Democratic Smicha - The Ramban on "D'Oraita", the Rambam on "Smicha" and Rav Chaim Hirschensohn on "Democracy"
1 א


In this shiur, we'll explore combining three ideas in order to explore an idea of democratic smicha, that is, an interpretation of smicha - Torah authority - according to which ultimate Torah authority is today invested in the totality of knesset Yisrael - the people of Israel. The three ideas are how Ramban interprets the idea of D'Oraita, how the Rambam interprets the idea of smicha, and how the Rakha (Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn) views the Torah significance of democracy.

2 ב

Part One: What is "D'Oraita"?

3 ג

The Guide to the Perplexed, Part Three, Chapter 41 (Friedlander)
God knew that the judgments of the Law will always require an extension in some cases and curtailment in others, according to the variety of places, events, and circumstances. He therefore cautioned against such increase and diminution, and commanded, "Thou shalt not add thereto nor diminish from it" (Deut. 13:1); for constant changes would tend to disturb the whole system of the Law, and would lead people to believe that the Law is not of Divine origin. But permission is at the same time given to the wise men, i.e., the great court (Synhedrion) of every generation to make fences round the judgments of the Law for their protection, and to introduce bye-laws (fences) in order to ensure the keeping of the Law. Such fences once erected remain in force for ever. The Mishnah therefore teaches: "And make a fence round the Law" (Abot 1:1). In the same manner they have the power temporarily to dispense with some religious act prescribed in the Law, or to allow that which is forbidden, if exceptional circumstances and events require it; but none of the laws can be abrogated permanently, as has been explained by us in the Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah in treating of temporary legislation. By this method the Law will remain perpetually the same, and will yet admit at all times and under an circumstances such temporary modifications as are indispensable. If every scholar had the power to make such modifications, the multitude of disputes and differences of opinion would have produced an injurious effect. Therefore it was commanded that of the Sages only the great Synhedrion, and none else, should have this power; and whoever would oppose their decision should be killed. For if any critic were allowed to dispute the decision of the Synhedrion, the object of this law would not be attained; it would be useless.

4 ד

Study Questions

  • Why must the law not change according to the Rambam?
  • If the law does not change, how can people live by it in a changing reality?
5 ה

ספר המצוות, שורשים ב׳

שאין ראוי למנות כל מה שלמדים באחת משלש עשרה מדות שהתורה נדרשת בהן או מרבוי:

(ב) [א] כבר בארנו בפתיחת חבורנו בפירוש המשנה שרוב דיני התורה יצאו בשלש עשרה מדות שהתורה נדרשת בהם ושהדין היוצא במדה מאותן המדות הנה פעמים תפול בו המחלוקת ושיש שם דינין הן פירושים מקובלים ממשה אין מחלוקת בהם אבל הם מביאין ראיה עליהן באחת משלש עשרה מדות כי מחכמת הכתוב שהוא אפשר שימצא בו רמז מורה על הפירוש ההוא המקובל או היקש יורה עליו וכבר בארנו זה הענין שם. וכשיהיה זה כן הנה לא כל מה שנמצא לחכמים שהוציאו בהיקש משלש עשרה מדות נאמר שהוא נאמר למשה בסיני ולא גם כן נאמר בכל מה שימצא בתלמוד שיסמכוהו אל אחת משלש עשרה מדות שהוא דרבנן, כי פעמים יהיה הפירוש ההוא מקובל ממשה בסיני לפי הראוי בזה שכל מה שלא תמצאהו כתוב בתורה ותמצאהו בתלמוד שלמדוהו באחת משלש עשרה מדות אם בארו הם בעצמם ואמרו שזה גוף תורה או שזה דאורייתא הנה ראוי למנותו אחר שהמקובלים ממנו אמרו שהוא דאורייתא. ואם לא יבארו זה ולא דברו בו הנה הוא דרבנן שאין שם כתוב יורה עליו. וזה גם כן שרש כבר נשתבש בו זולתנו ולכן מנה יראת חכמים עם מצות עשה, ואשר הביאו לזה לפי מה שיראה לי מאמר ר' עקיבא את ה' אלקיך תירא לרבות תלמידי חכמים חשב שכל מה שיגיע משלש עשרה מדות הוא מן הכלל הנזכר, ואם היה הענין כמו שחשבו למה לא מנו כבוד בעל האם ואשת האב מצוה בפני עצמה מחוברת אל כבוד אב ואם וכן כבוד אחיו הגדול כי אלו האישים למדנו שאנו חייבין לכבדם ברבוי אמרו (כתובות ק"ג) כבד את אביך לרבות אחיך הגדול ואמרו את אביך לרבות בעל אמך ואת אמך לרבות אשת אביך כמו שאמרו את ה' אלקיך תירא לרבות תלמידי חכמים, אם כן מפני מה מנו אלו ולא מנו אלו...

ואולי תחשוב שאני בורח מלמנותן להיותן בלתי אמתיות והיות הדין היוצא במדה ההיא אמת או בלתי אמת, אין זו הסבה. אבל הסבה כי כל מה שיוציא אדם ענפים מן השרשים שנאמרו לו למשה בסיני בבאור והם תרי"ג מצות ואפילו היה המוציא משה בעצמו אין ראוי למנותם...

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Sefer HaMitzvot, Shorashim 2:2

The Second Rule: That not everything that is learned through the 13 midot through which the Torah is interpreted, or through ribui, should be counted [as mitsvah d'oraita].

We have already established in the introduction to the Mishnah [above], that most of the laws of the Torah are learned through the 13 midot…and that a law which is learned through the midot - sometimes there is disagreement in regard to it. There are also laws that are received tradition from Moshe and in regard to which there is no disagreement, but none the less they bring a proof for them [from the Torah] through the midot. For it is the wisdom of the Writings that one can find a hint which teaches about that received teaching…

And since this is the state of affairs - not every law which is learned by the midot should be regarded as have been stated to Moshe, but also we will not say about every law that the sages attach a learning based on the midot to it that it is derabbanan - because it might be received tradition. And this is it: in regard to anything which is not in the Torah but is learned by the midot, if they said themselves that this is from the body of Torah or is d'oraita - this should be counted [as d'oraita], for the receivers of the tradition have said that it is; but if they did not say that outright, then it is derabbanan, for there is no pasuk that teaches it…

Perhaps you think that we do not count these laws because they are not clear, that it is not clear that they were correctly learned from the midot - this is not the reason, for rather the reason is that what is learned [from the midot] consists of branches from the principles which were stated to Moshe at Sinai outright, and these are the 613 commandments. And even if Moshe himself were to learn [laws through interpretations based on the midot], these would not be counted [as d'oraita]…

7 ז

Study Question: What does it take to be a D'Oraita law according to the Rambam?

