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There's a story in Sanhedrin 14a:

שפעם אחת גזרה מלכות הרשעה גזירה על ישראל שכל הסומך יהרג וכל הנסמך יהרג ועיר שסומכין בה תיחרב ותחומין שסומכין בהן יעקרו מה עשה יהודה בן בבא הלך וישב לו בין שני הרים גדולים ובין שתי עיירות גדולות ובין שני תחומי שבת בין אושא לשפרעם וסמך שם חמשה זקנים ואלו הן ר"מ ור' יהודה ור' שמעון ור' יוסי ור' אלעזר בן שמוע רב אויא מוסיף אף ר' נחמיה כיון שהכירו אויביהם בהן אמר להן בניי רוצו אמרו לו רבי מה תהא עליך אמר להן הריני מוטל לפניהם כאבן שאין לה הופכים אמרו לא זזו משם עד שנעצו בו שלש מאות לונביאות של ברזל ועשאוהו ככברה

(and Translated by Chabad.org):

The emperor decreed that whoever performed or received ordination should be put to death. In addition, the city in which the ordination took place was to be demolished, and all within 2000 amah uprooted. The tradition of semicha would indeed have been completely lost at that time were it not for the self-sacrifice of the great sage Rabbi Yehuda Ben Bava.

Hearing the decree, Rabbi Yehuda took five students of Rabbi Akiva, the great sage who had just been martyred by the Romans, and sat between two mountains that served as the ”Shabbat boundary” between two large cities, Usha and Shifarum.

When the Romans discovered them, Rabbi Yehuda cried out to the students, “My children, flee!” The students replied “Our teacher, what will become of you?” He responded, “I am placed before them like a rock that cannot be overturned.” It is said that the Romans did not leave the spot where they had found Rabbi Yehuda Ben Bava until they had pierced him with three hundred spears, rendering him like a sieve. But by then, the newly-ordained rabbis were out of reach.

The names of the five students were Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehuda (bar Ilay), Rabbi Shimoen, Rabbi Yossi, and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua. According to some, Rabbi Nechemiah was ordained there as well.

If his whole point was to save the institution of Smicha, why didn't he just give them Smicha privately?

  • I believe that the story does imply that this was done privately. He took only five of his students and set with him in the middle of nowhere, I think that counts as a small and private event. – yechezkel May 20 '15 at 5:50
  • @yechezkel so how did the Romans find out? – Shmuel Brin May 20 '15 at 17:02
  • patrols? Spys? I'm sure they had their ways. – yechezkel May 20 '15 at 17:04
  • @yechezkel Why did anyone outside those six need to know anything? – Shmuel Brin May 20 '15 at 17:07
  • they didn't need to know, but the Romans found out. I guessing that since they had patrols searching for people doing ileagl things, and perhaps they discovered them by chance. – yechezkel May 20 '15 at 17:10

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