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I have no intention of doing an online smicha, but am more interested in the topic from a theoretical perspective. There are several online smicha programs supposedly accredited by orthodox rabbis, like onlinesmicha.com.

Are such programs theoretically valid in regards to accrediting someone, if they be conducted by proper rabbis via video? Or is there some kind of physical presence requirement (implicit or explicit) to be legitimate?

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    related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/16375/11501 – mbloch Jan 2 '18 at 4:05
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    semikha today is just a matter of convention. It means as much or as little as a given individual decides. For example, let's say you have semiha from a tremendous talmid hakhamim, who happens to be quite obscure, that won't be as helpful in convincing someone who doesn't know him of your expertise that semikha from a lesser rabbi (or institution) who is more well known. Online semikha means as much or as little as someone takes it to mean. – mevaqesh Jan 2 '18 at 5:19
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    I think Ner Yisrael has an online semicha program. Ner Yisrael has a very good reputation. As for the quality of a program, what you will learn and whether it will earn you a good carer and reliable reputation - that really depends on the place and the program as well as your own abilities, at the end. But, inherently, I can't see any difference between online and traditional onsite programs. You do miss the atmosphere and chevruta experience which are both tremendously valuable and important in any learning. – DanF Jan 2 '18 at 17:35
  • Theoretically speaking, there is no difference between theory and practice. Practically speaking, there is. – user6591 Apr 21 at 19:13
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Define "theoretically valid". They do leave someone with the book-knowledge we demand of rabbis, and therefore someone with online semichah should not feel like a charlatan if he expects people to call him "rabbi". For that matter, someone whom rabbis feel is knowledgeable in other ways and should be in a religious leadership role may be declared a "rav umanhig -- a rabbi and leader"; dubbed "rabbi" without knowing the usual material for semichah.

However, to be a community's poseiq (halachic decisor), you need apprenticeship. There is an art to pesaq (decision-making), aside from the book knowledge, that you can only pick up by serving under a mentor and absorbing methodology culturally. We rule as per the gemara (Sotah 21b-22a) which discusses who is the verse's "רשע ערום -- wicked trickser" who is listed among those who cause the world to be swallowed up. Among the suggestions:

עולא אמר: זה שקרא ושנה ולא שימש תלמידי חכמים

אתמר קרא ושנה ולא שימש ת"ח

ר' אלעזר אומר: הרי זה עם הארץ.

ר' שמואל בר נחמני אמר הרי זה בור

ר' ינאי אומר ה"ז כותי

Ulla said: This is one who studies and reviews, but doesn't serve sages.

It was said, one who studies and reviews, but doesn't serve sages:

Rabbi Eliezer said: He is an ignoramus. [Meaning: he isn't to be considered a member of the Pharasaic / Rabbinic class.]

Rabbi Shemu'el bar Nachmeini said: He is a boor [implying more coarseness than a mere ignoramus].

Rabbi Yanai said: He is [like a] Samaritan.

Similar to another gemara (Berakhos 47b) which states:

תניא אחרים אומרים: אפילו קרא ושנה ולא שימש תלמידי חכמים, הרי זה עם הארץ. אמר רב הונא הלכה כאחרים

It was repeated (in a beraisa), "others say" [ie Rabbi Meir said]: Even if someone studied and reviewed, but did not serve sages, that one is an ignoramus.

Rav Huna said: the law is like "others".

So, someone with an on-line semichah without apprenticeship apparently shouldn't be giving halachic rulings, as it risks being classed an evil trickster whose decisions bring ruin. (I say "apparently" because I myself do not feel sufficiently apprenticed to say something firm that could be taken as a ruling!)

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There is no real semicha nowadays anyways. 'Smicha' was a chain of teachers ordaining students tracing itself all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu. This chain was purposefully lost due to corruption. Thus, there are no real Halochas of smicha. Today, a rabbi can give a talmid smicha as he sees fit.

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    Welcome - obviously the question was referring to Smicha as we know it nowadays - i.e. accrediting Rabbis. This is therefore not an answer. – Danny Schoemann Apr 21 at 14:32
  • @DannySchoemann, I'm not sure I agree. The last sentence seems to address the question. – Meir Apr 22 at 2:21
  • Are there no limitations? Can you give semicha to someone who doesn't know any halacha? Can you give semicha to someone who is not Jewish? Can you give semicha to a computer? Can you give semicha to an animal? – Alex Apr 22 at 23:49
  • @Alex "I can call spirits from the vasty deep." "Why, so can I, or so can any man, but will they come when you do call for them?" Sure, the rabbi can give semicha to any of those, but whether it will be accepted is something else entirely. (And simple self-interest would have him avoid doing so, in order not to dilute the value of any other semichos he'd give.) – Meir Apr 23 at 0:38
  • @Meir So then it's not simply a free-for-all as this answer makes it seem. – Alex Apr 23 at 0:40
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One of the most respected rabbis in Baltimore tells that he received smicha from Ner Yisroel's rosh yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Weinberg z"l. The Rosh Yeshiva generally didn't give smicha, the test was usually given by Rav Kulefsky z"l. But this rabbi had never bothered to take the exam, even though he taught one of the regular study groups on the subject at Ner! One day he was speaking to Rav Weinberg, and he mentioned that he had never taken the exam. "You have smicha, ___, you have smicha!" said Rav Weinberg. And that was that.

That is what smicha means these days; it's also called "yoreh-yoreh" (see Sanhedrin 5a): permission to rule on the relevant halachic issues. Once the teacher determines that the student is ready to do that - however he determines it - he can give smicha. Obviously a responsible teacher wouldn't do that without knowing the student well. But that can be done online too.

Not quite "online", but another friend told me that he was part of a training program by Rav Moshe Heinemann shlit"a in the Star-K. A question would come by phone; if he felt comfortable, my friend would answer it. If he had any issue, he would transfer the question to Rav Heinemann and listen to the answer. Kind of a phone apprenticeship. Of course, he had regular smicha already.

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