8 ח

השגות הרמב"ן לספר המצוות השורש ב'

ועכשיו אני חוזר אל הכלל הזה אשר הוא אצל הרב שני שכל דבר הנלמד במדות שהתורה נדרשת בהן יהיה מדרבנן ואפי' היה המוציא משה רבינו, ואולם מה שיהיה פירוש מקובל ממנו, והוא שבארו הסופרים שזה הדבר נאסרה פעולתו ואיסורו מדאורייתא אז ימנה אותו מפני שהוא נודע בקבלה לא בהיקש. ופליאה דעת ממני נשגבה לא אוכל לה, שאם נאמר כי אין המדות הנדרשות מקובלות מסיני ולא נצטוינו לדרוש ולפרש בהן את התורה א"כ הרי הן בלתי אמתיות, והאמת הוא פשטיה דקרא בלבד לא הדבר הנדרש, כמו שהזכיר ממאמרם אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו, ועקרנו שורש קבלתנו בי"ג מדות שהתורה נדרשת, ורוב התלמוד אשר יוסד בהן. והרב חוזר ומודה שאין הסבה מפני שאינן אמתיות, ואם אמתיות הן מה בין המקום שהן מזכירין זה בפירוש או בסתם שאם נאמר כיון שלא נכתב הדבר בתורה אינן בכלל המצות אף המוזכרות מהן בתלמוד לומר בהן דאורייתא הוא מג"ש או מריבוי אף הן לא נכתבו, ומה שאומר מפני שהוא נודע בקבלה לא בהיקש, אם המדות אמתיות הכל נודע בקבלה מאתו יתברך...
ועוד שהרי בתלמוד בכל מקום שמביאין מקרא למדרש מהמדרשים כגון שיאמר בעל המאמר עצמו מנא לן ה"מ ויוציאו מן המדרש דין מן הדינין בכלם יחשבו בתלמוד שהוא דאורייתא ויקשו ממנו עד שיתרץ המתרץ ויאמר דמדרבנן הוא וקרא אסמכתא בעלמא...
ולפי זה הראוי הוא שנאמר בהפך שכל דבר הנדרש בתלמוד באחת מכל י"ג מדות הוא מדאורייתא עד שנשמע אותם שיאמרו שהוא אסמכתא:...

וזה מה שהיה בדעתי לכתוב על העיקר הזה בתכלית הקיצור, וידעתי כי עוד שמועות רבות בגמרא סותרות ענינו, כי הספר הזה להרב ז"ל ענינו ממתקים וכולו מחמדים מלבד העיקר הזה שהוא עוקר הרים גדולים בתלמוד ומפיל חומות בצורות בגמרא, והענין ללומדי הגמרא רע ומר, ישתכח הדבר ולא יאמר:

9 ט

The Ramban's Commentary on the Book of Commandments, Rule 2.

[Regarding Rambam's principle brought above]...Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too high, I cannot attain unto it, if the midot are not from Sinai…and what's important is only the pshat and not what is learned by midrash…they we have torn up the root of our tradition of the midot…and most of the Talmud. And the Rav states that the reason is not that they are not true, but if they are true, what difference does it make if the sages say outright [that the law is d'oraita] or not?!…if the midot are true, then everything is learned by tradition from God…

…and more, whenever in the Talmud a midrash is brought for a biblical statement…it is considered d'oraita…

And accordingly we should say the opposite: whatever is learned in the Talmud from one of the thirteen midot is d'oraita, unless they say that it is an asmachta [a midrash attaching a law to a pasuk even though it is not actually derived from that pasuk].

and I continue to scream about the words of the Rav, that some things are learned in the gemara from the midot and they are regarded as d'oraita, and the Rav counted them [as d'oraita].

...And this is what I have to say about this principle, written extremely briefly, and I think that there are many other traditions which contradict the Rav's words, and this book that the Rav has written is all sweet things and delights, except for this principle which tears up great mountains in the Talmud, and knocks down fortified walls in the gemara, and for the learners of gemara it is bad and bitter, it should be forgotten [or sunken] and not be said!

10 י

Study Questions:

  • Can you summarize the Ramban's disagreement with the Rambam in your own words?
  • Do you hear an echo of the Rambam's discussion of the law in the Guide to the Perplexed in this disagreement?
  • What's at stake theologically between the two thinkers?
11 יא

Part Two: What is "Smicha"?

12 יב

SEMIKHAH (Heb. סמיכה; "laying," lit. "leaning" of the hands). The word is used in two senses. [Aaron Rothkoff - EJ]

Also: Laying on of hands; Ordination (rab.)

Of Sacrifices

The act of semikhah constituted the dedication by the owner of animals sacrificed on the altar. The act, which was obligatory whenever sacrifices were offered by individuals (Men. 9:7; Maim. Yad, Ma'aseh ha-Korbanot 3:6), was carried out by the owner laying both his hands with all his might between the horns of the animal immediately before it was dispatched (Lev. 1:4ff.; Sifra 4; Maim. loc. cit. 3:13). The ceremony took place in the courtyard of the Temple, where the animal was slain (Men. 93a, b). It had to be performed with bare hands, so that nothing might interpose between them and the head of the beast (Maim. loc. cit.). It did not apply, with two exceptions, to communal sacrifices (Men. 9:7), nor to birds (Git. 28b). Another requirement was that the act had to be carried out by the owner in person and could not be performed by proxy (Men. 9:8; Maim. loc. cit. 3:8).

Of Judges, Elders, and Rabbis

All Jewish religious leaders had to be ordained before they were permitted to perform certain judicial functions and to decide practical questions in Jewish law. The Bible relates that Moses ordained Joshua by placing his hands on him, thereby transferring a portion of his spirit to Joshua (Num. 27:22[1], 23; Deut. 34:9[2]). Moses also ordained the 70 elders who assisted him in governing the people (Num. 11:16–17[3], 24–25[4]). The elders ordained by Moses ordained their successors, who in turn ordained others, so that there existed an unbroken chain of ordination from Moses down to the time of the Second Temple (Maim. Yad, Sanh. 4:2). For some centuries the tradition of ordaining by the laying of the hands was continued, but the rabbis later decided to ordain by merely conferring the title "rabbi" either orally or in writing (ibid., 4:2).

Ordination was required both for membership in the Great Sanhedrin, and the smaller Sanhedrins and regular colleges of judges empowered to decide legal cases... Ordination was also required to judge in cases involving corporal punishment and fines, to intercalate months and years, to release the firstborn animals for profane use by reason of disqualifying blemishes, to annul vows, and to pass the ban of excommunication (herem). Only a transfer of the Divine Spirit which originally rested on Moses empowered the ordained person to make decisions in these crucial areas….

