I learned much Torah from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students. ---- Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (Maakos 10a)
The Sanhedrin (Hebrew: סַנְהֶדְרִין sanhedrîn, Greek: συνέδριον, synedrion, "sitting together," hence "assembly" or "council") was an assembly of seventy to seventy three people appointed in every city in the biblical Land of Israel. The Great Sanhedrin was made up of a Chief/Prince/Leader called Nasi (at some times this position may have been held by the Kohen Gadol or the High Priest), a vice chief justice (Av Beit Din), and sixty-nine general members.
In the Second Temple period, the Great Sanhedrin met in the Hall of Hewn Stones in the Temple in Jerusalem. The court convened every day except festivals and Shabbos. The penultimate binding decision of the Sanhedrin was in 358, when the Hebrew Calendar was adopted.
After the destruction of the Temple -- because the Rabbinic Jews had avoided participation in the revolt -- Yochanan ben Zakkai was given permission by the Romans to re-establish the Sanhedrin in Yavneh.
Under Rabban Gamliel, Rabbinic Judaism became the only legal form of Judaism permitted in the Roman empire. All other forms of Judaism: Sadduccean, Samaritan and early Christianity were persecuted by the Roman authorities as seditious.
During the Persian-Roman wars, stability in Rome declined; emperors were being replaced or assassinated with increasing frequency. Relations became strained between Rome and the Sanhedrin over the years, because the Rabbinic leadership either sided, or was suspected of siding with Persia, the seat of the Jewish Exilarch. This collimated in the crushing of the Sanhedrin a hundred years after Rome had declared Christianity its official religion.
The Sanhedrin was dissolved after continued persecution by the Roman Empire.
Rambam taught (Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11,12, written around 1180 CE) that if the sages in Eretz Yisroel would agree to somech (ordain) one of themselves, they could do so, and that the man of their choice could then ordain others.
Over the centuries, there have been attempts to revive the institution, such as the Grand Sanhedrin convened by Napoleon Bonaparte and modern attempts in Israel. (See below)
For an incisive insight into Halachic ramifications of Semicha and Sanhedrin, and to see synopisis of Semicha and Sanhedrin Controversies, By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff (israel.aish.com/Sanhedrin) scroll down near end of project.
Maimonides on Reinstating the Sanhedrin Rabbi Riskin Parsha Vayikra
Presidents of the Sanhedrin
- Zerubavel ben She'altiel
- Yohoshua ben Yehotzadak Nechemiah Mordechai Chaggai Zechariah Malachi Shimon HaTzaddik
- Yosei ben Yoezer (170-140/161 BCE) יוסי בן יועזר / Yosei ben Yochanan Ish Yerushalayim - Av Beit Din
- Yeshoshua ben Perachiah (140 - 100 BCE) יהושע בן פרחיה / Nitai ha'Arbeli ABD
- Yehuda ben Tavai (100 - 60 BCE) יהודה בן טבאי or Shimon ben Shetach שמעון בן שטח ABD
- Shemaya (65 - c.31 BCE) שמעיה / Avtalyon ABD
- Hillel Hazaken, "The Elder" (c.31 BCE - 9 CE) הלל הזקן / Shammai ABD
- Rabbi Shimon I Ben Hillel Hanassi (c.10 - c.30 CE) רבי שמעון (הראשון) בן הלל הנשיא
- Rabban Gamiliel l HaZaken "The Elder" (c.30 - c.50 CE) רבן גמליאל (הראשון) הזקן
- Rabban Shimon II haZaken ben Gamliel I haZaken (c.50 - c.70 CE) רבן שמעון (השני) בן גמליאל הזקן killed in the big rebelion.
- Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai (70 - 75 CE) רבן יוחנן בן זכאי
- Rabban Gamliel II "of Yavneh" (c.75 - 120 CE) רבן גמליאל (השני) ד'יבנה
- R' Elezar ben Azariah (in parallel - 102 CE) במקביל לרבן גמליאל - רבי אלעזר בן עזריה
- Rabban Shimon III ben Gamliel II (c.142 - c.180 CE) רבן שמעון (השלישי) בן גמליאל השני
- R' Yehuda HaNassi I (c.180 - c.192/220 CE) רבי יהודה (הראשון) הנשיא
- Rabbi Gamliel III beRabbi (ben Judah I) (192/220 - 200/240) רבי גמליאל השלישי, ברבי
- R' Yehuda Il Nesiah (I) (200/240 - 235/270) רבי יהודה (השני) - נשיאה
- Rabbi Gamiliel lV (235/270 - 240/300) רבי גמליאל הרביעי
- R' Yehudah lIl Nesiah (II) (240/300 - 305/330) רבי יהודה השלישי, נשיאה השני
- ???? R' Gamiliel IV (270/305 - 290/308) ????
- ???? R' Yehudah lll Nesiah (290/308 - 320/351) ????
- R' Hillel ll (Nesiah III) (c.320/330 - c.365) רבי הלל השני - נשיאה השלישי
- R' Gamiliel V (c.365 - c.385) רבי גמליאל החמישי
- R' Yehudah lV (Nesiah IV) (c.385 - c.400) רבי יהודה הרביעי, נשיאה הרביעי
- R' Gamiliel VI "Last Nassi" (c.400 - 425) רבי גמליאל השישי, אחרון נשיאי הסנהדרין
Termination of the Jewish Patriarchate by Emperor Theodosius, Sanhedrin made illegal - 429 - ביטול הסנהדרין הגדולה ע"י הקיסר תאודוסיוס
- Sutra l son of the 30th Exilarch Mar-Zutra ll, 550 CE
- The Grand Sanhedrin of Bonaparte
- Histoire et de recherches Juives/le grand sanhedrin de Napoleon Video lecture in French
Alain Michel est historien et rabbin. Il est ancien responsable national des EIF dans les années 70, Il naît en 1954 à Nancy et effectue des études d'Histoire a l’Université de la Sorbonne où il soutient un doctorat sur l'histoire du Mouvement des Eclaireuses et Eclaireurs Israélites de France.
- Sanhedrin History
- The Napoleonic Sanhedrin Halachic Foundations and Rabbinical Legacy
- The Grand Sanhedrin of Napoleon
- Semikhah (Sanhedrin 14a)
- Chain of Ordination
- "Rabbinic Authority", by Michael. S. Berger
Attempts to re-introduce the Sanhedrin
Rabbi Yaakov Beirav
Rabbi Jacob Berab In 1538 Rabbi Berab assembled 25 of the most leading Rabbis of Israel, who at the time were located in Safed, and re-instituted the Semicha. They convened and ordained Rabbi Berab as their "Chief Rabbi".
The Rabbis of Jerusalem felt a slight on their honor and declared the election invalid, and a major dispute ensued. Some Rabbis held that it wasn't possible to renew the Semicha, but Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, took the position that the procedure was valid and he was one of four Rabbi ordained by Rabbi Berab.
Rabbi Karo in turn ordained Rabbi Moshe Alshich who in turn ordained Rabbi Hayyim Vital the prime disciple of the Ari Hakodosh.
Rabbi Israel of Shklov
Rabbi Yisroel of Shklov (Attempted in 1830 to re-establish the Sanhedrin). In Rabbi Yisroel's lifetime the Turkish empire was crumbling, and for the first time in almost a thousand years westerners were being allowed into Yemen. Scientific journals of the time seriously speculated that the remnants of the lost ten tribes would be found.
Based on Jewish traditions and "scientific evidence" Rabbi Yisroel sent an emissary to obtain Semicha from these lost tribes. In the end, no remnant was found, however the responses involved in this shed light on the Vilna Gaon's position that it was permissible to attempt to re-establish the Sanhedrin.
