By COLlive staff
Rabbi Yosef Barber heads the Smicha program at Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim Chovevei Torah in Crown Heights. He recently spoke with COLlive.com about the purpose of semicha nowadays and the growing popularity of rabbinical ordination institutions.
Can you give us a quick overview about the concept of Smicha?
Classic Smicha, 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.
How is this compared to the type of smicha we have today?
This legal form of Smicha stopped at some point during the times of the Amoraim. Classic Smicha can only be conferred in Eretz Yisroel by someone who has himself received Smicha in an unbroken chain leading back to Moshe Rabbeinu. Religious persecution and the fact that the main yeshivos eventually moved outside of Eretz Yisroel made it impossible for Smicha to continue.
How would you describe the purpose of Smicha nowadays?
There is a mistaken notion that our Smicha is just a diploma, a certificate attesting to the recipient’s mastery of the subject matter. In truth, however, although our Smicha does not carry the same legal authority as the classic Smicha, 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.
So Smicha for everyone…
It seems pretty clear that the Rebbe wants all talmidim that are capable to learn for Smicha. 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 Smicha ordination. The Rebbe notes 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 Smicha differ from yeshiva-style learning?
Yeshiva-style learning puts much emphasis on the underlying reasoning, whereas learning aliba dehilchisa focuses more on the rules that develop from the sugya. Say, for example, Rashi and Tosfos explain a particular piece of Gemara differently.
In yeshiva, 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 Smicha or does every institution have their own requirements?
Besides for being a G-d fearing individual with several years of experience of 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.
Basar Bechalav seems the most practical from the subjects you mentioned.
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.
Lubavitch Smicha programs are more popular than ever nowadays…
Smicha 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 Smicha programs also has its drawbacks. Many Smicha programs are not part of a conventional yeshiva setting. This has led to the unfortunate reality that many students view their Smicha studies as their first step out of yeshiva. They approach Smicha 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 Smicha program.
Tell us about the program you run.
The program is part of Beis Midrash Chovevei Torah, 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 Smicha programs. We offer a nice dorm, good food, and most importantly a conventional yeshiva environment with comfortable learning conditions.
There is a structured curriculum with organized testing. Daily shiurim outline the sugya from its source in the Gemara to the conclusion of the poskim. We also provide helpful summaries, breaking down complex subjects in a unique format. And limited class size ensures that every talmid receives personal guidance and hadracha.
Thanks for talking with us.
Thank you for the opportunity. More information about our program can be found at www.SemichaClass.com.