The term used in the Holy Land in the days of the Jerusalem Talmud for ordination was minnui (literally "appointment" to the office of judge). In Babylonia the designation of semikhah (semikhuta in Aramaic) was retained (ibid.)

After the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–35 C.E.), the Roman emperor Hadrian attempted to end the spiritual authority still wielded by the Sanhedrin, which had been shorn of all government support, by forbidding the granting of semikhah to new scholars. It was declared that "whoever performed an ordination should be put to death, and whoever received ordination should be put to death, the city in which the ordination took place demolished, and the boundaries wherein it had been performed uprooted" (Sanh. 14a). R. Judah b. Bava was executed for ordaining several of his pupils in a no-man's-land between Usha and Shefaram. It is not clear when the original semikhah with the powers described above was discontinued. Majority opinion favors the latter part of the fourth century during the time of Hillel II…

Controversy on the Renewal of the Semikhah

Despite the continuity of the Jewish judiciary even after the loss of the traditional formal semikhah, there have been some attempts to reinstitute the original semikhah, Maimonides' viewpoint is focal to this concept of renewal for he ruled that "if all the Palestinian sages would unanimously agree to appoint and ordain judges, then these new ordinants would possess the full authority of the original ordained judges" (Yad, Sanh. 4:11). Based on this ruling, an attempt was made in 1538 by R. Jacob Berab of Safed, at that time the largest community in Erez Israel, to restore the practice of ordaining. At Berab's initiative, 25 rabbis convened, and they ordained Berab as their chief rabbi. Berab then ordained four other rabbis, including Joseph Caro, the author of the Shulhan Arukh, and Moses di Trani. Caro ordained Moses Alshekh, who later ordained Hayyim Vital, the leading disciple of R. Isaac Luria. Berab hoped that he could thus unify the various Jewish communities of ultimately reestablishing a Sanhedrin. Cases involving fines could now be judged again, and flagellation, which was required by law to atone for the sins of the Conversos, could be ordered by the court. However, Berab had neglected to obtain the consent of the Jerusalem rabbis. The latter felt slighted and rejected Berab when he requested that they recognize his authority. They protested his innovation, and the head of the Jerusalem rabbinate, Levi ibn Habib, wrote an entire treatise to prove the illegality of Berab's actions (Kunteres ha-Semikhah). A caustic controversy arose between Ibn Habib and Berab, and after the latter's death in 1541 the renewed institution of ordination gradually languished into obscurity. Modern scholars have approved Ibn Habib's opposition; it was also felt that he feared that Berab's actions would arouse messianic speculations which could result in a false messianic movement (see B. Revel in bibl.). It may also be that Ibn Habib held that it was not permitted to hasten the advent of the messianic era by reestablishing the Sanhedrin but to wait for Divine initiative (see J. Katz in bibl.).

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, R. Judah Leib Maimon, Israel's first minister of religious affairs, made a similar plea to restore the Sanhedrin. He was, however, opposed by the overwhelming majority of his colleagues of the non-Orthodox groups as well as by rabbis of the extreme right. Israel's then Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Isaac Herzog, was also hesitant, and again the attempt came to nought…

[Aaron Rothkoff]

[1] פרשת פינחס כז כב) וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְקֹוָק אֹתוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ וַיַּעֲמִדֵהוּ לִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן וְלִפְנֵי כָּל הָעֵדָה:

(כג) וַיִּסְמֹךְ אֶת יָדָיו עָלָיו וַיְצַוֵּהוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְקֹוָק בְּיַד מֹשֶׁה: פ

[2] פרשת וזאת הברכה לד (ט) וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן נוּן מָלֵא רוּחַ חָכְמָה כִּי סָמַךְ מֹשֶׁה אֶת יָדָיו עָלָיו וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ אֵלָיו בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּעֲשׂוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְקֹוָק אֶת מֹשֶׁה:

[3] פרשת בהעלתך (טז) וַיֹּאמֶר יְקֹוָק אֶל מֹשֶׁה אֶסְפָה לִּי שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָדַעְתָּ כִּי הֵם זִקְנֵי הָעָם וְשֹׁטְרָיו וְלָקַחְתָּ אֹתָם אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ שָׁם עִמָּךְ:

(יז) וְיָרַדְתִּי וְדִבַּרְתִּי עִמְּךָ שָׁם וְאָצַלְתִּי מִן הָרוּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָלֶיךָ וְשַׂמְתִּי עֲלֵיהֶם וְנָשְׂאוּ אִתְּךָ בְּמַשָּׂא הָעָם וְלֹא תִשָּׂא אַתָּה לְבַדֶּךָ:

[4] פרשת בהעלתך (כד) וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל הָעָם אֵת דִּבְרֵי יְקֹוָק וַיֶּאֱסֹף שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ מִזִּקְנֵי הָעָם וַיַּעֲמֵד אֹתָם סְבִיבֹת הָאֹהֶל:

(כה) וַיֵּרֶד יְקֹוָק בֶּעָנָן וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלָיו וַיָּאצֶל מִן הָרוּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו וַיִּתֵּן עַל שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ הַזְּקֵנִים וַיְהִי כְּנוֹחַ עֲלֵיהֶם הָרוּחַ וַיִּתְנַבְּאוּ וְלֹא יָסָפוּ:

13 יג

תנא סמיכה וסמיכת זקנים בג'. מאי סמיכה ומאי סמיכת זקנים?

א"ר יוחנן מיסמך סבי.

א"ל אביי לרב יוסף מיסמך סבי בשלשה מנלן?

אילימא מדכתיב (במדבר כז, כג) ויסמוך את ידיו עליו, אי הכי תסגי בחד! וכי תימא משה במקום שבעים וחד קאי, אי הכי ליבעי שבעים וחד!


אמר ליה רב אחא בריה דרבא לרב אשי, בידא ממש סמכין ליה?

אמר ליה סמכין ליה בשמא: קרי ליה רבי ויהבי ליה רשותא למידן דיני קנסות

§ The Sages taught in a baraita (Tosefta 10:15): The laying of hands and the laying of hands by the Sages are performed by three judges. What is the laying of hands, and what is the laying of hands by the Sages? It is clear that one of these terms is referring to the elders laying their hands on the bull offered for an unwitting communal sin, but what is the meaning of the other expression? Rabbi Yoḥanan says: It is referring to the ordination of elders, meaning, to appoint Sages and grant them the title Rabbi. Abaye said to Rav Yosef: From where do we derive that the ordination of elders is performed by three judges? If we say it is from the fact that it is written with regard to Moses when he appointed Joshua: “And he laid his hands on him and he commanded him” (Numbers 27:23), if so, it should be enough for one man to ordain the new Sage, as Moses ordained Joshua. And if you would say: Moses stood in place of seventy-one, meaning that no Sage in a later generation could fill the place of Moses, and only the Great Sanhedrin can fill that role, if so, then every ordination should require seventy-one judges. The Gemara responds: The matter is difficult; there is no clear source for this halakha. Rav Aḥa, son of Rava, said to Rav Ashi: Do they ordain him literally with the hand? Rav Ashi said to him: They ordain him by name by announcing it publicly; he is called: Rabbi, and they give him permission to adjudicate cases involving laws of fines.
14 יד

Study Questions

What are the sages sure about in regard to S'micha and what are they unsure about?

Why do the sages call ordination "S'micha"?

15 טו

תמן קריי למנוייה סמיכותא. א"ר בא בראשונה היה כל אחד ואחד ממנה את תלמידיו...חזרו וחלקו כבוד לבית הזה. אמרו בית דין שמינה שלא לדעת הנשיא.

There [in Bavel] they call appointment [of judges] "smichah". Said R. Abba, first each sage could appoint his disciples…later they legislated that the court would not appoint [judges] without the permission of the Nasi, and the Nasi would not appoint without the permission of the Court.

16 טז

Study Question: Who calls Rabbinic ordination "Smicha"?

17 יז

(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...

(1) In order to act as a judge in the supreme court or in a Small Sanhedrin or in a court-of-three, one must be ordained by someone who has been ordained. Our teacher Moses ordained Joshua by placing his hands upon him, as it is written: "He laid his hands on him and commissioned him" (Numbers 27:23). He also ordained the seventy elders, and the Divine Presence rested upon them. The elders ordained others, who in turn ordained others, until we find that they all had s'micha, one from the other, back to the court of Joshua and of Moshe...

18 יח

Study Question: Did Moshe and Joshua actually "lay hands" on the elders? (See Bemidbar 11:16-17, 24-25.

19 יט

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

Smichah, which is the appointment of judges to court, is not given except by three, and of those three one must have smichah in the manner described above.

20 כ

Study Question: What does "s'micha" mean according to the Rambam?

21 כא

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:

Behold, if there was not in the Land of Israel except only one with smichah, he sits next to him two sages, and he may thus give smichah to seventy all at once, or one after the other, and afterwards the seventy will make a Great Court and give smichah to other courts. And I think that if all of the sages of the Land of Israel agree to appoint judges and to give them smichah, behold these are smuchim, and they can judge the laws of fines and they can give smichah to others. If so, why were the sages sorry about the smichah, that there is no longer authority to judge the laws of fines? [They were sorry] since Israel is dispersed and it was impossible that they should all agree. And if there was one who was samuch from a samuch, he doesn't need anybody's agreement, but he can judge the laws of fines, since he has been given smichah by a court. And this issue is unclear.

22 כב

(א) סמיכת זקנים ועריפת עגלה בשלשה דברי כו': סמיכת הזקנים הוא מנוי הדיינין והרמז על זה מה שנאמר ויסמוך את ידיו עליו ויצוהו...ויראה לי כי כשתהי' הסכמה מכל החכמים והתלמידים להקדים עליהם איש מן הישיבה וישימו אותו לראש ובלבד שיהא זה בא"י כמו שזכרנו הנה האיש ההוא תתקיים לו הישיבה ויהיה סמוך ויסמוך הוא אחר כן מי שירצה שאם לא תאמר כן אי אפשר שתמצא ב"ד הגדול לעולם לפי שנצטרך שיהיה כל אחד מהם סמוך על כל פנים והקב"ה יעד שישובו כמו שנאמר ואשיבה שופטיך כבראשונה ויועציך כבתחלה אחרי כן יקרא לך עיר הצדק וזה יהיה בלא ספק כשיכון הבורא יתברך לבות בני אדם ותרבה זכותם ותשוקתם לשם יתברך ולתורה ותגדל חכמתם לפני בא המשיח כמו שיתבאר זה בפסוקים הרבה במקרא.

Smichah of the elders - this is the appointment of judges…and I hold that if there is agreement of all of the students and sages to appoint a person to yeshivah [sitting as a judge], that is, that they should make him the Head, and on the condition that this is in the Land of Israel as we have said, behold that person is fully appointed and has smichah, and may give smichah to whomever he wants. Since if you don't say that, it will never be possible to establish the High Court again, for each member of it must have smichah without question, and God already promised that it would be re-established, as it says "and I will return your judges as of old" (Isaiah 1:26). And if you say that the Messiah will appoint them even though they do not have smichah, behold this is impossible, for we have already made it clear in the introduction to our book that the Messiah will not add anything to the Torah, nor will he subtract from it, both in regard the Written and the Oral. And I hold that the Sanhedrin will be re-established before the appearance of the Messiah, and this will be one of his signs, he said: "and I will return you judges as of old, and your leaders as in the beginning, and afterwards you will be called the City of Justice", and this will be without question when God prepares the hearts of human beings, and they do many good deeds, and their passion for God will grow, and their honesty will rise up, before the coming of the Messiah.

23 כג

Study Questions:

Can we renew the s'micha according to the Rambam?

What arguments does the Rambam bring in favor of his position?

24 כד

רדב"ז על הרמב"ם לעיל

נראין לי הדברים שאם הסכימו וכו'. על לשון זה סמכו חכמי צפת והגדול שבהם לסמוך סמוכין לדון דיני קנסות ולא עלה בידם לפי שהחכם שהיה בירושלים לא הסכים עמהם ושאלו את פי בעודי במצרים ואת פי חברי ולא הסכמנו ואני הארכתי באותה תשובה לבטל דעתם ושלא דקדקו יפה בלשון רבינו חדא שהם חשבו שמה שכתב רבינו והדבר צריך הכרע קאי למאי דסליק מיניה ואם היה שם סמוך מפי סמוך וכו' והא ודאי ליתא כי דבר זה אין צריך הכרע שהרי הוא כתב למעלה שהוא בג' והוא שיהיה אחד מהם סמוך וכו' כאשר הוכחנו מהאיך דר"י בן בבא ומה שכתב הכא בא לחדש שאם יש סמוך מפי סמוך אין צריך דעת חכמי א"י אלא דן דיני קנסות ודבר ברור הוא ואין צריך הכרע א"כ ע"כ מה שכתב והדבר צריך הכרע ארישא קאי וכיון שהוא בעצמו לא פשיטא ליה איך נעשה אנחנו מעשה, ותו שהרי הקשה הרב א"כ למה היו מצטערים וכו' כי האי עובדא דר"י בן בבא ותירץ לפי שישראל מפוזרים וכו' ומה בכך והלא בא"י קרובים זה לזה והיו יכולים להסכים על הסמיכה ע"י שלוחים או ע"י אגרות אלא מאי אית לך למימר שהיו צריכים להיות כלם במעמד אחד והיה רחוק לקבצם הואיל והם מפוזרים הא למדת דאפילו למה שהבינו בדברי רבינו היה צריך שכל חכמי א"י יהיו במעמד אחד. ועוד שנראה שצריך הנסמך ראוי להורות בכל התורה כולה ורחוק בעיני שיש בדור הזה מי שראוי להורות בכל התורה כולה. ועוד שהראיה שכתב רבינו בפירוש המשנה לדבר אינה ראויה לסמוך עליה וז"ל שאם לא תאמר כן א"א שתמצא ב"ד הגדול לעולם לפי שנצטרך שיהיה כל אחד מהם סמוך על כל פנים והקב"ה יעד שישובו כמו שנאמר ואשיבה שופטיך כבראשונה ויועציך כבתחלה וכו', ומי יתן ואדע שהרי אליהו בא לפני המשיח כמבואר בכתובים ובדברי רז"ל והרי הוא סמוך ויסמוך אחרים לפני בוא המשיח. ותו דבני ראובן עתידים לבוא ולעשות מלחמות לפני בוא מלך המשיח ומאן לימא לן שלא יהיה בהן סמוך מפי סמוך והוא יסמוך אחרים. ותו שאמרו במדרשות שהמשיח יתגלה בגליל ויחזור ויתכסה ומאן לימא לן שלא יסמוך ב"ד בזמן שיתגלה בתחלה. ואפשר שמתוך קושיות אלו וזולתם לא סמך על מה שכתב בפירוש המשנה וכתב בפסק והדבר צריך הכרע והרוצה לעמוד על עיקרן של דברים יעיין באותה תשובה כי אין כאן מקום להאריך:

25 כה

Radbaz on the Rambam above

…the proof that our Rabbi wrote, in his commentary to the Mishnah is not worthy to be relied on, "Since if you don't say that, it will never be possible to establish the High Court again"! And who can give that I will know, that, behold, Eliyahu will come before the Messiah as it says in the writings and the teachings of the Rabbis, and he has smichah, and he will give smichah to others before the coming of the Messiah. And also the sons of Reuven will come in the future and carry out wars before the Messiah comes, and who can say that none of them has smichah…

For the rest, see live translation :)

26 כו

David ben Solomon ibn (Abi) Zimra, also called Radbaz after the initials of his name, Rabbi David iBn Zimra, was an early Acharon of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries who was a leading posek, rosh yeshiva, chief rabbi, and author of more than 3,000 responsa (halakhic decisions) as well as several scholarly works [Wiki]

27 כז

Study Questions:

Can you restate why the Radbaz rejects the Rambam's idea that we can renew the s'micha in your own words?

How is the Radbaz's thinking about s'micha different than the Rambam's?

28 כח

Part Three: What is Democracy?

29 כט

חזון הדמוקרטיה בימות המשיח[1] של הרח"ה: הרב חיים הירשנזון

1. ימות המשיח

2. טעם הגדות המשיחיות הבלתי טבעיות

3. גם משיח ככל מלך צריך להמנות על ידי נביא

וכל זה[2] הוא מצד הדין והחיוב עלינו, שאנחנו נדע מה נעשה כאשר תשקוט הארץ מן רעש המלחמה. ובשלחן השלום יקיימו הממלכות את הבטחת מלכות אנגליא ארץ ישראל לעם ישראל, ונתנהג על פי תורת ישראל בעזרת אלוקי ישראל.

אך מצד האמונה אנו מאמינים כי יוֹסִיף ה' שֵׁנִית יָדוֹ לִקְנוֹת אֶת עַמּוֹ[3] ועוד יקבץ עלינו לנקבצנו[4]. שאחרי אשר נתישב בארץ באין מחריד אז יופיע עָלֵינוּ רוּחַ מִמָּרוֹם[5] יצא חֹטֶר מִגֵּזַע יִשָׁי וְנֵצֶר מִשָּׁרָשָׁיו יִפְרֶה וְנָחָה עָלָיו רוּחַ ה' רוּחַ חָכְמָה וּבִינָה רוּחַ עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה רוּחַ דַּעַת וְיִרְאַת ה' וְהָיָה צֶדֶק אֵזוֹר מָתְנָיו וְהָאֱמוּנָה אֵזוֹר חֲלָצָיו ויעמוד לְנֵס עַמִּים אֵלָיו גּוֹיִם יִדְרֹשׁוּ וְהָיְתָה מְנֻחָתוֹ כָּבוֹד (ישעיה יא:א-יב). ועל אותו הזמן כתב הרמב"ם ז"ל בפ"ב מה' מלכים ה"ה לא יהיה שם לא חרב ולא מלחמה ולא קנאה ותחרות שהטובה תהי משופעת הרבה וכל המעדנים מצוים כעפר ולא יהיה עסק כל העולם אלא לדעת את כבוד ה' בלבד. ולפיכך יהיו ישראל חכמים גדולים ויודעים דברים חסומים וישיגו את דעת בוראם כפי כח האדם שנא' [לֹא יָרֵעוּ וְלֹא יַשְׁחִיתוּ בְּכָל-הַר קָדְשִׁי] כִּי מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ דֵּעָה אֶת ה' כַּמַּיִם לַיָּם מְכַסִּים עכ"ל.

וכל זה לקוח מדברי הנביאים והגדות חז"ל ידועות אשר מטרות כל ההגדות בהבטחות למעלה מן הטבע הוא להודיע שכל עוד עולם כמנהגו נוהג ואדם ישלוט בְּאָדָם לְרַע לוֹ[6] אִישׁ לְבִצְעוֹ[7] ירדוף לא יהיה מלך לישר'[אל] כי לא נבאו הנביאים מלך לישראל טרם יצמיח קרן לבית דוד. אבל הקיבוץ הראשון טרם יוסיף שנית ידו לקנות את שאר עמו (ישעיהו יא:יא) יהיה להם הנהגה בלא מלך רק בסדר שראוי לפי המצב הציוויליאזאטציאן [=הציוויליזציה] אז כאשר ישתחרר העולם כולו משעבוד מלכיות אשר אין דרך היותר נאות להעמיד את העולם על עמודי הצדק והמשרים רק הדרך הדעמאקראטי [=הדרך הדמוקרטית] בלא שעבוד מלכיות אפילו ממלך ישראל. אבל הנבואות המנבאים על מלך המשיח המה על הזמן אשר לא יהיה עוד קנאה ותחרות בעולם רק ימלא הארץ דעה את ה'. והמלך יהיה רק להוליך את העם בעצת ה' ולהורות ולהשפיע ידיעות ה' וכל מדע לפי מדרגתו הגדולה, וכל ישראל וכל העמים כולם יכירו אותו ויקבלו מלכותו ברוחניות עליהם ואזי לא נצטרך עוד לממלכה דעמאקראטית כי הדעמאקראטי תהי בטבע האנוש, ולא תצטרך עוד לממשלה ומשטר כלל כי כל הטוב אשר אנו מבקשים על ידי הממלכה והמשטר יהיה בטבע האנושית המתוקנה וישאף רק אל הדעת והתבונה.[8]

