When was the chain of Semicha from Mt. Sinai broken?

Originally, Semicha was a direct line from Moshe, but when did it break?


3 Answers 3


Wikipedia states:

The exact date that the original semikhah succession ended is not certain. Many medieval authorities believed that this occurred during the reign of Hillel II, around the year 360 CE.[8] However, Theodosius I forbade the Sanhedrin to assemble and declared ordination illegal. (Roman law prescribed capital punishment for any Rabbi who received ordination and complete destruction of the town where the ordination occurred).[9] It seems to have continued until at least 425, when Theodosius II executed Gamaliel VI and suppressed the Patriarchate and Sanhedrin

  • this link seems to date it earlier according to wikinoah.org/en/index.php?title=Semicha "The situation changed as a result of the failed revolution by Bar Kokhba in 132–135 C.E. The Romans put down the revolt, and the emperor Hadrian withdrew all support for the Sanhedrin, ... According to the Mishna, Hadrian banned the granting of semicha; anyone who gave or accepted semicha was given the death penalty. Further, the Mishna states that if semicha is given, the very city in which the ceremony took place would be demolished (Sanhedrin 14a.)"
    – barlop
    Dec 10, 2017 at 18:56
  • though this link books.google.co.uk/… Who's Who in the Talmud By Shulamis Frieman p. xxxiv says semicha was given by the nasi and the office was gotten rid of by the romans in the 5th century , abolishing semicha.
    – barlop
    Dec 10, 2017 at 19:02

The Rebbe (Lubavitch) discusses this in a few places. See for example Sefer hasichos 5752 page 230. בארוכה בשיחת ש"פ בראשית תשמ"ה (התוועדויות תשמ"ה ח"א עמ' 414 ואילך) (וקודם לזה, בקיצור, בשיחת ער"ה תשד"מ (התוועדויות תשד"מ ח"ד עמ' 2683 ואילך). ולהעיר משיחת יום שמח"ת תשי"ט.

  • Welcome to MiYodeya Shabsi. and thanks for this first answer. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Amongst others, it would be great if you translated your answer into English. Also please consider registering your account, to enable more site features, including voting. Hope to see you around!
    – mbloch
    Mar 4, 2018 at 13:42
  • 4
    This just gives pointers to locations where the Lubavitch Rebbe spoke about the matter. It does not summarize what he said, nor does it even give a link to where someone of this site can find it online. You should summarize what he wrote in English. Mar 4, 2018 at 14:18

An argument can be made that the chain of semicha effectively ended with the destruction of the first (Solomon's) temple and the exile of the Jews into Babylon. Arcahelogical evidence reveal that Jerusalem was largely destroyed, with the entired walled city being burnt to the ground. There is some evidence that other areas of Judah were not deported. However, the temple, which was the center of Jewish religious life, was lost and the Jews were no longer in political power. The Babylonian captivity lasted for 70 years as prophesized by Jeremiah, and it ended in 538 BCE when Cyrus of Persia issued a general decree allowing exiled people to their lands.

The book of Ezra indicates that when the Jews returned to Israel, Ezra had to reintroduce the Torah to the people (Ezra Chapters 7-10 and Nehemiah Chapter 8). Many Jewish men had taken wives from the nations. It also seems clear that most Jews were no longer aware of many of the holidays. As further evidence of the influence of the captivity, consider that certain names for the months were adopted from Babylonian (e.g. תַּמּוּז , מַרְחֶשְׁוָן). Tanach also does not make mention that the Jews who had stayed behind had been observant for the two generations of the exile. Therefore, as all Jews had become largely unobservant during the exile, it seems plausible that the right of semicha could easily have fallen into disuse. Even if semicha were continued in Bablyon or Judah, the argument could be made that the transfer were invalid since either party may not have been observant (similar to the modern halacha rejecting a reform ordination).

  • -1 This doesn't mesh with the mesorah presented in Avot 1:1. We know that the mesorah was maintained throughout the Exile and was certainly still being handed down in the time of Rabbi (Yehudah haNasi). Feb 12, 2015 at 17:05
  • 2
    This is complete speculation. Sure it could have broken then, but how do you know it did? -1
    – Double AA
    Feb 12, 2015 at 20:55

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