Rabbi Aharon Mendel haCohen
Attempt by Rabbi Aharon Mendel haCohen in 1901. Rabbi Mendel collected the approval of approximately 500 leading Rabbis in favor of the renewal of Semicha according to Maimonides. His involvement in the founding of Agudath Israel and the breakout of World War I distracted him from implementing this plan.
Rabbi Zvi Kovsker
Attempt by Rabbi Zvi Kovsker in 1940. Rabbi Zvi Kovsker came to Israel from Soviet Russia. Seeing the condition of Jews in the years leading up to World War II, he undertook an effort to contact and work with many Rabbinic leaders in Israel towards getting their approval for the renewal of Semicha, and the reestablishment of a Sanhedrin, as an authentic government for the Jewish people (this was before the establishment of the State of Israel).
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon
Rabbi Yehudah Leib Maimon attempted to re introduce the Sanhedrin in 1949 and onwards. Rabbi Maimon was one of the founders of the Mizrachi movement, and one of the leaders of the early religious Zionists.
Rabbi Maimon proposed turning the Israeli Rabbinate into a Sanhedrin. The perceived subordinate position to the government of Israel was compared to Napoleon's Sanhedrin, and led to strong vocal opposition by most Haredi rabbis. Israel's Chief Ashkenazi rabbi at the time Rabbi Isaac Herzog, was hesitant to support this goal, and the idea eventually died away.
Nascent 2004 Sanhedrin
Nascent Sanhedrin Formed 2004 - A group of rabbis representing varied Orthodox communities in Israel undertook a ceremony in Tiberias where the original Sanhedrin was disbanded in 2004.
The members of the developing Sanhedrin stress that they are still in a transitional phase, and that though today's members are Torah scholars and experts in many secular and scientific fields, every one of them has agreed to step aside the moment a more deserving candidate should step forward.
￼Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz, teacher, philosopher, social critic and prolific author who has been hailed by Time magazine as a "once-in-a-millennium scholar."
Rabbi Yoel Shwartz, outstanding Torah scholar and prolific writer has published over 200 seforim. He is a product of the great Yeshivot Poneviz .
￼Rabbi Dov Levanoni, Torah scholar and author of ha-Mikdash: Teur Bet ha-Mikdash ha-Sheni lefi shitat ha-Rambam HaMikdash.
￼Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, was the Rosh Yeshiva and spiritual leader of Yamit. Rabbi Ariel is a scholar of great renown, and is also the author of many Hebrew works, including the highly acclaimed "Atlas of the Biblical Boundaries of the Land of Israel." He served in the paratrooper brigade which liberated the Western Wall in the Six Day War of 1967, and was one of the first soldiers to reach the Wall.
￼Rabbi Yehudah 'Edri, Torah scholar, writer and educator.
Rabbi Dov Meir Shtein, a pioneer in the Sanhedrin's renewal for the last 20 years, and has been secretary of the Sanhedrin since its inception.
- Semichah , Rabbi Halberstam
- Bnei Noah Issues
- The Sanhedrin Reestablished (Part I)
- The Sanhedrin Reestablished (Part II)
- The Sanhedrin Reestablished (Part III)
Napoleon Bonaparte's "Grand Sanhedrin" 1807
Napoleon. Emperor of France, formed the Conference of Notables to deal with the relationship of the Jews and the French State, which was called a "Sanhedrin" although was unrelated to the Rambam's teachings.
It consisted of 112 deputies from all parts of the French empire. At the assembly, which was led by the financier Abraham Furtado and Rabbi Joseph David Sinzheim, the delegates were confronted with a questionnaire on polygamy, usury, loyalty, and intermarriage.
Pleased with their answers, Napoleon decided to re-establish the Sanhedrin under his careful direction, with representatives from all congregations. Even though the assembly was to be held on the Sabbath (some claim this was a loyalty litmus test), they decided to attend and not risk the wrath of the Emperor.
The Grand Sanhedrin of Napoleon took place at the Town Hall of Paris in February 1807. The following members attended.
- 1- Joseph David SINZHEIM, Chief Rabbi of Strasbourg, (b. 1745 Trier, d. 11.11.1812 Paris, buried at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery), son of Isaac Sinzheim, himself a rabbi who died 1767 Niedernai. He married in 1765 Esther Cerf Berr sister of Hirtz Cerf Beer (1726-1793). A daughter, Gittele, married 1780 Bischheim, his cousin, the rabbi Abraham Auerbach, (1763 Bouxwiller - 1845 Bonn), son of Rabbi Selig Auerbach of Bouxwiller. Two daughters were born. One of them married the poet Lipman Moshe Büschental (1784 Strasbourg-1818 Berlin). Abraham Auerbach then married Esther Oppenheim and they had 16 more children and many rabbis among the descendants. In Paris, JD Sinzheim lived at his nephew’s, Baruch Cerf-Berr, 21 rue Neuve des Mathurins
- 2- Josué (Sauveur, Benoît) SEGRE, (1729 (?) Vercelli - 1809 Paris); first vice-President of the Grand Sanhedrin, member of the Assemblee des Notables, member of the Central Consistory in 1808. – Representing the department of Sesia. He was a town councillor at Vercelli. The place where he was buried is unknown. In Paris, he lived Street Gros-Chenêt.
- 3- Abraham Vita de COLOGNA (1754 Mantua-1832 Trieste), Chief Rabbi of Mantua, second President at the Grand Sanhedrin, member of the Assemblee des Notables, member of the Consistoire Central, then President from 1812 to 1826. Son of Samuel de Cologna and Benedetta Bona Trabotti. His wife was Benedetta Norsa, daughter of Rafael Vita Norsa, family of well known Italian bankers, and of Speranza Finzi, another famous Italian family. Four descendants are members of GenAmi, through his daughter Esperance de Cologna, who married Salomon Vanderheym, from Amsterdam. (Look at the genealogical study, ascendants and descendants obituary in "Gazette de Mantoue", translation in French, see GenAmi web site).. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 4- Ventura FOA, (Adriatica), was from Reggio Emilia
- 5- Isaac Raphael FINZI (Brenta), sindaco de Bozzolo, from Padua, 74 y.o. , rabbi of the department of Brenta.
- 6- Elias SPIRE representing Paris, is born 1739 Carpentras, teacher of Hebrew, rabbi. He married Colombe Cremieux, at least two daughters in Nimes: Rousse born 1783 and Nana 1786. He was the son of Rabbi Jacob Espir who came from Prague. Several descendants at GenAmi. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 7- Jacob MEYER (1739 - 1830), Bas-Rhine, Chief Rabbi of Strasbourg after David Sinzheim. Studied in Carlsruhe and Francfort-am-Main, then rabbi at Niederhagenthal and Rixheim. He was the grandson of Itzak Seckel Mutzig, rabbi of Ribeauville, and of Samuel Sanvil Weyl, rabbi of Alsace, descendant of Jacob Weyl of Westhoffen. Member of the Assemblée des Notables. Genealogical study at GenAmi. First wife: Feyel Dreyfus of Niederhagenthal Second wife: Fromet Ulmo of Sierentz. The Chief Rabbi Zadoc Kahn was a descendant of both wiwes. (Dreyfus and Ulmo genealogies: ask Micheline Gutmann).
