David once conveyed semichah on 30,000 individuals on one day.

ז

יֵשׁ לַסּוֹמְכִין לִסְמֹךְ אֲפִלּוּ מֵאָה בְּפַעַם אַחַת. וְדָוִד הַמֶּלֶךְ סָמַךְ שְׁלֹשִׁים אֶלֶף בְּיוֹם אֶחָד:

8

Such judges may appoint whoever they desire for particular matters, provided he is fit to adjudicate all matters.

What is implied? A court has the authority to give semichah to a remarkable judge who is fit to issue rulings with regard to the entire Torah and limit his authority to the adjudication of financial matters, but not to what is forbidden and permitted. Conversely, they may grant him authority with regard to what is forbidden and permitted, but not to adjudicate cases involving financial matters. Or they may give him license with regard to adjudicate both such manners, but not laws involving financial penalties, or to rule with regard to financial penalties, but not to rule that a blemish disqualifies a firstborn animal. Or they may give him license merely to absolve vows, to judge stains, or to rule only within other similarly limited parameters.

ח

וְיֵשׁ לָהֶן לְמַנּוֹת כָּל מִי שֶׁיִּרְצוּ לִדְבָרִים יְחִידִים. וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה רָאוּי לְכָל הַדְּבָרִים. כֵּיצַד. חָכָם מֻפְלָא שֶׁרָאוּי לְהוֹרוֹת לְכָל הַתּוֹרָה כֻּלָּהּ יֵשׁ לְבֵית דִּין לִסְמֹךְ אוֹתוֹ וְלִתֵּן לוֹ רְשׁוּת לָדוּן וְלֹא לְהוֹרוֹת בְּאִסּוּר וְהֶתֵּר. אוֹ יִתְּנוּ לוֹ רְשׁוּת בְּאִסּוּר וְהֶתֵּר וְלֹא לָדוּן דִּינֵי מָמוֹנוֹת. אוֹ יִתְּנוּ רְשׁוּת לָזֶה וְלָזֶה אֲבָל לֹא לָדוּן דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת. אוֹ לָדוּן דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת אֲבָל לֹא לְהַתִּיר בְּכוֹרוֹת בְּמוּמִין. אוֹ יִתְּנוּ לוֹ רְשׁוּת לְהַתִּיר נְדָרִים בִּלְבַד אוֹ לִרְאוֹת כְּתָמִים. וְכֵן כָּל כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּהֶן:

9

Similarly, the judges conveying semichah have permission to give the person receiving semichah license to judge only for a specific time, telling him: "You have permission to judge or issue rulings until the nasi arrives here," or "...as long as you are together with us in this city," or to issue other similar restrictions.

ט

וְכֵן יֵשׁ לַסּוֹמְכִין לִתֵּן רְשׁוּת עַד זְמַן וְלוֹמַר לַנִּסְמָךְ יֵשׁ לְךָ רְשׁוּת לָדוּן אוֹ לְהוֹרוֹת עַד שֶׁיָּבוֹא הַנָּשִׂיא לְכָאן. אוֹ כָּל זְמַן שֶׁאֵין אַתָּה עִמָּנוּ בַּמְּדִינָה. וְכֵן כָּל כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּזֶה:

10

When a sage of remarkable knowledge is blind in one eye, he is not given semichah with regard to matters of financial law although he may adjudicate such cases. The rationale is that he is not fit to judge all matters. Similar principles apply in all analogous situations.

י

חָכָם מֻפְלָא שֶׁהוּא סוּמָא בְּעֵינוֹ אַחַת אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁהוּא רָאוּי לְדִינֵי מָמוֹנוֹת אֵין סוֹמְכִין אוֹתוֹ לְדִינֵי מָמוֹנוֹת מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאֵינוֹ רָאוּי לְכָל הַדְּבָרִים. וְכֵן כָּל כַּיּוֹצֵא בָּזֶה:

11

If there was only one judge in Eretz Yisrael who possessed semichah, he should call two other judges to sit with him and they should convey semichah on 70 judges at one time or one after the other. Afterwards, he and these 70 should join together to make up the Supreme Sanhedrin and grant semichah to others to make up other courts.

It appears to me that if all the all the wise men in Eretz Yisrael agree to appoint judges and convey semichah upon them, the semichah is binding and these judges may adjudicate cases involving financial penalties and convey semichah upon others.

If so, why did the Sages suffer anguish over the institution of semichah, so that the judgment of cases involving financial penalties would not be nullified among the Jewish people? Because the Jewish people were dispersed, and it is impossible that all could agree. If, by contrast, there was a person who had received semichah from a person who had received semichah, he does not require the consent of all others. Instead, he may adjudicate cases involving financial penalties for everyone, for he received semichah from a court.

The question whether semichah can be renewed requires resolution.

יא

הֲרֵי שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה בְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶלָּא סוֹמֵךְ אֶחָד מוֹשִׁיב שְׁנַיִם בְּצִדּוֹ וְסוֹמֵךְ שִׁבְעִים כְּאֶחָד אוֹ זֶה אַחַר זֶה וְאַחַר כָּךְ יַעֲשֶׂה הוּא וְהַשִּׁבְעִים בֵּית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל וְיִסְמְכוּ בָּתֵּי דִּינִין אֲחֵרִים. נִרְאִין לִי הַדְּבָרִים שֶׁאִם הִסְכִּימוּ כָּל הַחֲכָמִים שֶׁבְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַנּוֹת דַּיָּנִים וְלִסְמֹךְ אוֹתָם הֲרֵי אֵלּוּ סְמוּכִים וְיֵשׁ לָהֶן לָדוּן דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת וְיֵשׁ לָהֶן לִסְמֹךְ לַאֲחֵרִים. אִם כֵּן לָמָּה הָיוּ הַחֲכָמִים מִצְטַעֲרִין עַל הַסְּמִיכָה כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִבָּטְלוּ דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל. לְפִי שֶׁיִּשְׂרָאֵל מְפֻזָּרִין וְאִי אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁיַּסְכִּימוּ כֻּלָּן. וְאִם הָיָה שָׁם סָמוּךְ מִפִּי סָמוּךְ אֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ דַּעַת כֻּלָּן אֶלָּא דָּן דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת לַכּל שֶׁהֲרֵי נִסְמַךְ מִפִּי בֵּית דִּין. וְהַדָּבָר צָרִיךְ הֶכְרֵעַ:

12

When a court received semichah in Eretz Yisrael and then departed to the diaspora, they may judge cases involving financial penalties in the diaspora in the same manner as they judge such cases in Eretz Yisrael. For the Sanhedrin exercises judicial authority in Eretz Yisrael and in the diaspora, provided the judges have received semichah in Eretz Yisrael.

יב

בֵּית דִּין שֶׁנִּסְמְכוּ בְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיָצְאוּ חוּצָה לָאָרֶץ הֲרֵי הֵם דָּנִים דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת בְּחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ כְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁדָּנִים בָּאָרֶץ. שֶׁסַּנְהֶדְרִין נוֹהֶגֶת בָּאָרֶץ וּבְחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ וְהוּא שֶׁיִּהְיוּ סְמוּכִים:

13

The exiliarchs in Babylon function instead of the kings. They have the authority to impose their rule over the Jewish people in all places and to judge them whether they consent or not. This is derived from Genesis 49:10: "The staff will not depart from Judah" - this refers to the exiliarchs of Babylon.

יג

רָאשֵׁי גָּלֻיּוֹת שֶׁבְּבָבֶל בִּמְקוֹם מֶלֶךְ הֵן עוֹמְדִים. וְיֵשׁ לָהֶן לִרְדּוֹת אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל מָקוֹם וְלָדוּן עֲלֵיהֶן בֵּין רָצוּ בֵּין לֹא רָצוּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית מט י) "לֹא יָסוּר שֵׁבֶט מִיהוּדָה" אֵלּוּ רָאשֵׁי גָּלֻיּוֹת שֶׁבְּבָבֶל:

14

Any judge who is fit to adjudicate cases and was given license to serve as a judge by the exiliarch has the authority to act as a judge throughout the entire world, whether in Eretz Yisrael or in the diaspora. Even though either or both of the litigants do not desire to argue the case before him, they are required to do so despite the fact that he does not have the authority to adjudicate cases involving financial penalties.

Any judge who is fit to adjudicate cases and was given license to serve as a judge by the court in Eretz Yisrael has the authority to act as a judge throughout Eretz Yisrael and in the cities which are located on its boundaries even though the litigants do not desire to argue the case before him. In the diaspora, by contrast, the license granted him does not afford him the authority to compel the litigants to appear before him. Although he has the sanction to adjudicate cases involving financial penalties in the diaspora, he may adjudicate such cases only when the litigants consent for him to judge. He does not have the authority to compel the litigants to accept his rulings unless he is granted such authority by the exiliarch.

יד

וְכָל דַּיָּן הָרָאוּי לָדוּן שֶׁנָּתַן לוֹ רֹאשׁ גָּלוּת רְשׁוּת לָדוּן יֵשׁ לוֹ רְשׁוּת לָדוּן בְּכָל הָעוֹלָם אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁלֹּא רָצוּ בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין בֵּין בָּאָרֶץ בֵּין בְּחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינוֹ דָּן דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת. וְכָל דַּיָּן הָרָאוּי לָדוּן שֶׁנָּתְנוּ לוֹ בֵּית דִּין שֶׁבְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל רְשׁוּת לָדוּן יֵשׁ לוֹ רְשׁוּת לָדוּן בְּכָל אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל וּבַעֲיָרוֹת הָעוֹמְדוֹת עַל הַגְּבוּלִים אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁלֹּא רָצוּ בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין. אֲבָל בְּחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ אֵין רְשׁוּתָן מוֹעֶלֶת לוֹ לָכוֹף אֶת בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין. אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ לָדוּן דִּינֵי קְנָסוֹת בְּחוּצָה לָאָרֶץ אֵינוֹ דָּן אֶלָּא לְמִי שֶׁרוֹצֶה לָדוּן אֶצְלוֹ. אֲבָל לָכוֹף אֶת בַּעֲלֵי דִּינִין וְלָדוּן לָהֶם אֵין לוֹ רְשׁוּת עַד שֶׁיִּטּל רְשׁוּת מֵרֹאשׁ גָּלוּת:

15

When a person is not fit to act as a judge because he is not knowledgeable or because he lacks proper character and an exiliarch transgressed and granted him authority or the court erred and granted him authority, the authority granted him is of no consequence unless he is fit. To cite a parallel: When a person consecrates an animal with a physical blemish to be sacrificed on the altar, the holiness does not encompass it.

טו

מִי שֶׁאֵינוֹ רָאוּי לָדוּן מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ אוֹ מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאֵינוֹ הָגוּן שֶׁעָבַר רֹאשׁ גָּלוּת וְנָתַן לוֹ רְשׁוּת אוֹ שֶׁטָּעוּ בֵּית דִּין וְנָתְנוּ לוֹ רְשׁוּת אֵין הָרְשׁוּת מוֹעֶלֶת לוֹ כְּלוּם עַד שֶׁיְּהֵא רָאוּי. שֶׁהַמַּקְדִּישׁ בַּעַל מוּם לַמִּזְבֵּחַ אֵין הַקְּדֻשָּׁה חָלָה עָלָיו: