Semikha l’rabbanut, or סמיכה לרבנות, is the process through which a person becomes ordained as a rabbi.
The root of semikha (סמך — (סמיכה — means “to be authorized,” thus סמיכה לרבנות means “to be authorized for rabbinic office,” or more simply “rabbinic ordination.”
The practice finds Scriptural imprimatur in Torah, i.e. B’midbar 27:15-23 and D’varim 34:9. These passages reflect the סמיכה of Yehoshua bar Nun by Moshe via the laying on of hands. Note that “laying on” is also within the semantic range of “סמיכה.” This practice is conveyed through the Sanhedrin in Second Temple Times, and some suggest continued beyond the destruction of the Second Temple.
The process involves an examination of beliefs in order to qualify only those who prove not to be heretical in their beliefs and teachings. The belief criteria for ordination are listed and expounded on a separate page on this site. Candidates must be able to articulate their beliefs and defend them, as well as discern heresy or false teachings/teachers and defend against such.
The process concludes with the proclamation (if the candidate successfully passes), carried over from the ancient formula: “Yoreh? Yoreh! Yaddin? Yaddin!” (“May he decide? He may decide! May he judge? He may judge!”).1 Today, some rabbinical seminaries and yeshivot grant סמיכה לרבנות using this same ancient pronouncement.
Once having received this decree, the candidate (initiate) is certified for the issuing of halakhic judgments (yoreh), ruling in monetary and property disputes (yaddin), and presiding over the training of congregational leaders (zaqenim, morehim, and shammashim). Some congregations require סמיכה לרבנות for those who lead the congregation as well. Prior to סמיכה לרבנות, the candidate is referred to as “Rav;” afterward, he may use the title of “Rabbi.”
Those candidates who successfully complete the סמיכה לרבנות we offer will receive a plastic ID card (necessary to gain entry into jails, prisons, and some mental institutions for ministerial service) which includes the ordination date, the ordaining authority, and a personal ID number.
- s.v. “Semikhah;” In Lavinia Cohn-Sherbok & DanielCohn-Sherbok, A Popular Dictionary of Judaism (New York, Ny.: Routledge, 2013), 131. ↩