- 8- Moïse SELIGMANN, (Mont-Tonnerre)
- 9- Moïse KANSTAD (Mont-Tonnerre) Rabbi in Mainz came with Mr. Lorch (n°70) and Benjamin Kannstad, ancestor of the writer Carl Zuckmayer. (Paul Arnberg, Die Jüd. Gemeinden in Hessen, 1971)
- 10- Jacob OURY-LÉVY (Bas-Rhin) Inhumé au cimetière de Montrouge.
- 11- Wolf EGER (Meurthe), In 1808, Wolf Louis Eger lives in Nancy, widow of Sara Cayen, two children born in Bamberg, Judith in 1772, Cayen in 1776.
- 12- Isaac SAMUEL (Bas-Rhine) From Romanswiller, chose the name LUNTESCHUTZ in 1808 at Westhoffen. He married Sara Nettre. Children: Eléonore, born bef. 1787, Suzanne (27.04.1789), Jonas (18.03.1790), Raphael (31.07.1791). He was prisoner during the French Revolution. A descendant was a painter at Besançon. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 13- Salomon DELVECCHIO (Reno)
- 14- David Moïse GUNZBURG(ER), (1745-13.10.1824 Hegenheim), was the first rabbi of Hegenheim, Haut-Rhin, in 1772, son of Joseph Gunzburger who died in 1803, and Hedes Wormser; family 32 in 1784. Grandson of Baruch bar David, who died in 1759 and Fromet, in 1751, at Hegenheim. David Moise married Esther Wormser then, after 1792, Theodora Haas, a widow. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 15- Bonaventura MODENA (Modena Panaro)
- 16- Seligmann LEVY (1752 Durmenach, Haut-Rhine - 1841 Durmenach), son of Meier Levy and Merlen Hauser, married 1786 Hanna Simon, daughter of Rabbi Isaac Simon of Durmenach. He spent some years in Blotzheim where several children were born. Family 17 in 1784 at Durmenach, where he later became the rabbi. Information found by Micheline Gutmann, at the Archives of Colmar. Several descendants at GenAmi. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 17- Jacob CRACOVIA (Venetia, Adriatic)
- 18- Michel SELIGMANN (1739 Phalsbourg - Paris) - Chief rabbi of Paris - In Paris in 1809 - Married Babet Lazard (b. 1756 Mutzig) ; among his children: Julie (1789 Rosheim), Fanchette (1801 Rosheim), Jeannette (1796 Phalsbourg), Henry (1800Paris). Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 19- Lazare Nephtali HIRSCH (1750-1823 Wintzenheim H-R), son of Rabbi Lazarus Moïse Katzenellenbogen, Member of the Assemblee des Notables, became Chief Rabbi of Upper Rhine at Wintzenheim. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 20- Abraham ANDRADE (? - 1836 Bordeaux), representing the department of Landes, rabbi of Bayonne from 1789 to 1808 - Member of the Assemblee des Notables. Chief Rabbi of Bordeaux from 1809 until his death. In 1784 he married Abigaïl d'Aguilar at Bayonne. The family came from Cadix.
- 21- Moïse ARON (Mulhouse, Haut-Rhin)
- 22- Samuel Wolff LEVI (1751 Pfersee near Augsburg - Mainz 1813) representing the department of Mont-Tonnerre. He spoke very good French, had a great knowledge in Talmud and he was very well educated. He especially represented the town of Worms where he was rabbi. His son Benedict Samuel Levi (1806, 1899) was rabbi at Giessen and became Professor at the University of Würzburg. (Paul Arnsberg).
- 23- Judas BLOCH (Haut-Rhin), in 1784 at Wintzenheim de Kayserberg. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 24- Prosper Moïse ARIANI rabbi of Padua then Milan.
- 25- Aron WORMS, (1754 Geislautern, Sarre-1836 Metz), rabbi of Créhange in 1777, of Metz in 1785, Chief Rabbi of Mos]elle; en 1832, lived at rue du Château. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 26- Baruch GOUGENHEIM (Meurthe), Rabbi of Nancy, succeeded Jacob Schweich. Genealogical study at GenAm until Rashi.
- 27- Jaquia TODROS Po), family of bankers at Turin and Piemont from 1700...
- 28- Jacob CALMANN (Haut-Rhine)
- 29- Nathan SALOMON (Hombourg, Deux-Ponts) Rabbi of Homburg (1762 - 16.05.1820) His father Salomon Marx, was a Jewish teacher in Hanweiler, his mother was Reitz Salomon.
- 30- Lazare WOLF (Bas-Rhin)
- 31- Mardochée COHEN (Meuse, Verdun)
- 32- Joseph or Jassé ROCCA MARTINO or ROQUEMARTINE (Nîmes, Gard) (1758-02.12.1827 Nimes), rabbi and notable, he married Noune Roquemartine. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 33- Samson (Lazare en 1808) LIEBERMANN (Bas-Rhine), Saverne. Voir GenAmi. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 34- Moïse MILLAUD (Vaucluse) (ca 1760-Carpentras-18.02.1829 Nimes), rabbi, married Sara Muscat (who died before 1817). Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 35- Mardochée ROCCA MARTINO (Nimes, Gard) or Roquemartine (1751-1832 Marseille), was chief rabbi of Marseille in 1810. Son of Jasse and Esther Milhaud, he married his niece Rousse, daughter of Moise, also a rabbi Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 36- Bondi ZAMORANI (Bas-Po)
- 37- Abraham Isaac SAMUEL (Bas-Rhine) Rabbi at Strasbourg, son Isaac b. Niederhagenthal (68) in 1797 Information at GenAmi.
- 38- Gracciadio NEPPI (Ferrare, Cento, Bas-Po), (1759 Ferrare - 1863 Cento), was rabbi and doctor and also cabbalist. Biblio. Ghirondi Neppi 115-6
- 39- Samuel LION (Mont-Tonnerre)
- 40- Emmanuel DEUTZ (Rhin et Moselle) (1743-Coblence-1842 Paris) He studied in Mainz, was rabbi of Coblentz, Member of the Assemblee des Notables. He was Chief Rabbi of the Central Consistory from 1810 to 1812, and after the departure of Abraham de Cologna, from 1826 until his death. He has a son who was converted to Christianity.
- 41- Abraham MUSCAT (Nîmes, Gard), married Anne Roquemartine, children : Isaac, Jassuda David, Joseph, Liotte Hermine, Moyse and Rebecca. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 42- Elis Aro LULLIS (Stura)
- 43- Jacob Israel CARMI (Reggio Emilia, Crostolo), Chief Rabbi, died in 1849. Family of French origin (Carpentras) established in Casale Montferrato and Mantua, bankers during 16th and 17th centuries, then in Livorno and Reggio Emilia. See Annuaire d'Etudes Hebraiques, Carruci editions, Roma, P.324.
- 44- Jacob BRUNSCHWIG (Wintzenheim, Haut-Rhine) Information at GenAmi.
- 45- Samuel Marx LEVI (Sarre). Uncle of Karl Marx - see GenAmi n° 18. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 46- Abraham MONTEL son (25.12.1777 Nimes-27.06.1828 Nimes), was the son of Isaac and Esther Baze. Married Naumy Vidal-Naquet. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 47- Saul CREMIEUX (1744 L'ISLE-SUR-SORGUE ), was a merchant at Paris in 1809, married Sara SAINT PAUL. Children: Esther b. Avignon 1788, Colombe in 1791. Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 48- Aron LATIS
- 49- Benoît FANNO
- 50- Berr ISAAC-BERR (Nancy) Information at GenAmi.
- 51- Abraham Cohen
- 52- Israel Cohen. Modena?
