I heard that Romans broke the smicha chain for one to be a proper rabbi in the old sense, and I heard that rabbis started after the second temple was destroyed. So i'm confused, the two things I heard sound contradictory to me

What is correct?

  • Your questions can be answered here. – ezra Dec 8 '17 at 15:51
  • I don't know enough for a good answer, but didn't everything(smicha, classes, etc) continue, in different locations, until outlawed finally by one of the later emperors, Justinian perhaps, in the early/mid 500's? Maybe it was a somewhat earlier one, mid 400's(one of the Constantxxx's?)...but I'm pretty sure I read about the tradition continuing for at least a couple of hundred years after the 1st Revolt. Ahh, thank you, Ezra! There it is.... – Gary Dec 8 '17 at 15:54
  • @Gary Yes it has everything to do with Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava, when he took the five students of Rabbi Akiva and gave them smicha, and then sacrificing himself to the hands of the Romans as the five new rabbis fled. (He's recorded as one of the Ten Martyrs, by the way.) – ezra Dec 8 '17 at 15:56
  • @ezra does that mean smicha wasn't broken then? I'm not asking about a sanhedrin but I've heard that one of the problematic issues with establishing a sanhedrin is that smicha is broken.. so that idea suggests that smicha was broken. – barlop Dec 8 '17 at 16:20
  • This sounds like he is asking about the usage of the term rabbi which is out of scope. – sabbahillel Dec 10 '17 at 3:00

Perhaps the reason you heard that rabbis began after the Second Temple, is that that is when the term 'rabbi' is introduced. For example, earlier Sages listed chronologically in Avot (1:2-12) are not called rabbi. These include: Shim'on HaTsadik, Antignos Ish Sokho, Yossi ben Yoezer, Yossi ben Yohanan, Yehoshua ben Perachya, Nittai HaArbeli, Yehuda ben Tabbai, Shimon ben Shetah, Sh'maya, Avtalyon, Hillel, and Shammai.[i] The first one in the list with a 'rabbi' based title, is Rabban Gamliel who indeed lived in the first century, the century of the Second Temple's destruction.

Alternatively, perhaps what you heard was part of a general doubting of the existence of a rabbinic culture in Second Temple times, given the seeming explosion of rabbinic literature and activity at the end of the Second Temple Era.

The traditional approach eschews this approach, and portrays a line of rabbis (although not called rabbis) from Moses to the Sages of the Mishna. The first chapter of Avot (referenced above) is one rabbinic source regarding the transmission of the Torah knowledge through the Second Temple era.

This is consistent with the Talmud's story (Avodah Zara 8b) about R. Yehuda ben Bava continuing the line of formal ordination in the early second century CE.

For a historian's take on the history of rabbinic culture in the Second Temple Era, see Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism, by the eminent historian Prof. Lawrence Schiffman, who notes (page 8) that:

The Pharisees cannot have emerged suddenly, full-blown in the Hasmonian period. Their theology and organization must have been in formation somewhat earlier. How much earlier, we cannot say.

The Hasmonian Period was the second century BCE. This is at least a couple of centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple.

[i] I am aware that in later editions scribes sometimes added rabbinic appellations to these figures, but it is clear that these are later additions.

  • thanks, a few things i'm curious about.. Prior to the romans, did every sage have yatir semicha? was the roman act of banning ordination and killing off new people ordained, completely successful and did it outlive even young scholars with semicha, such that even they couldn't ordain anybody when they were old.. and did nobody escape, and if not, then what prevents anybody from having yatir semicha today? – barlop Dec 10 '17 at 16:01
  • @barlop I don't have time to fully respond at the moment, but as far as we know, the chain of semicha was lost, some date that to the Roman period, and some later, but the fact is, it seems to have been lost. I don't know offhand if every sage had formal semikha at that time. – mevaqesh Dec 10 '17 at 16:06
  • ok thanks, I might make some separate questions on that. – barlop Dec 10 '17 at 16:55

The correct record of how the Romans attempted to break the chain of rabbinic ordination and how the rabbis had it reinstituted is brought in BT (A.Z. 8b). Soncino trans.:

Forty years before the Temple was destroyed did the Sanhedrin abandon [the Temple] and held its sittings in Hanuth... Has not Rab Judah said [the following] in the name of Rab: Verily that man, R. Judah b. Baba by name, be remembered for good, for were it not for him the laws of fine would have been forgotten in Israel? 'Forgotten'! Surely, they could be studied? — Nay, they would have been abolished; for the wicked Government of Rome issued a decree that he who ordains a Rabbi shall be slain, likewise he who is ordained shall be put to death, the town in which an ordination takes place shall be destroyed and the tehum in which the ordination is held shall be laid waste. What did R. Judah b. Baba do? He went and sat down between two mountains and between two large towns between two tehums, namely, between Usha and Shefar'am and there he ordained five elders: R. Meir, R. Judah [b. Il'ai]. R. Jose, R. Simeon and R. Eleazar b. Shammua (R. Awia adds also R. Nehemiah).

  • Could you please explain the answer to my question though. like i've heard that smicha started after the destruction of the second temple, and i've heard that smicha was broken then. Which was it? Your post suggests neither. That rabbis go all the way back to eg moses. And it was never broken and wasn't started in after the 2nd temple was destroyed. – barlop Dec 8 '17 at 16:22
  • @barlop Smicha did not "start after the Second Temple". Smicha was a chain of rabbinical authority passed down from Moshe Rabbeinu. Today, no one has third category smicha, "Yatir Brachos Yatir" (see here. Since Eliyahu has true smicha from the unbroken smicha chain, when he comes back we'll be able to form the Sanhedrin again. – ezra Dec 8 '17 at 16:29
  • @barlop Maimonides though writes about potentially forming the Sanhedrin in modern times by giving three judges full authority. It's a complicated subject though and I don't have room in this comment box. (See here.) – ezra Dec 8 '17 at 16:30
  • @ezra I think you meant bechoros? – Heshy Dec 8 '17 at 16:44
  • @ezra so how did we lose that third category of smicha / true smicha? was it anything to do with the romans? – barlop Dec 8 '17 at 17:01

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