והאמונה היא כי המלך המשיח הזה ימלוך ע"פ אליהו הנביא היא מצד הדין שאין מעמידים מלך אלא על פי נביא, והארץ תחלק אז לשבטיה, כפי המבואר בספר יחזקאל ולפי קבלת חז"ל שאליהו יבא לטהר וליחס המשפחות לבית אבותם לשבטיהם (קדושין ע"א ע"א וברש"י ד"ה אליהו). ורק אז תחזור מלכות בית דוד ליושנה, ורק אז יבנה הבית המקדש וה' יהיה לחוֹמַת אֵשׁ סָבִיב [9] וְגָר זְאֵב עִם כֶּבֶשׂ וְנָמֵר עִם גְּדִי יִרְבָּץ וְאַרְיֵה כַּבָּקָר יֹאכַל תֶּבֶן[10] וכל היעודים הנפלאים אשר נבאו הוזי יה.

[1] הטקסט הוא סעיף ט' של תשובת המלך והקרבנות בשו"ת מלכי בקדש של הרח"ה (ר' חיים הירשנזון). הכותרת לא במקור. וכן הוספתי חלוקה לפסקאות, מספור לכותרות, וגם את כותרות הסעיפים לתוך הטקסט (במקור הן מופיעות רק לפני הטקסט). ההדגשים גם לא במקור.

[2] באומרו "כל זה" כוונת הרח"ה לטענותיו בסעיפים הקודמים לפיהן מצות מינוי מלך חלה רק כאשר יש צורך למחות את זכר עמלק. זאת אומרת שהצורך למחות את זכר עמלק הוא תנאי הכרחי לקיום מצות מינוי מלך. מכיוון שכבר נמחה זכר עמלק, ואין יותר צורך למחות, לא חלה עלינו מצות מינוי מלך ואי אפשר לקיים מצוה זו בימינו. באופן זה מפרש הרח"ה את ההלכה כך שהיא תואמת את עמדתו העקרונית שכבר הגיע זמן הדמוקרטיה ועידן המלכים עבר מן העולם. אבל אם לא נכון מבחינה הלכתית ומוסרית למנות מלך, מדוע מקורות המסורת מדברים על המלך המשיח בעתיד לבוא? בסעיף זה, הרח"ה מסביר את משמעות מוטיב המלך המשיח בחזון שלו אודות הדמוקרטיה וזכויות האדם.

[3] על פי ישעיהו יא:יא.

[4] על פי ישעיהו נו:ח. נְאֻם אדושם ה' מְקַבֵּץ נִדְחֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹד אֲקַבֵּץ עָלָיו לְנִקְבָּצָיו.

[5] על פי ישעיהו לב:טו

[6] קהלת ח:ט אֶת כָּל זֶה רָאִיתִי וְנָתוֹן אֶת לִבִּי לְכָל מַעֲשֶׂה אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ עֵת אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַט הָאָדָם בְּאָדָם לְרַע לוֹ.

[7] כנראה על פי ישעיהו נו:יא.

[8] מעניין להשוות דברים אלה לדברים שכתב הרב קוק בטללי אורות פרק ח' בנוגע להתפתחות האדם בעתיד לבוא לעבר צמחונות ומשפט צדק כלפי בעלי חיים: "אבל מהלך האידיאלים ההולכים ומתפתחים לא ישאר סגור לעד; כשם שתצא השאיפה הדימוקרטית החיצונה ע"י ההשתלמות השכלית והמוסרית הכוללת, כש'לא יְלַמְּדוּ עוֹד אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ וְאִישׁ אֶת אָחִיו לדעת את ה' כִּי כוּלָּם יֵדְעוּ אוֹתִי לְמִקְטַנָּם וְעַד גְּדוֹלָם' [על פי ירמיהו לא:לג], כן תצא השאיפה הצפונה למשפטי בעלי חיים מנרתיקה בבא עתה."

[9] זכריה ב ט.

[10] על פי ישעיהו יא:ו-ז.

30 ל

The Vision of Democracy in the Messianic Era[1]

  1. The Days of the Mashiach
  2. The Reason for Supernatural Aggadot about the Mashiach
  3. The Mashiach like all Kings must be appointed by a Prophet

And all this[2] is in regard to the law and the obligation upon us, so that we will know what to do when the land is quiet from the noise of war, and at the table of peace the nations will fulfill the promise of the Kingdom of England: The Land of Israel to the People of Israel, and we will behave according to the Torah of Israel with the help of the God of Israel.

But in regard to faith, we believe that God will send forth God's hand a second time to recover God's people[3], and will yet gather us together into our ingathering.[4] That after we establish ourselves in the land with no one to terrorize us, then a spirit from above will settle upon us and there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Yishay, and a branch shall grow out of his roots: and the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord and righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins and he will stand for an sign to the peoples, unto him shall the nations seek; and his resting-place shall be glorious. And about that time the Rambam, may his memory be for a blessing, wrote in Chapter 2 of the Laws of Kings, Halacha 5, there will be no sword nor war nor jealousy nor competition, for there will be great abundance and delicacies available like dust and the whole world will seek nothing but to know the glory of God alone. Thus Israel will be great sages and know hidden things and grasp the knowledge of their creator to the utmost human capacity as it is said (Isaiah 11:9) "[They will not hurt nor destroy in all my Holy Mountain for] The knowledge of God will fill the earth as the waters cover the seas."

And all of this is quoted from the words of the prophets and the stories of the Rabbis [and] it is known that the purpose of all the stories in making supernatural promises is to make clear that for as long as the world follows its normal course and human beings exploit and oppress each other, there will not be a king in Israel, because the prophets did not prophesize about a king for Israel before the House of David is renewed. But during the first ingathering, before God sends forth God's hand a second time to redeem the remnant of God's people (Isaiah 11:11), they will have leadership with no king according to the form of government most in keeping with the development of civilization, when the whole world is liberated from political oppression, since there is no better way to establish the world on pillars of justice and fairness than the way of democracy, with no tyranny, not even of the king of Israel. However, the prophecies speaking of the King Messiah relate to a time in which there will be no more jealousy and competition in the world, for the "world will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). And the king will only guide the nation with the help of God, to teach and to spread knowledge of God and all science in keeping with his great level, and all Israel and all the nations, all of them, will recognize him and accept his spiritual kingship upon them and then there will be no need for democratic government, for democracy will be in the nature of humanity, and there will be no need of any government or regime at all because all the good that we seek through the state and government will be in the nature of enlightened humanity [אנושיות מתוקנה] who will seek only knowledge and understanding.