- 53- Sabaton COSTANTINI (1744 La Canee, Malte - after 1818). Lived at Trieste then Marseille where he is a merchant, then Nice and again Marseille in 1806, representing the Jewish community. In 1808, Sabaton is 64 y.o., his wife Regine Provençal is 60 y.o. Three children: Julie 35, Abraham, 29 and Marianne 28. Abraham had three children: Reginette, Sabaton, Moise-Nissim. Member of the Assemblee des Notables. He refused to go to the Grand Sanhedrin. He was present on the list of Marseille until 1818. Information at GenAmi.
- 54- David LEVI of Chieri, Piemont.
- 55- Aron SCHMOLL, at Paris, member of the board of the Consistory, responsible the Jewish cemetery of Montrouge. Member of the Assemblee des Notables.
- 56- Moise FORMIGGINI (Modena) was a jeweller. Before 1800, he was protected by the Duke of Modena. Later, became a Senator of the Italian monarchy.
- 57- A. Friedberg
- 58- Lyon Marx
- 59- Marq FOY (From Italy went to Bayonne) Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 60- Mayer Nathan
- 61- Abraham FURTADO (30.07.1756 London-29.01.1817 Bordeaux), son of Elie and Hana Pinto Vega, marranos. He married Sara Rodrigues Alvares 1775 in Bordeaux. He was the President of the Assemblee des Notables; later assistant of the Mayor of Bordeaux. Children: Joseph Elie (05.07.1778- 15.10.1882 Bordeaux) Anne Emilie (01.01.1784-12.03.1823) married 26.12.1809 Moise Aimé SOLAR, son of Aaron Euryate Felix SOLAR (11.02.1811-19.11.1870), banker and booklover. Sara Furtado married Lopez-Dubec Sarah Reibeiro-Furtado, died 26.12.1879, Paris 17
- 62- Olry-Hayem WORMS (19.09.1759 Sarrelouis-07.05.1849 Paris) was a banker. He married 1. Blumelé Levi; 2 Flore Zacharie. His name became Worms de Romilly Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 63- Seligmann WITTERSHEIM (1754-1828), representing the Jews of Alsace in 1789. Information at GenAmi.
- 64- Lipmann CERF-BERR Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- 65- Baruch CERF-BERR , Same family
- 66- Jacob RODRIGUES (Lisbon 1736) arrived in Bordeaux in 1761 with his father, his sister and his cousins, who survived from the earth quake of Lisbon. His sister married Abraham Furtado, and she died as her father in 1784. He married then his cousin Rachel. (Cavignac) Information at GenAmi.
- 67- Théodore CERF-BERR
- 68- Cerf-Jacob GOUDCHAUX
- 69- Isaac RODRIGUES son, Paris, was the secretary of the Assemblee des Notables, General Secretary of the Consistory since 1809. He came from Bordeaux.
- 70- C L LORICH
- 71- Isaac Samuel AVIDGOR (1776- ), came from Nice, merchant in 1811, son of Isaac (1754-1805) and Esther Locchio. Married Gabrielle Pauline Henriette Raba (1791, Bordeaux), 7 children: Esther Eloise (1808), Stephanie-Rebecca (1810), Etienne (1811), Moise-Jules, banker (1812), Henri (1814) and the twins Frederic (1818) and Laure (1818).
- • Mendel PRAGUE
- • Moïse Hertz MOSBACH (1772 Mayence - ), at Paris in 1809, married Merlin Schonbach, born 1784 Bischheim, 6 children in 1809. Information at GenAmi.
- • Betsallel MILHAU
- • J.Emmanuel OTTOLENGHI, was probably from Acqui, Montferrato. Son of Giuseppe Salvatore, banker and merchant. He was a Jacobin (French Revolution).
- • Samuel Ghedilia
- • Emilio VITA, Mantua
- • J. Dreyfoss
- • Jeremie Hirsch
- • Félix Lévi
- • Michel BERR, scribe writer, son of Berr Isaac BERR
- • BLOTZ, for German, from Niederhagenthal Information at GenAmi.
- • Jonas VALLABREGUE, (1754 Avignon), was the scribe for Portuguese. In 1809 at Paris; married Neuma Saint-Paul (1754 Avignon); 5 children. Information at GenAmi.
Arrived later On 12 February, from Amsterdam:
- • Carel ASSER, (1780-1836), son of Mozes Salomon from Amsterdam. Layer Genealogical study at GenAmi.
- • J. LITTWAK, (1764 Lupt, Lithuania ), mathematician
- • H de H. LEMON ((1755- 1823), doctor
Arrived On 9 March, from Frankfort-am-Main:
- • Salomon TREVES
- • HILDESHEIMER.
- • Jacob LAZARD, Genealogical study at GenAmi.
The Hasmonean court in the Land of Israel, presided over by Alexander Jannaeus, king of Judea until 76 BC, followed by his wife, was called Synhedrion or Sanhedrin. The exact nature of this early Sanhedrin is not clear. It may have been a body of sages and/or priests, or a political, legislative and judicial institution.
Only after the destruction of the Second Temple was the Sanhedrin made up only of sages.
Great and Lesser Sanhedrin
The Talmud (tractate Sanhedrin) identifies two classes of rabbinical courts called Sanhedrin, a Great Sanhedrin (בית דין הגדול) and a Lesser Sanhedrin (בית דין הקטן). Each city could have its own lesser Sanhedrin of 23 judges, but there could be only one Great Sanhedrin of 71, which among other roles acted as the Supreme Court, taking appeals from cases decided by lesser courts. The numbers of judges were predicated on eliminating the possibility of a tie and the last to cast their vote was the head of the court.
- Before 191 BC the High Priest acted as the ex officio head of the Sanhedrin, but in 191 BC, when the Sanhedrin lost confidence in the High Priest, the office of Nasi was created.
- After the time of Hillel the Elder (late 1st century BC and early 1st century AD), the Nasi was almost invariably a descendant of Hillel.
- The second highest-ranking member of the Sanhedrin was called the Av Beit Din, or "Head of the Court" (literally, Av Beit Din = "father of the house of judgment"), who presided over the Sanhedrin when it sat as a criminal court.
The Sanhedrin met in a building known as the Hall of Hewn Stones (Lishkat Ha-Gazith), which has been placed by the Talmud and many scholars as built into the north wall of the Temple Mount, half inside the sanctuary and half outside, with doors providing access both to the Temple and to the outside.
SAYINGS OF THE SANHEDRIN SAGES
The Talmud records the philosophies of these Sanhedrin leaders.
YOSI b. YOEZER:
Let your house be a meeting place for the wise; sit in the dust of their feet; and drink in their words with thirst (Avot 1:4).
YEHOSHUA b. PERACHYA:
Provide yourself with a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge all people favorably (Avot 1:6).
Love work; hate lordship; and do not be intimate with the ruling authorities (Avot 1:10).
Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people… (Avot 1:12).
He who seeks greater reputation, destroys his reputation; he who does not increase his knowledge, decreases it (Avot 1:13).
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I care only for myself, what am I? If not now, when? (Avot 1:14) 'What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow-human,' that is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary (Shabbos 31a).
Do not judge your fellow human being until you have been in his place (Avot 2:4).
In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man (Avot 2:5).
RABBI GAMLIEL THE ELDER:
Provide yourself with a teacher and remove yourself from doubt ...(Avot 1:16).
RABBI SHIMON b. GAMLIEL:
All my days I have grown up among the wise, and I have found nothing better for a person than silence; not learning but doing is the most important thing; and whoever talks too much causes sin (Avot 1:17).
