I have heard that in the Orthodox world rabbis that teach are referred to as "Rabbi" even though they might not have semicha. Even several roshei yeshivah might not have semicha. can this be true?

  • 3
    The second part of your question is not related to the first. Perhaps you should offer it, of whether a civil marriage is required, as a separate question. Also, the plural for rosh yeshivah is roshei yeshivah.
    – Aryeh
    Jan 28, 2013 at 14:28
  • 2
    Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for bringing your question here! I've edited out your second question, which, as @Aryeh indicates, is not related to the first. I encourage you to post it as a separate question; if you need the original wording, you can find it in this question's revision history. Please consider editing your profile to give yourself a name, unless 2321 is somehow an expression of your identity. :)
    – Isaac Moses
    Jan 28, 2013 at 15:12
  • See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semikhah
    – Michoel
    Jan 29, 2013 at 4:56
  • I have heard that the Chofetz Chaim, one of the very great halachic authorities of his generation, did not have semicha until for some reason he needed it at the end of his life. Can anyone else back up that story?
    – MichoelR
    Feb 19, 2023 at 16:28
  • There is a (somewhat) similar story about Rav Yaakov Horowitz shlit"a, one of the leading rabbonim of Baltimore. He was speaking to the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Weinberg z"l. The RY mentioned his semicha, so Rabbi Horowitz said, Well, actually I never really went and got it... R' Weinberg said, Oh, Yankel, you have semicha, you have semicha. And that was that.
    – MichoelR
    Feb 19, 2023 at 16:31

3 Answers 3


It depends what you mean by semicha -- there is a basic level of "being a rabbi" that is summarized here:

There is a new form of semicha which is circulating today, known as the "Rav Umanhig" semicha. This is essentially a semicha which does not necessarily vouch for the recipient's knowledge or competency in halacha, but rather, testifies that the recipient is worthy to be called "rabbi" and serve in a position of leadership. In some yeshivot there is a formal curriculum which must be completed before receiving this semicha, usually extensive sections of the Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch. Other rabbis and yeshivot simply issue this semicha to students who are well rounded and have an impressive grasp of general Jewish scholarship and are therefore worthy of the title "rabbi". Indeed, it is important to recall that "rabbi" essentially means "teacher", not necessarily "halachic authority".

It is somewhat unclear how or why this semicha evolved. According to one theory, the Rav Umanhig semicha may have been first created by the Ner Yisrael yeshiva in Baltimore in order to allow yeshiva students to evade the draft during the Korean and Vietnam Wars under the "clergy" clause. After the draft was over, the Rav Umanhig semicha continued for those wishing to enter Jewish communal work, though not necessarily as pulpit rabbis. In this way those in teaching and similar positions could legitimately be addressed as "rabbi" without having to go through the intensity of formal semicha studies and learning the Yoreh Deah material.


So one could be, according to this, called "rabbi" simply as a function of their holding a particular teaching role but without the testing and approbation of forml semicha.**

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    Thank you very much. Your answer was enlightening and very helpful
    – user2321
    Jan 28, 2013 at 15:43
  • The article mentions that during the Vietnam era Ner Israel gave out the lesser smicha so boys could evade the draft. I understand that Ner had stopped granting Yoreh Yoreh smicha during that period because certain graduates (one in particular) had embarrassed the school, but that the school again granted full ordination when a wunderkind, Yitzhok Breitowitz showed great potential there. This is from my havrusa and another good friend who were a few years behind Rabbi Breitowitz. Jan 29, 2013 at 10:01

It is important to understand that the Semicha of today is not "Traditional Semicha" which was only given in an unbroken chain from Moshe Rabbeinu down, from each teacher to their (worthy) students. That Semicha was lost long ago. (Although it is possible to bring back according to the Rambam, and was attempted by Rav Yaakov Beirav in 1538).

What, then, is the Semicha of today?

The Rema (Y.D. 242:14) writes that the Semicha of today is there for two purposes:

  • For people to believe that he is capable of ruling on Halachic Shailot
  • As permission from his teacher to rule. (As one is prohibited from issuing a Halachic ruling in the same city as his teacher without permission.) As such, if he lives in a different city, or his teacher is no longer alive, he would not need permission. As well, today most people do not have a רבו מובהק and therefore would not require permission.

Essentially, the only reason for most people to have Semicha today is for people to trust him. There is no Halachic requirement for someone to have Semicha in order to rule on a question to which he knows the answer.

  • Hello nagah! Welcome to Mi Yodeya and thank you for this on-target answer. I hope you stick around and continue to enjoy the site.
    – Double AA
    Feb 1, 2013 at 6:08
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    If you are going to mention Rav Yaakov Beirav, you should also mention Rab Moshe Halberstam. israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/102678#.UQvGEb9TaSo
    – avi
    Feb 1, 2013 at 13:41

Rabbi Gedalia Anemer,zt'l, used to bristle when a day school principal would have all male Jewish subject teachers referred to as "rabbi" whether or not they had earned the credential. There have been impressive yeshiva instructrs at institutions such as Ner Israel who (20 years ago) might just be "mister" so and so. Those days are disappearing, though and more and more Talmud instructrs without smicha are now called "rabbi" even though his working knowledge of the Shulchan Aruch may be limited.

  • Doesn't rabbi really just mean teacher?
    – Double AA
    Jan 29, 2013 at 3:11
  • @DDoubleAA: Not to that generation. Rabbis from that era remember when they had colleagues take Conservative pulpits and their Roshei HaYeshivos would retro-actively revoke their smicha. Rav Solovechic, for one, did that. Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz, zt'l, a Polish-born rav who was ordained by what is now the Skokie Yeshiva, told me he couldn't understand why people who had actually earned the degree (but didn't use it) would not still want to be called rabbi. Jan 29, 2013 at 9:45
  • @BruceJames I want to hear more about Rav Soloveitchik revoking a semicha. Who? When? For what?
    – Ze'ev
    Jan 18, 2015 at 6:19
  • @Ze'evFelsen As I understand it, he retroactively revoked the smicha of any rabbi taking a pulpit in a Conservative congregation. Jan 19, 2015 at 23:01

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