And the faith is that this king Messiah will rule according to Eliyahu because the law is that a king may not be established except by a prophet, and the land will then be divided by the tribes, as it is explained in the book of Ezekiel according to the tradition of the sages that Eliyahu will purify and clarify the family lineages according to the tribes (Kiddushin 71a and Rashi there). And only then will the House of David return to its standing, and then the temple will be built and God will be a wall of fire around it, and the wolf will dwell with the lamb and leopard will lie down with the kid and the lion like cattle will eat grass and all the wonderful eventualities prophesized by the seers of God.

[1] This section is taken from the T'shuvah (=halachic decision) The King and the Sacrifices in the Rakha's responsa Malki Bakodesh, Vol. 1, Section 9. The title is not in the original. I also added additional division into paragraphs, numbered the subtitles (which appear in the original) and added the subtitles to the body of the text (in the original they appear only at the beginning).

[2] "All this" refers to the Rakha's (=Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn) discussion in the previous sections of this Teshuvah. There he argues that we are only commanded to appoint a king of Israel in order to destroy the memory of Amalek. Since Amalek have already been destroyed, there is no obligation to appoint a king. Thus Rabbi Hirschensohn interprets the halacha so that it is in keeping with s'vara (reason and morality) which teach that the time of monarchy is over and today democracy is the only acceptable form of government (this argument appears in the question for this T'shuva and is brought in the materials for this course in the Sources Kotel). But if we are no longer obligated to appoint a king, and the time of monarchy has passed, why do so many Jewish sources speak about the King Messiah in the End of Days? In this section, the Rakha explains the role of the King Messiah in his vision of Democracy and Human Rights.

[3] Following Isaiah 11:11.

[4] Following Isaiah 56:8.

31 לא

Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn (1857 – 1935) was a prolific author, rabbi, thinker, and early proponent of Religious Zionism. Translation by Shaiya Rothberg

32 לב

Study Questions

1. Rabbi Hirschensohn distinguishes above between two different periods in the development of humanity. What are the two periods? How are the different?

2. What does the Rabbi mean when he says that "human nature will become democratic"? Why will this new democratic human nature make all states and governments unnecessary?

3. Based on the tone of the last paragraph, do you think that Rabbi Hirschensohn really believes that one-day God will be a burning fire around the Temple and that lions will become vegetarian? If not, what is the meaning of this part of his vision?

33 לג

Pirush (by Shaiya Rothberg)

Part One: What is "D'oraita"?

Source 3: The Guide to the Perplexed III:41

In this section, the Rambam lays out a basic problem of the Torah as a political project: People need to believe that the Law (=Torah) doesn't change, otherwise they won't obey it. At the same time, the Law must change, because the purpose of the Law is to govern humanity, and humanity changes. So there is a conflict between the truth about the Law, that it must change in order for it to fulfill its divine function in governing humanity, and what people need to believe about it, that it is fixed, perfect and divine. This means that some creative story telling for the masses is necessary in order for the Law to do its job.

God (through Moshe's intellect) solves this problem by distinguishing between two elements in the law: 1) The divine part and 2) the human part. The divine part is, as we will see, "D'Oraita", what God Godself actually commands. The human part, which we will see is "D'Rabbanan", and it changes with the times.

Given this approach, the Rambam has a clear interest in severely limiting what halachot of Jewish tradition are considered D'Oraita. If too much of halacha is D'Oraita, it will be hard to argue that only the D'Rabbanan part changes. On the other hand, if most of halacha is D'Rabannan, then one can reasonably argue that only the D'Rabbanan part changes while the divine core remains unchanging, perfect and ultimately authoritative.

Source 6: Sefer HaMitzvot, Shorashim 2

In Sefer Hamitsvot, the Rambam lays out the architecture of the Law as he sees it, to borrow Prof. Moshe Halbertal's terminology (see the references section). He presents the sum total of the divine core of the law - that which is D'Oraita - through his definition of the 613 commandments. These commandments then become the underlying structure of the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam's great halachic work, around which he organizes all the D'Rabbanan halacha. The divine core is like the skeleton and the rabbinic legislation is like the flesh.

In the Introduction to Sefer Hamitsvot, the Rambam lays out his principles for deciding what is D'Oraita and what is D'Rabbanan. Not surprisingly, he finds that only a tiny portion of the Talmud and halacha are D'Oraita. Most of it is D'Rabbanan. An important part of his interpretation rests on his claim that halachot learned from the text of the Torah through the 13 midot (methods of interpretation) are D'Rabbanan. The midot are true and reliable, he says, but what is learned from them has the status of human, not divine, legislation. D'Oraita halachot are only those about which it is stated that they are D'Oraita, and about which there is no disagreement among the sages.

Source 8: The Ramban's Commentary to the Rambam's Sefer Hamitsvot

In short, the Ramban thinks that the Rambam is way out of line in his definition of D'Oraita. The Ramban thinks that the truth is the opposite: All the halachot learned in the Talmud from verses in the Torah, particularly those based on the 13 midot, are part of the divine core of the Law. Only if the sages say that the halacha is D'Rabbanan is it so. The vast majority of the halachot in the Talmud are D'Oraita! See Rabbi Roth's chapter on this point (references section).

It seems clear (again following Prof. Halbertal's analysis), that the Ramban is more or less right about the Talmud. This is somewhat complicated by the possibility that not all the layers of the Talmud know about or believe that D'Oraita and D'Rabbanan are a thing. Early layers may not have thought this way about the halacha at all. But later layers of the Talmud already think that halacha is divided up into these two categories, and it seems clear that nobody other than the Rambam limits D'Oraita to things about which it is said explicitly that they are so and about which there is no disagreement. It's his chidush. And his motivation also seems pretty clear: He wants to limit the Law to a narrow core so that it won't change (or at least the masses of people can plausibly be asked to believe that it doesn't change). It could also be that the Rambam is attracted to the idea of a fixed, perfect, divine core for the Law for spiritual and aesthetic reasons, so that he can build around it – in perfect systematic order - his Mishneh Torah containing all halacha d'oraita and d'rabbanan.