RABBI GAMLIEL II:
Whoever has mercy on other people, Heaven will have mercy upon him; whoever does not have mercy on other people, Heaven will not have mercy upon him (Shabbos 151b).
RABBI SHIMON b. GAMLIEL II:
Rabbi Gamliel II was succeeded by his son, Rabbi Shimon b. Gamliel II about the year 118. The Sanhedrin probably did not function during many of these years because of Roman persecutions.
Rabbi Shimon b. Gamliel II was knowledgeable in many areas and the Talmud notes that he was an expert in mathematics, medicine, and Greek philosophy (Sanhedrin 11a, Berachos 25a, Sotah 49). He was also known for his great humility (Bava Metzia 84b-85a). The philosophy he was most known for was (Avot 1:18):
The world endures on three principles: truth, justice, and peace.
RABBI YEHUDA HANASI
Which is the proper course that a person should choose for himself? Whatever is an honor to him who does it, and which also brings him esteem from mankind... (Avot 2:1).
I learned much Torah from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students (Maakos 10a).
All lies are prohibited, however it is permitted to lie in order to bring peace between people (Derech Eretz Zuta, Perek Hashalom).
The last Nasi was Rabbi Gamliel VI who died in 425. In the year 425, Emperor Theodosius II did not allow the Jews to appoint a successor to Gamliel and thereby ended the Office of Nasi. Hillel and fourteen generations of his descendents had headed the office of Nasi for approximately 460 years. Source
After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70, the Sanhedrin was re-established in Yavneh with reduced authority. The imperial Roman government and legislation recognized it as the Palestinian Patriarchate, the ultimate authority in Jewish religious matters.
The seat of the Patriarchate moved to Usha under the presidency of Gamaliel II in 80 CE. In 116 CE it moved back to Yavneh, and then again back to Usha. It moved in 140 CE to Shefaram under the presidency of Shimon ben Gamliel II, To Beit Shearim and Sephoris in 163 CE, under the presidency of Judah I. To Tiberias in 193, CE under the presidency of Gamaliel III (193–230) ben Judah haNasi, where it became more of a consistory, but still retained, under the presidency of Judah II (230–270), the power of excommunication.
During the presidency of Gamaliel IV (270–290), due to Roman persecution, it dropped the name Sanhedrin; and its authoritative decisions were subsequently issued under the name of Beth HaMidrash.
In 363 CE, emperor Julian ordered the Temple rebuilt. The failure to rebuild the Temple has been ascribed to the Galilee earthquake of 363, and to the Jews' ambivalence about the project. Sabotage is a possibility, as is an accidental fire. Divine intervention was the common view among Christian historians of the time. Julian's support of Jews, coming after the hostility of many earlier Emperors, meant that Jews called him Julian the Hellene.
As a reaction to Julian's pro-Jewish stance, Theodosius I forbade the Sanhedrin to assemble and declared ordination illegal. Capital punishment was prescribed for any Rabbi who received ordination and complete destruction of the town where the ordination occurred.
Change to Mathematically Based Jewish Calendar
However, since the Hebrew calendar was based on witnesses' testimony, that had become far too dangerous to collect, Hillel II recommended change to a mathematically based calendar that was adopted at a clandestine, and maybe final, meeting in 358. This marked the last universal decision made by that body.
Gamaliel VI (400–425) was the Sanhedrin's last president. With his death in 425, executed by Theodosius II for erecting new synagogues contrary to the imperial decree, the title Nasi, the last remains of the ancient Sanhedrin, became illegal. An imperial decree of 426 diverted the patriarchs' tax (post excessum patriarchorum) into the imperial treasury.
THE SANHEDRIN TOMB COMPLEX - JERUSALEM
Tombs of the Sanhedrin , Kivrei HaSanhedrin), also called Tombs of the Judges, is an underground complex of 63 rock-cut tombs located in a public park in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria. Constructed in the 1st century A.D., the tombs are noted for their elaborate design and symmetry. They have been a site for Jewish pilgrimage since the medieval period.
In 2004, excavations in Tiberias conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered a structure dating to the 3rd century CE that may have been the seat of the Sanhedrin when it convened in that city. At the time it was called Beit Hava'ad.
Semicha & Sanhedrin Controversies
By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff (israel.aish.com/Sanhedrin) synopsis
The Anglo-Jewish press has been carrying occasional coverage of a group in Eretz Yisroel that calls itself “The Sanhedrin,” a group of 71 rabbis convened in Teverya claiming that they had semicha necessary to create a Sanhedrin as specified by the Rambam. The group chose Teverya because the original Sanhedrin last met there.
The “semicha” that they received was based on a semicha granted to one well-known talmid chacham who had received semicha from "many prominent rabbis." In the opinion of those organizing this “Sanhedrin,” this talmid chacham is now considered to have received semicha as handed down from Moshe Rabbeinu, is now able to give semicha to the others. The goal of the group is to have a group of rabbis who convene monthly to discuss and issue rulings on pressing issues relevant to Klal Yisroel. The issues that the group plans to discuss and rule upon are: how to unify Jewish practice across the spectrum, to determine and reestablish halachic techeiles, to define the measure of an amah, to find ways to deal with agunos, to determine precisely the point of human death so as to deal with issues of euthanasia and to find a way to offer the Korban Pesach once again.
However, this group's claims have generated some serious halachic issues with what the poskim have written about how the semicha and the Sanhedrin will be reestablished. Furthermore, there are very strong reservations about the rabbis who are involved in this group.
This article will be devoted to an explanation of the various halachic underpinnings of the Sanhedrin, including:
- What are the roles and responsibilities of the Sanhedrin?
- What exactly is semicha and why is it such a central factor in the creation of the Sanhedrin?
- What attempts have been made throughout history to reconvene a Sanhedrin and reestablish semicha?
- Does this new organization fulfill its title?
WHAT IS THE SANHEDRIN?
The Sanhedrin, also called the Beis Din Hagadol, is the final authority on all matters of halacha. Their interpretation of Torah sheba’al peh is authoritative. Any halachic issue that is questionable and disputed by the lower batei din is referred to the Beis Din HaGadol for a binding decision.
The Sanhedrin also fulfills several vital political and administrative roles. It appoints the Jewish King as well as the judges who serve on the courts of the shevatim and the cities. Each shevet and each city was required to have a beis din of 23 that the Sanhedrin appoints. Thus, the Sanhedrin is not only the supreme halacha authority but it is also quite literally the “power behind the throne,” “the power behind the courts,” - and at the same time, the court of final appeal. It has the final say in all matters both temporal and spiritual.
Many other halachos require the participation or agreement of the Sanhedrin, including a decision to wage war, expanding the halachic boundaries of the Beis HaMikdash or of Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1). (We are permitted to eat many holy items, including certain korbanos and maaser sheni, only in halachic Yerushalayim, which has nothing to do with its current municipal boundaries. Expanding the city requires a special procedure that includes participation of the Sanhedrin.)
In addition, several types of adjudication require the participation of the Sanhedrin, including prosecuting a false prophet, a city that went astray (ir hanidachas), a sotah, and an elder who ruled against the Torah sheba’al peh (zakein mamrei) and the law of eglah arufah (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1).
The Sanhedrin is also in charge of supervising the Jewish calendar through the appointing of a specially-designated committee. (In the absence of a Sanhedrin or Beis Din HaGadol, Hillel the Second established a permanent calendar over 1500 years ago so that the calendar can continue to exist even though the Sanhedrin no longer exists.
WHERE AND WHEN DOES THE SANHEDRIN MEET?
