The term talmid chacham is used commonly in our tradition to describe a Jew with a certain high level of knowledge, understanding, closeness to Gd, etc. Can the halachic label "talmid chacham" be used appropriately in our times?

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    What is "the halachic label 'talmid chacham'"?
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 17:32
  • I can think of several talmidei chachamim of today's generation. :) Why would you think the term cannot be used today? Are there not righteous people still?
    – ezra
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 18:35
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    @DoubleAA I recommend putting this on hold as "Unclear" pending clarification of this point.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 19:21
  • 2
    @IsaacMoses היד [יצחק מש]ה תקצר?
    – Double AA
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 19:23
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    @IsaacMoses But not “אייזיק”?
    – Oliver
    Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 1:35

4 Answers 4


The halachic term is indeed applied even today (although the qualification is debatable). Rema (YD 243:2) rules that all laws relating to a TC apply even today save for the penalty for embarrassing a TC (see PT Bava Kama 8:6). Others disagree and maintain that even today this penalty applies (Shach, CM, 1:19).

  • I'll have to look at this source more thoroughly. In today's time, it somewhat places a question on the need for "additional" titles such as "Shlita" and "Ga'on", which on frequent occasions seem to be "randomly" assigned to people who may not really "earn" that title. It also creates various "tiers" of respect.
    – DanF
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 22:56
  • Can I ask you to elaborate when you say "although the qualification is debatable" ?
    – user419691
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 11:41
  • Sure. The talmud in various places describes a "chacham" differently (cf. Kid. 49b, Shab. 114a et. al.). When the SA discusses the halachic ramifications of a "talmid chacham" he adds the qualification of "toraso umnaso" (YD 243:2). The Rema further qualifies that requisite, as does the Shach. Following his qualification, the SA exempts one from general prayer (OC 106:2); R. Moshe Feinstein rules that today nobody qualifies as such (Iggros Moshe OC vol. 2 27).
    – Oliver
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 13:16
  • (continuation) The SA elsewhere permits such a person to study Torah during kriyat ha'torah (OC 146:2); the Misheneh Berurah (loc. cit. 9) suggests that today nobody qualifies to be such a person who "toraso umnaso".
    – Oliver
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 13:16
  • I thought i had heard the opinion that nobody qualifies today. Is Misheneh Berurah and R. Moshe Feinstein saying no one anymore qualifies as talmid chacham or as toraso umnaso? I was confused by some of the answers in this thread. What is the consensus view? Is there reasoning given i.e. yirudat hadorot ?
    – user419691
    Commented Sep 17, 2017 at 1:22

Koheles Rabbah 7:14 (Warsaw) applies the label to anyone who abandons his dealings to learn, or, alternatively, to one who can answer a halachic query regarding something he has previously learned.

איזהו תלמיד חכם רבי אבהו בשם רבי יוחנן כל שהוא מבטל עסקיו מפני משנתו תני כל ששואלן אותו הלכה ממשנתו ומשיב עליה

Who is a Talmid Chacham? R’ Avahu said in the name of R’ Yochanan: Anyone who abandons his dealings because of his learning. It was taught in a Braisa: anyone that we can ask him a Halacha from his learning and he can respond regarding it.

Eitz Yosef there explicitly writes that this has several halachic applications; for instance, a Talmid Chacham is presumed not to claim something as his unless he is 100% positive it is, and so he doesn’t need to provide simanim on a lost object (BM 23b-24a).

I can think of dozens of people who fit either or both of these definitions.

  • The statement of Rabbi Abahu in the name of Rabbi Yochanan is not about abandoning ones business pursuits (עסקיו). Rather, it is about priorities. The Talmid Chacham’s priority is his learning over his business pursuits. Commented May 12, 2019 at 22:52

One who learns wisdom is considered a Talmud Chacham (a student of wisdom) The Sages were considered Talmidei Chachamim in their own day because they considered 1) scripture, 2) the science of their day and 3) the mentality of the generation at hand when concluding halacha. The Gemara displays page after page of examples of how these scholars derived to their conclusions.

Today we mainly have students that just learn of the halachic conclusions from the past but ignore the sciences, characteristics, and makeup of our own generation.

  • Welcome to MiYodeya Ira and thanks for this first question. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 13:14
  • Mi Yodeya isn't like a standard internet discussion forum -- we're strictly a Q&A site, where we expect answers to answer the question at hand. As it is, this reads more like a comment. As such it might be removed or converted to a comment beneath the question. Do you have particular sources showing that talmidei chachamim today are different from those in the times of the gemara?
    – mbloch
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 13:15

Yoma 38b

אמר ר' חייא בר אבא אמר ר' יוחנן אין צדיק נפטר מן העולם עד שנברא צדיק כמותו שנאמר (קהלת א, ה) וזרח השמש ובא השמש עד שלא כבתה שמשו של עלי זרחה שמשו של שמואל הרמתי (אמר) ר' חייא בר אבא א"ר יוחנן ראה הקדוש ברוך הוא שצדיקים מועטין עמד ושתלן בכל דור ודור שנא' (שמואל א ב, ח) כי לה' מצוקי ארץ וישת עליהם תבל

Apropos the righteous, Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: No righteous person departs from this world until another comparable righteous person is created, as it is stated: “And the sun rises and the sun sets” (Ecclesiastes 1:5); before the sun sets the new sun has already risen. Before the sun of Eli was extinguished, the sun of Samuel of Ramah had already shone (see I Samuel, chapter 3), and so on throughout the generations. And Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: The Holy One, Blessed be He, saw that righteous people were few, so He arose and planted some of them in each and every generation to ensure the presence of at least one righteous person in each generation. As it is stated: “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them” (I Samuel 2:8). Since the world rests upon the righteous, each generation requires the presence of a righteous person to provide that support.

  • Does tzaddik = talmid chacham?
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 17:15
  • Does it not@alex
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 17:16
  • Perhaps yes, perhaps not. If your answer depends upon them being equivalent, you may want to discuss that in your answer.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 17:17
  • Good point, hope to add @alex
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 17:18
  • A Tzaddik has many different definitions depending upon the context and does not have to be a Talmid Chacham. They are 2 different things. Commented May 10, 2019 at 0:16

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