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It seems that many mitzvot in the Torah are opened to interpretation in some way, potentially subject to ruling by the Sanhedrin. And some mitzvot (examples below) seem to require the presence of the Sanhedrin.

In Maimonides' 613 mitzvot list, the presence of a Sanhedrin is required for carrying out some of the mitzvot. Examples:

  • The Sanhedrin must count seven groups of seven years Lev. 25:8
  • The Sanhedrin must sanctify the fiftieth year Lev. 25:10
  • The Sanhedrin must bring an offering when it rules in error Lev 4:13
  • Israel must act according to the ruling of the Sanhedrin Deut. 17:11

Here's my question: why isn't there a centralized Sandhedrin today? Now that the exile has ended, is it a matter of broad support in unifying the factions? Do some Jews believe there is no need? Are we waiting for the Beit HaMikdash to be built?

Wikipedia says there has been one significant attempt in recent times (2004) to reinstitute the Sanhedrin, but it doesn't comment much on the ongoing success of said attempt, and website it links to is dead.

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Why do you feel the exile has ended? – Tzvi Jul 6 '11 at 18:49
Let me state it more precisely: the forced exile has ended. That is, Jews are not forced to live in exile now. Jews can live in Israel under self-rule. The exile is over for that reason. – Judah Gabriel Himango Jul 13 '11 at 20:12
Ok Great! Let's make one! Now, who should sit on it? – Double AA Apr 3 '12 at 21:20
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The criterion for a Sanhedrin to have the powers that you enumerated (and a lot of others too) is that its members have semichah (ordination) that goes back, in succession, to Moshe Rabbeinu. Such semichah also has to be given specifically in the Land of Israel, so it died out when the Jewish communities there dwindled (depending whom you ask, anywhere from the 4th to the 12th century).

The generally accepted view is that it will indeed require the coming of Moshiach - or to be more precise, of Eliyahu, who had semichah during his earthly life - for semichah to be reinstated.

On the other hand, Rambam (Hil. Sanhedrin 4:11) gives his opinion that "all of the sages of the Land of Israel" could join together and reinstate semichah on their own. The most well-known attempt to do so was made by R' Yaakov Beirav (a teacher of R' Yosef Caro) in 1538; it was opposed on various grounds - including the question of whether the Rambam's view is accepted in the first place - by other contemporary scholars (most prominently R' Levi ibn Chaviv and Radvaz), though, and so it never really took off. (I've heard of a similar attempt in the 1830s by R' Yisrael of Shklov, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, but I don't know any details.) So there is no consensus on whether indeed this is possible in the present era.

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Interesting. Care to comment on the recent attempt (2004) to reinstate the Sanhedrin? – Judah Gabriel Himango Jul 1 '11 at 20:12
@JudahGabriel, I don't know much about it (aside from the information on this Wikipedia page), but I gather that they, like R' Yaakov Beirav, base themselves on the Rambam's view of how semichah can be restored. – Alex Jul 1 '11 at 23:10
maran had a semicha as you mentioned and it was accepted, it was discusses if he could continue and pass on the semicha, which he didn't, in my yeshiva I learned that the anshe ierushalaim didn't agree that he pass on – Avraham Jul 3 '11 at 7:20
The 2004 attempt worked similarly to that of 1538, via the Rambam's mechanism. Though in 1538, the rabbis of Safed said "we're the majority of Israel so no need to contact Jerusalem about this first, we all agree on Rabbi Beirav." In 2004 they announced all over Israel, and no one objected to Dayan Halberstam; semicha was thus "generated" for him, which was then transferred to others (including Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz). It's a tricky situation today, what if the halacha doesn't follow the Rambam? And should the Sanhedrin issue rules that most of the population won't keep? – Shalom Jul 6 '11 at 18:04

The Lubavitcher Rebbe has a letter about a possible "Sanhedrin" in 1955 http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=15783&st=&pgnum=159

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