The Sanhedrin was open daily in its main headquarters inside the Beis HaMikdash called the lishkas hagazis. When they are involved in litigation, the entire Sanhedrin is present. When not in session, there must still always be 23 members of the Sanhedrin in the lishkah.
WHO QUALIFIES TO BE IN THE SANHEDRIN?
There are many technical requirements that all members must meet, but as a basic requirement they must all be superior talmid chachomim and yirei shamayim (G-d fearing individuals). In addition, all members of the Sanhedrin and indeed of all the lower courts must also receive the special semicha that Moshe bestowed upon Yehoshua authorizing him to paskin on all areas of Jewish law.
DOESN’T EVERY RABBI HAVE SEMICHA?
There are several levels of semicha. The most basic semicha, called yoreh yoreh, authorizes the recipient to rule on matters of kashrus and similar areas. A more advanced level of semicha called yodin yodin authorizes its recipient to rule as a dayan on financial matters. A higher level, no longer obtainable today, is called yatir bechoros and authorizes its recipient to rule on whether a first-born animal is blemished and no longer appropriate to offer as a korban (see Gemara Sanhedrin 5a).
There was also a qualitative different type of semicha that could be obtained from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the time of the Gemara. This semicha authorized the recipient to rule on capital and corporal cases (chayavei misas beis din and malkus) and to judge kenasos, penalties that the Torah invoked. Only a beis din consisting exclusively of dayanim ordained with this semicha may judge whether a person receives lashes or the death penalty for his actions.
In earlier days each city and shevet had its own beis din of 23 judges, all of whom were possessors of the highest level of semicha. In addition, all 71 members of the Sanhedrin, also called the Beis Din Hagadol, which is the final authority for halacha, must have this form of semicha.
HOW MANY DAYANIM GIVE OUT SEMICHA?
A single judge who is himself a musmach may grant semicha to as many qualified people as he chooses, although the grantor must be accompanied by two other people, who need not be musmachim themselves. The Gemara records that Dovid HaMelech (himself an expert judge and tremendous talmid chacham) once granted 30,000 semichos in one day!! Semicha that was granted to someone who is not an expert in all areas of halacha is not valid (Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a).
This semicha must be issued within Eretz Yisroel. Thus, even if a talmid chacham is highly qualified, he may not receive semicha unless the grantor of the semicha and the recipient are both in Eretz Yisroel (Gemara Sanhedrin 14a). For this reason, most of the Amorayim, the great talmidei chachomim of the times of the Gemara, never received this semicha, because they lived in Bavel and not in Eretz Yisroel.
THE STORY OF RAV YEHUDA BEN BAVA
The Gemara (Sanhedrin 13b) tells us the following fascinating story: The Roman Empire once decreed that issuing semicha was a serious crime punishable by death for both the grantor and the recipient. Furthermore they ruled that the town in which the semicha was issued would be destroyed, and the areas near it would be razed.
Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava realized that he was one of the last musmachim (recipients of this special semicha) alive after the execution of Rabbi Akiva and that if he failed to grant semicha to some young scholars the semicha would terminate. He therefore endangered himself and granted semicha to five surviving disciples of Rabbi Akiva: Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Yehudah (ben Ila’i), Rabbi Yosi and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua – basically to an entire generation of Torah leadership. In order not to endanger anyone else, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava brought them to a place that was midway between two major cities and was between two mountains. Thus, for the Romans to fulfill their decree they would need to level two mountains.
Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava succeeded in this mission although he paid for it with his life. Because of his supreme sacrifice the semicha continued among the Jewish people for several more generations.
With the increased persecution of the Jews by the Romans, the Jewish population of Eretz Yisroel decreased considerably, and with time, ordination through this semicha ended. Thus, no one received the semicha that qualifies someone to judge capital, corporal, or kenasos cases, and this aspect of halachic life came to an end.
CAN SEMICHA BE REINSTITUTED?
The Rambam writes: “It appears to me that if all the Chachomim in Eretz Yisroel agree to appoint dayanim and grant them semicha, they have the law of musmachim and they can judge penalty cases and are authorized to grant semicha to others… if someone received semicha from someone who already has semicha, then he does not require authorization from all of them – he may judge penalty cases for everyone since he received semicha from beis din. However, this matter requires a final decision” (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11).
Thus, the Rambam appears to have created a method whereby the semicha can be re-created. However, several issues need to be clarified before the project suggested by the Rambam can be implemented:
1. Did the Rambam paskin this as a final decision or was it merely conjecture? When he wrote in his closing words, “However, this matter requires a final decision,” did he mean that he was uncertain about his suggestion or was he referring to a different comment.
2. Assuming that the Rambam meant to rule definitely that semicha can be reinstituted, did he mean literally that this process requires all of the Chachomim in Eretz Yisroel to agree, or does a majority suffice? Must the rabbonim involved all meet in one place, or is it sufficient if they are aware of the process and approve?
3. Is the Rambam’s opinion on this subject universally held? And if not, do we rule like him?
THE 16th CENTURY CONTROVERSY- REINTRODUCING SEMICHA
After the Spanish expulsion, many Jews remained in Spain, practicing their Judaism in secret, while publicly appearing to be Christians. Thousands of these Marrano Jews eventually escaped to areas where they could return to the religion of their fathers, yet they were haunted by the sins they had transgressed in their previous lives. Many were concerned that they would never escape the specter of their more serious aveiros, many of which carried the punishment of kareis. Although they had become true baalei tshuvah, they lived in fear of their ultimate day of judgment when they would have to give a reckoning for their actions and face the serious consequences.
The Mahari Beirav, Rav of Tzefas in the early sixteenth century, came up with an original solution to the problem. He proposed the creation of batei din that would carry out the punishment of malkos, lashes, which releases someone from the punishment of kareis (Mishnah Makos 23a).
There was one serious problem with this proposal. In order to create batei din that can exact these punishments, one must have dayanim who have received a special semicha that can be traced to Moshe Rabbeinu. Since this semicha had terminated over a thousand years before, the Mahari Beirav needed a different approach.
TZEFAS, 5298 (1538)
Based on the writings of the Rambam (Peirush Hamishnayos, Sanhedrin 1:3; Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11), in 5298 (1538), 25 gedolim of Tzefas, at the time the largest Torah community in Eretz Yisroel, granted semicha to the Mahari Beirav. He then ordained four people with the new semicha including Rav Yosef Karo, who had already written his monumental works Kesef Mishneh and Beis Yosef, and later authored the Shulchan Aruch, and Rav Moshe di-Trani, the author of several major halacha works including Beis Elokim, Kiryas Sefer, and Shu’t Mabit. Mahari Beirav also sent a semicha to the Rav of Yerushalayim, Rav Levi ibn Chaviv, known as the Maharalbach, who he assumed would be delighted to receive such a wonderful gift!
The Maharalbach was not happy with the gift and returned it. He took strong issue with their issuing semicha for the following several reasons:
- 1. The Rambam’s closing words, “This matter requires a final decision” shows that he was not fully decided on this halacha, and therefore it cannot be relied upon.
- 2. Ramban (Sefer Hamitzvos, Aseh 153) disagrees with Rambam, contending that semicha can not be reinstituted until Moshiach arrives. Thus, since Rambam was uncertain about this halacha, and Ramban was certain that there is no such thing, the halacha follows Ramban.
- 3. Even if we assume that Rambam meant this ruling to be definitive, the Tzefas rabbonim had not fulfilled the procedure correctly since all the gedolim of Eretz Yisroel must be together in one synod. (This opinion is actually mentioned earlier by the Meiri, Sanhedrin 14a.)
