I heard once (can't remember where) that in Volozhin, the students preferred to be tested for the rabbinate by Reb Chaim of Brisk and not the Netziv, because the Netziv didn't give very hard tests. In his view, the true test of a rabbi came if and when he became a communal rabbi. Reb Chaim, on the other hand, would give difficult tests, so if one passed them, that meant that that person was very learned. Does anyone have a source for this?

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    Although most rabbinical students today likely want to be very learned, and perhaps also recognized as such, I would guess that almost every one would prefer easier bechinose that they will more likely pass than harder ones which might look more impressive but which they also risk failing. I don’t think people have changed all that much, and so the story sounds a bit suspicious.
    – Menachem
    Apr 10, 2022 at 21:18

2 Answers 2


While not mentioning R. Chaim, this passage in Lithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Century by Prof. Shaul Stampfer confirms the basic concept (though reversed) you have heard:

Many yeshiva graduates were rabbis. This lent support to the belief that the yeshiva's function was to train rabbis, as did the fact that the rosh yeshivah himself ordained rabbis. The more famous the rabbi who granted it the more valuable the ordination certificate; it was only natural that ordination by the rosh yeshivah would be particularly prestigious. Moreover, R. Berlin was known to be very careful about granting ordination; this made his ordination even more valuable, and also enhanced the importance of Volozhin as an institution in which to receive ordination. The following passage, written by a student at Volozhin in the 1880s, reflects this well:

There were some young married yeshiva students who rushed off to R. Naftali Tsevi [Berlin] from other places or yeshivas in order to be ordained by him — and this gave them the title of 'religious rabbi' [in contrast to 'government rabbi']. In truth, every rabbi is authorized to ordain others. But each of them wanted his ordination certificate to bear the signature of a famous authority. The best candidates [for ordination] were prepared to be examined by a more scrupulous examiner. Those who were interested knew in advance that R. Yitshak Elhanan [Spektor] of Kovno was more lenient in his examinations... an ordination endorsed by the name of R. Naftali Tsevi was quite different. The candidates stayed in Volozhin for week after week just in order to get a letter of ordination that he had signed. R. Naftali Tsevi used to test the candidates again and again on their knowledge in all branches of talmudic literature, and the ordinations he issued under his signature were very highly respected by Jewish communities."

(p. 95)


To get a better sense of this, one might do an informal check of ספר אהלי שם by ר' שמואל נח גאטליב (published in 1912). It's available here: https://hebrewbooks.org/36602

Typically where the rabbis learned and from whom they received semicha is included in the listings. One could look for rabbis who are mentioned to have spent significant time in Volozhin AND to have received semicha from Rav Chaim Brisker.

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    See this article from Dr. Leiman containing lists of students at Volozhin around the time R' Chaim first came to the yeshiva. It also discusses the claim that around 60 of the students enrolled were seeking semicha from the Netziv. Finally, it cites the example of R' Avraham Hofenberg, Rav of Vashki, who obtained semicha from both the Netziv and R Chaim (confirmed by his grandson).
    – Fred
    Dec 28, 2022 at 2:38

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