This question asks about how we can possibly know that our mesorah (tradition) is correct since we lost the chain of smicha. But what is so important about a chain of blankets? Such things are useful for prison-breaks, but how do they help us maintain our tradition? Perhaps something useful was written on them?

From the question, I gather that Moshe had a blanket to which Yehoshua attached his own blanket and that this continued throughout the generations. If this continued through generations until the times of the gemara as that question suggests, that must have been quite a large chain of blankets! How could it possibly have been lost?!

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2 Answers 2


It's not exactly a chain; it's more of a sequence of events. The s'micha is used for kinyan during the ordination, so the recipient can acquire his status without doubt. Both the student and the rabbi grasp the corners of the blanket during the ceremony. (Some require them to also review the first chapter of Bava Metzia during the ceremony.)

The blanket -- the very one that Moshe gave Yehoshua -- was supposed to be kept safe in Yerushalayim, with all rabbis going there to receive their new status. But the blanket has been lost (I blame Rome), and with it the ability to grant true s'micha status. It is hoped that when Moshiach comes he will be carrying a bundle of wool.

Why is kinyan needed at all? As we know, each generation since Sinai has been less than the one before; this is why we don't overturn prior halacha. Why is each generation diminished? Because each act of granting s'micha actually transfers a bit of the grantor's s'micha-essence to the grantee. The acquisition of this s'micha thus requires kinyan, because it is an actual transfer of ownership. This is like giving somebody a cutting from a plant so he can grow a whole new one; here we are giving somebody a bit of the Tree of Life, the torah, and hoping it will grow further. But new growth isn't as complete as old growth, hence the gradual diminishing since Sinai.

I was asked in a comment:

[...] why can't another object be used (or why can't we make a new blanket)?

You want to use something other than Moshe's sacred blanket, or, worse yet, make a new blanket? Shall we also convene a new Sanhedrin today to overturn pesky, no-longer-necessary halachot like yom tov sheni? And from there we could go on to building the Temple -- why continue to settle for a diminished state when we have the means to fix it? No, in all of these cases we must wait for Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu to enact the divine plan in its proper time -- when Eliyahu returns with the holy blanket we can resume true s'micha, and until then we will just have to make do with what we have.

  • Very interesting. Why was a kinyan necessary during ordination and why can't another object be used (or why can't we make a new blanket)?
    – Daniel
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 13:36
  • @Daniel see my edits. Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 16:45

"Ger Yihyeh Zar'echa Ba'eretz Lo Lahem" - As the Jewish people are considered to be quintessential wanderers, Chazal state that it is vitally important to keep your towel. This was especially important in the midbar, as the towel could provide shade, allow you to comfortably lay upon the sand, or, as in Moshe's case, double as a mask to hide his glowing face from the nation.

Chazal are not referring to a chain of blankets, they are referring to a specific CHAIN OF OWNERSHIP over a SINGLE TOWEL, specifically the heilege towel Hashem handed Moshe rabbeinu to clean up after writing the first Sefer Torah. This towel obviously doubled as the Masveh, which is in fact the end-shortening of the word Mesorah, where the Reish and Heh are combined into a single letter.

The original process of conferring smicha involved wrapping the towel around the Talmid's head and THEN laying your hands upon the towel turban. The Mitznefet of the Kohen Gadol was worn with the tzitz to symbolize exactly this divine process. This is why the KG cannot raise his hands above the Tzitz, as it would would be placing his hands on top of Hashem's hand, something explicitly forbidden since Chazal say that Hashem purchased Yisroel and therefore "Yado al ha'elyonah."

Theodosius passed laws forbidding towel transmission, leading to the original towel being hidden and it's location lost. It is assumed they passed this decree because the Romans believed the proliferation of towel use among Jews detracted from the glory of their aqueducts and bathhouses, and that forbidding the use of towels was an attempt to enforce assimilation of the Jews into the culture of the Roman Empire.

There is significant dispute among the Sages as to whether a new towel can be ordained with the holiness necessary to reinstate the process of the rabbinic mesorah. Related debates rage about whether the composition of the towel is important, particularly whether the towel should be composed like the mitznefet or the paroches and whether shatnez is a halachic concern in the construction of a new S'michah.

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