Furthermore, Maharalbach is insistent that all the scholars must be involved in the active debate and that all must agree. Furthermore, he contended that even if someone holds that a majority of gedolim is sufficient, the minority must be aware of the debate and participate in it. He further contended that creating such a synod now would not help either, since once the Tzefas rabbonim had ordained the Mahari Beirav, they now have a bias in their ruling (noge’ah bi’din) which invalidates their opinion on the subject.
Maharalbach proved his opinion that the Rambam’s suggestion was not accepted as normative halacha from the fact that there had been numerous opportunities for gedolei Yisroel to create semicha and yet they refrained. Maharalbach concludes that semicha will not exist again until the arrival of Moshiach.
WHAT ABOUT THE MARRANOS?
As for the baalei teshuvah that would be left without release from their kareis, the Maharalbach pointed out that if they performed sincere teshuvah they would be forgiven for their sins, so matter how severe they were. Although it is possible that they may suffer some in this world for these aveiros despite their tshuvah, they would receive no punishment for their aveiros in the next world (Gemara Makos 13b).
On the other hand, the Maharalbach pointed out that he did not understand how semicha could accomplish what Mahari Beirav wanted anyway, since beis din cannot punish someone for violating the Torah unless several requirements are met, including:
The sinner must receive a warning immediately prior to his violating the commandment telling him that he is sinning, explaining to him that what he is planning to do is wrong, and what punishment he will receive if he sins. The sinner must then acknowledge that he heard and understood the warning and then perform the sin anyway. Furthermore, beis din does not punish a sinner unless two adult male Jews witness the entire procedure and then testify in front of beis din. (Of course, consequently almost no one will ever be punished by beis din for violating a Torah’s mitzvah.) Clearly, none of these Marranos had received warning prior to performing the aveiros and therefore they are not culpable of malkus in beis din. Thus, how would these baalei teshuvah receive the malkus they desire even if dayanim musmachim exist?
RESPONSE FROM TZEFAS
The Mahari Beirav responded to the Maharalbach’s arguments. As far as the punishment of malkus is concerned, the Mahari Beirav held that if someone voluntarily asks for malkus for his sin in the presence of an authorized beis din, the punishment is carried out, even though there were no warnings and no witnesses. Thus, the creation of a beis din of musmachim facilitates the atonement of these people.
As far as semicha is concerned, Mahari Beirav did not accept the Maharalbach’s criticism that his semicha program was invalid. Mahari Beirav explained that the Rambam’s ruling is definitive, not theoretical or suggestive, and he questions whether the Ramban disputes this opinion. Even if Ramban does question it, he contends that the halacha follows Rambam. Furthermore, he contends that a simple majority of gedolim living in Eretz Yisroel is sufficient to create semicha, since the halacha in all other cases of jurisprudence is that we follow the majority. Thus, since all the gedolim of Tzefas, who were a majority of the gedolim in Eretz Yisroel at the time, had appointed him as dayan, the semicha could be renewed on this basis. In addition, Mahari Beirav contends that correspondence with the other gedolei Yisroel is a sufficient method to determine whether a majority favor renewing semicha and that it is not necessary for all the gedolim to attend a meeting together for this purpose.
A lengthy correspondence ensued between the Maharalbach and the rabbonim of Tzefas, which is referred to as the Kuntros Hasemicha, and is appended to the end of the Shu’t Maharalbach.
Incidentally, the dispute between Maharalbach and Mahari Beirav whether the gedolim can reinstitute semicha dates back to the Rishonim. Meiri (to Sanhedrin 14a) rules that semicha can be reintroduced by having all the gedolei Yisroel of Eretz Yisroel gather together and appoint someone to be a dayan. However, Meiri rules that the gedolim must meet together in one group for this ruling, which precludes the Mahari Beirav’s method. The Rashba (Bava Kamma 36b) also cites Rambam’s opinion, although he rules the opposite, that renewal of semicha must await the arrival of Moshiach, following the opinion of Ramban as explained by Maharalbach. In addition, Ritva and Nemukei Yosef (both at end of Yevamos) both state that semicha must await the arrival of the Moshiach era.
Evidence to support Mahari Beirav’s opinion, if not his method, can be drawn from the Gemara (Eruvin 43b) that states that Eliyahu will declare his arrival as the harbinger of Moshiach by coming to the Beis Din HaGadol. This Gemara implies that the Beis Din HaGadol will precede the arrival of Eliyahu, and not the other way around (see Maharatz Chayes ad loc.). However, Ritva and Nemukei Yosef appear to hold that there will be no Sanhedrin until Moshiach comes.
THE RADBAZ GETS INVOLVED
Both sides appealed to the Radbaz, the acknowledged gadol hador, who lived in Egypt at the time, for a ruling. (The Radbaz later moved to Eretz Yisroel, but at the time of this dispute he was outside of Eretz Yisroel and therefore had not been involved in the initial debate and discussion.)
The Radbaz rules like Maharalbach that the semicha was invalid, believing that the Rambam himself was not certain that this is a definitive ruling, and furthermore, universal acceptance of the semicha would be necessary even according to Rambam’s approach. In addition, Radbaz felt that the person receiving semicha must be a talmid chacham with the scholarship to rule on any subject in Torah. He did not believe that his generation had talmidei chachomim in this league.
HOW THEN WILL THE SANHEDRIN BE REESTABLISHED?
The Radbaz does discuss an issue – if we cannot create a new semicha, how then will we have a semicha in the future. As mentioned above, semicha is necessary to create a Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin is necessary to appoint the Jewish King and judges, and for many other community activities. Radbaz presents three methods whereby semicha can be re-established:
- 1. Eliyahu HaNavi, who is a musmach (see Rambam, introduction to Mishneh Torah), will issue semicha to others when he arrives as the harbinger of Moshiach’s arrival. (Some poskim raise a question with this approach, pointing out that the Gemara [Eruvin 43b] reports that Eliyahu will announce his arrival as harbinger of Moshiach to the Sanhedrin. However, how could this happen if Eliyahu must first create the beis din? [Maharatz Chayes ad loc.] Many answers can be given to this question, but will have to be left because of space considerations.)
- 2. Descendents of Shevet Reuven may reappear who have semicha. Simply because we are unaware of anyone with semicha, does not mean that members of other shevatim who have been separated from us since before the time of the Churban, do not have semicha. (This approach creates a question. If semicha can only be given in Eretz Yisroel, how could members of these shevatim receive semicha when we know that they were exiled from Eretz Yisroel? See below for an answer to this question.)
- 3. Moshiach himself will grant semicha and thus create a Beis Din Hagadol. Radbaz does not explain where Moshiach himself gets his authorization to grant semicha.
As noted above, Radbaz contends that no one in our generation qualifies in learning and Yiras Shamayim to qualify. Specifically, he states that only someone who is qualified to paskin on everywhere in the Torah qualifies for this special semicha.
RESULTS OF THE TZEFAS SEMICHA
The Mahari Beirav passed away three years after the semicha project began. Although Rav Yosef Karo had received this semicha and actually ordained Rav Moshe Alshich (author of the Alshich commentary to Tanach), by all indications he never utilized the semicha in any other way. Nowhere does he refer to a renewal of semicha, and furthermore numerous places in Shulchan Aruch would be written differently if its author assumed that a beis din of semuchim existed today. In all these places, he assumes that no beis din today exists that is authorized to paskin on the laws of penalties and punishments.