The Ramban, on the other hand, is not party to the Rambam's philosophical-political interpretation of Torah. He's not concerned with convincing the masses that the Law does or doesn't change. If God gave us the principles of interpretation, the midot, and we use them to interpret the words of the Torah as teaching a certain halacha, then that halacha is D'Oraita - it is what God commands. God can command whatever God wants, and God chooses that God's word be determined by how the sages learn the verses according to the midot.

It would seem to follow that if there were sages alive today who had smicha, and they interpreted the words of the Torah in a new way, then that would be what God commands now. The Talmud isn't over and the Law is not fixed. In a way, revelation continues to unfold through the sages.

So, one might ask, why don't we continue to act like the sages of the Talmud today? In this section the Ramban doesn't address this question, but many sages would say that the reason is clear: We have lost the smicha, the ultimate Torah authority, and thus we cannot act like the sages of the Talmud (see the EJ article below).

Part Two: What is "S'michah"?

Sources 12-14: EJ and Bavli on Smicha and Rabbinic Ordination

It seems pretty clear from the EJ article and sugyot on S'micha that the relationship between the concept of Rabbinic ordination and the practice of laying of the hands or s'micha is complex and unclear. Based on the questions asked by the sages, and the lack of answers to some of them, it seems like a lot is unknown to the Talmud about what s'micha is and how it works. Rabbinic ordination sounds like a pretty mundane public kind of authority, while "s'micha", which seems to refer to priests, sacrifices and other highly numinous religious symbols (in the sense of Rev. Rudolf Otto), sounds like something more magical/enchanted/religious.

If the Rabbis of the Talmud get their authority by "ordination" according to some set of institutional rules, that makes it sound like something rather human and political. But if they get their authority by way of a laying of the hands, like we read about in the Bible, which extends the authority which God Godself bestowed on Moshe, then being a Rabbi of the Talmud sounds more like being a kind of supernatural super hero than like being a public servant. I'm not sure whether this connotation is what's at stake for the Talmudic sages themselves, but certainly it is important for a thinker like the Radbaz who we will see below. The Rambam's approach, as we will see (following the analysis of Prof. Blidstein, see the references section), approaches S'micha in a more political-naturalistic way. He's quite comfortable calling it simply "ordination" (as we will see).

Sources 17-18: The Rambam on Smicha (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Sanhedrin)

In these sources, the Rambam makes it clear that he thinks of s'micha as rabbinic ordination, not necessarily as something supernatural. Following Prof. Blidstein, it seems likely that the Rambam was influenced by the Jerusalem Talmud's understanding of Rabbinical ordination as public authority rather than by the Bavli's more supernatural sounding name for it. This fits the Rambam's overall naturalistic political interpretation of Judaism. More on this below.

Sources 20-21: The Rambam on Renewing the S'micha

Here the Rambam throws a bombshell resulting in generations of halachic battles: Can we renew the s'micha ourselves, naturalistically, or must the s'micha be renewed by God or in some other supernatural way? In these sources, the Rambam lays out a naturalistic and political interpretation of s'michah according to which it is essentially public authority. The Jewish community – the body politic – carries within itself the authority to renew the s'michah. The s'micha can only be renewed in Eretz Yisrael because the Land is part of the essence of the body politic of Israel (that's the subject of a different shiur)

See Source 12 above for a description of the battles over renewing the s'micha that occurred in the sixteenth century and in the twentieth century as a result of the Rambam's interpretation.

Source 22: The Radbaz rejects the Rambam's interpretation

One of the players in the 16th century controversy over renewing the s'micha was the Radbaz. His rejection of the Rambam's position is more than just a disagreement over the interpretation of a text. The Radbaz thinks of s'micha as something magical, numinous, enchanted, not something naturalistic and political like the Rambam. What we see here are two conflicting notions not only of s'micha, but of the meaning of Judaism, and the nature of the world, altogether.

Part Three: What is Democracy

Sources 27-28: The Rakha (Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn) on Democracy

The Rakha was a religious Zionist thinker deeply engaged in synthesizing democracy and humanism with tradition Judaism. In his halachic writings, he lays out an expansive halachic framework for a modern liberal-democratic halachic state. (See the link to my doctorate on this subject in the reference section). In this piece, he approaches the idea of democracy not only as a form of government, but as a foundational human/Torah ideal. When the human character internalizes democracy, all forms of coercion will become unnecessary. In the spirit of John Dewey, a 20th century thinker who probably impacted on the Rakha, democracy is a lofty moral and spiritual ideal. For the Rakha, the internalization of democracy represents a major part of the redemption of the human species and the realization of her divine purpose.


In this shiur, we've explored three ideas: The Ramban on D'Oraita, the Rambam on S'micha and the Rakha on Democracy. What happens if we adopt all three of these positions, interpreting each one in light of the others? Surely, we are treading on unknown territory: Not one of these three thinkers would accept the idea that I'd like to explore. But treading on unknown territory is what makes it interesting :)

I'd like to suggest that according to the Ramban, sages who have s'micha are free to interpret and re-interpret the verses of the Bible to determine what is D'Oraita law. For as long as there is s'micha, the Talmud never ends. We don't just learn the Talmud, we are the Talmud (if we have s'micha).

If we also accept the Rambam's approach to s'micha, then we understand that s'micha is a form of public authority invested in the people of Israel. That's why when all the sages who are recognized by the people elect an elder over them, that elder has s'micha, just like Moshe Rabbeinu.

If we also accept the Rakha's radical democratic-spiritual-religious ideal, then we might accept the Rambam's idea that s'micha is invested in the Jewish body politic, but reject the idea that we should transfer that authority to an elected leadership. Instead, we should all develop that potential within ourselves, individually and collectively.

If we combine the Rambam and the Rakha in this spirit, we find that all Jews – at least all Jews living and studying Torah – have s'michah. If we add the Ramban, we not only study Talmud, we are the Talmud. The revelation of God's will as manifest in D'Oraita law is ongoing, unfolding, even in our time. We are Knesset Yisrael (in the Zoharic sense), the Oral Torah, the vessel through which God's Word unfolds.

34 לד

References and Background Reading

בלידשטיין, יעקב, עקרונות מדיניים במשנת הרמב"ם, הוצאת בר אילן.

הלברטל, משה, "ספר המצוות לרמב"ם והארכיטקטורה של ההלכה", תרביץ נט תש"ן, עמ' 457-480

רוטברג, שעיה, הדמוקרטיזציה של המסורת המדינית היהודיתמשנתו המדינית של הרב חיים הירשנזון ומקורותיה התורניים, חיבור לשם קבלת התואר דוקטור לפילוסופיה, האוניברסיטה העברית 2008

Roth, Joel, The Halachic Process - A Systemic Analysis, New York: The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1986, Chapter 2.