This is even more intriguing in light of the fact that in his commentary Beis Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 295) he records as definitive halacha the Rambam’s opinion that semicha can be renewed. Although Rav Moshe Alshich ordained Rav Chayim Vital (Birkei Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 1:7), who was renowned as the primary disciple of the Ari z”l, the semicha trail appears to end at this point. There is no indication of anyone continuing the semicha project after this time. From all indications we can assume that the psak of the Maharalbach and Radbaz was accepted that we should not introduce semicha on our own.
SEARCHING FOR SEMICHA IN THE 1830’S
In the 1830’s, Rav Yisroel of Shklov, one of the leading disciples of the Vilna Gaon who had settled in Yerushalayim, made another attempt to restart semicha. Rav Yisroel was interested in organizing a Sanhedrin, but he accepted the ruling of the Maharalbach and the Radbaz that we cannot create semicha by ourselves. Instead, he decided to utilize the suggestion of the Radbaz of receiving semicha from the tribes of Reuven and Gad. Rav Yisroel charted out where he thought the Bnei Reuven were probably located, and sent a certain Rav Baruch as his emissary to find them (see Sefer Halikutim to Shabsei Frankel edition of Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:11). Unfortunately, Rav Baruch did not succeed in locating the shevet of Reuven and the plan came to naught.
It should be noted that Rav Yisroel raised the question how could the Bnei Reuven have kept the semicha alive, since they were outside Eretz Yisroel and the semicha can be granted only in Eretz Yisroel. He answered that since the Bnei Reuven had been distant from the rest of Klal Yisroel before this psak (that semicha can only be in Eretz Yisroel) had been accepted, there is no reason to assume that they accepted this psak, and they were probably still issuing semicha!! It is unusual that Rav Yisroel assumed that although we paskin that semicha can be given and received only in Eretz Yisroel, he still held that a semicha granted outside Eretz Yisroel is nonetheless valid.
Rav Yisroel’s vain search to locate a musmach was an attempt to reintroduce the Sanhedrin, a far more ambitious plan than the Mahari Beirav had considered. Apparently, Rav Yisroel understood from the Gemara (Eruvin 43b) that the Sanhedrin must exist before Eliyahu can appear, a position that almost all poskim reject, as we pointed out above.
In 5567 (1807), Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, decreed the opening of what he called “The Sanhedrin,” consisting of 71 Jewish leaders, mostly Rabbonim, but including many communal leaders, many not religious.
This group had nothing to do with being a Sanhedrin other than that Napoleon had given them this name. Napoleon presented this group with a list of 12 inquiries to answer, all of which questioned whether the Jews were loyal to the French Empire and its laws, and about the interactions between Jews and non-Jewish Frenchmen. Of course, the “Sanhedrin” had to be very careful how they answered Napoleon’s questions to make sure that they were not guilty of treason. This Sanhedrin met many times in the course of about a year and then disbanded. It was never called into session again.
THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
Those who call their organization the “Sanhedrin” base themselves on the Mahari Beirav’s opinion that we can recreate semicha today based on the acceptance of most of the gedolei Yisroel. On this basis, they claim to have created semicha of one of the well-known poskim in Eretz Yisroel who subsequently ordained a few others who have ordained yet others until they now claim several hundred “musmachim.”
I spoke to one of the “dayanim” of the “Sanhedrin” about the procedure used to appoint their musmachim. He told me that the organization mailed letters to every shul and settlement in Israel requesting appointment of a certain well-respected Rav as musmach. They then counted the votes of those who responded and approved of their appointment. Since most of those who responded approved of the appointment, they have ruled that this Rav is now a musmach whose semicha qualifies people to serve on the Sanhedrin! To quote this “dayan,” those who chose not to respond do not count. We have a majority of those who responded!?!
Obviously, this system carries absolutely no halachic validity according to any opinion.
When I spoke to the “dayan,” he asked me if I was interested in becoming one of their musmachim. He told me that he would send me the information necessary for an appointment with their committee that approves musmachim. Consequently, I received a letter inviting me to the next meeting of their “Sanhedrin,” and a note that they had asked one of their members about me and upon that basis they were preparing a semicha to present me at the next meeting of the “Sanhedrin”!! I noted above that the Radbaz ruled that the person receiving semicha must be a talmid chacham with the scholarship to rule on any subject in Torah. Since I do not qualify for semicha on that basis, I am curious what criteria they are applying to determine a minimum standard for semicha. Unfortunately, I think I know the answer.
The group behind this “Sanhedrin” often implies that several different gedolim are behind their activities. This is highly misleading since these gedolim refuse to be identified with this group’s activities. Any Jewish organization built upon falsehood is doomed to failure, even if it is well intentioned, since the Torah is Toras Emes.
When I spoke to the “dayan,” I told him that I had some questions about the halachic basis for their procedures. He answered that they prefer to reply to questions in writing and he requested that I send my letters via e-mail. He promised that they would answer all my inquiries quickly. In a subsequent conversation, he told me that he had received my initial inquiry. I sent him two respectful letters, one asking several halachic questions about their procedures, the second asking for verification that some of the gedolim they have quoted have indeed endorsed their position. Although I sent each of these requests to them twice, I never heard back from them on these questions.
Moreover, there are some serious issues that this “Sanhedrin” is delegating to itself. If I might quote from a list of their activities:
“Among the many topics the Sanhedrin intends to address are the bridging of the divisions between various communities of Jewish exiles who have returned to Israel; the establishment of authentic techelet, the biblical blue thread Jews are commanded to wear amongst the fringes attached to four-cornered garments; the definition of the measurement of the ‘ammah’ (the biblical cubit); the determination of the exact point of human death, so as to deal with the Jewish ethics of euthanasia; and the issue of agunot - women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce.”
I would like to point out that these issues all have or are being dealt with by Klal Yisroel’s gedolei haposkim. (In a previous article, I explained why most gedolei haposkim rejected the suggested sources of the techeiles dye. A copy of that article can be obtained through the Yated Ne’eman or from me.)
Recently, the group has gotten involved in several really serious issues. Apparently, they are exploring the location of the mizbeiach, the possibilities of offering korban Pesach, and of appointing a king from the descendents of Dovid Hamelech. One of their meetings was apparently conducted on the Har Habayis itself! (Please note that most poskim prohibit ascending the Har Habayis.) The discussion about bringing korbanos is a well-trodden halachic discourse and, here also, all gedolei poskim have ruled that we cannot offer korbanos now. (Again, I refer the reader to an article on this subject that I wrote for the Pesach issue.)
Based on what I have seen about this “Sanhedrin,” I pose the following questions to the reader:
Are the members of this “Sanhedrin” qualified to make decisions that affect Klal Yisroel?
- ▪ Jose ben Joezer, Nasi of the Sanhedrin during the Maccabean wars of independence.
- ▪ Jose ben Johanan, Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin during the Maccabean wars of independence.
- ▪ Joshua ben Perachyah, Nasi of the Sanhedrin during the reign of John Hyrcanus.
- ▪ Nittai of Arbela, Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin during the reign of John Hyrcanus.
- ▪ Judah ben Tabbai, Nasi of the Sanhedrin during the reign of Alexander Jannæus and Queen Salome.
- ▪ Simeon ben Shetach, Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin during the reign of Alexander Jannæus and Queen Salome.
- ▪ Shemaya, Nasi of the Sanhedrin during the reign of Hyrcanus II.
- ▪ Avtalyon, Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin during the reign of Hyrcanus II. A convert to Judaism.
- ▪ Hillel the Elder, Nasi of the Sanhedrin during the reign of King Herod the Great.
- ▪ Shammai, Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin during the reign of King Herod the Great.
- ▪ Shimon Hatzadik
- ▪ Antigonus of Sokho