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Mishnah Sanhedrin 4,4:

"ושלש שורות של תלמידי חכמים יושבין לפניהם כל אחד ואחד מכיר את מקומו"

Three rows of the Sages sit before [the Sanhedrin of 71], every one of them knows his place

Rambam's explanation:

"בכל שורה מהם ג"כ כ"ג מסודרין ראשון ושני ושלישי עד סופם כפי מעלתם בחכמה"

23 of them in every row arranged the first, the second, the third till the last one according to their wisdom

To elaborate how-were-judges-appointed: it seems to be a tough task - to compare different Rabbis, at times when no prophecy and no Halachic books existed. According to Rambam it was the standard procedure when appointing all sort of Beis Dins from the tree of Mamonos straight to the 71 of the Great Sanhedrin.

In other words: if the Sanhedrin was elected in our days, how would you evaluate the Gdoylim of the 20th century: Chofetz Chaim, Chazon Ish, R' Elyashiv, R' Moshe Feinstein, R' Shteinman, R' Ovadia or the Lubavicher Rebe Z"Ls?

  1. What was the procedure or tests to evaluate Rabbis' wisdom?

  2. How often did those tests take place? How many time were they re-evaluated and re-seated?

  3. What institution was in charge of this evaluation and how its members were elected?

  • From the names you mention, it seems you're asking about the modern era. Why bring in Maimonides, then? – msh210 Feb 5 '18 at 17:54
  • @msh210 The opposite, I just try to illustrate it with modern names, as if they were elected for Sanhedrin – Al Berko Feb 7 '18 at 1:15
  • They were all in Yerushalayim "hanging out" around the court. And they wouldn't compare "R' Elyashiv, R' Shteinman, R' Ovadia and Lubavicher Z"Ls" as 80 year old Gedolim. Presumably they'd be appointed (by their elders) to the Sanhedrin when young. – Shmuel Brin Feb 7 '18 at 1:51
  • great question, +1 – heshy Feb 7 '18 at 3:33
  • 1
    Not a complete answer, but maybe a hint is in the story at the end of Horayos, כל דאמר מילתא ולא מפריך להוי רישא. So it could have just been based on who they saw could more successfully defend their halachic positions. – Meir Mar 6 at 5:52
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Good question, but I believe it is based on a misunderstanding. According to my understanding, even the Rambam agrees that there was no formal evaluation of the great Sages of any time. In the Sanhedrin, each of those Gedolim would understand where they were relative to the other Gedolim. We don't have to choose between the

Chofetz Chaim, Chazon Ish, R' Elyashiv, R' Moshe Feinstein, R' Shteinman, R' Ovadia or the Lubavicher Rebe

because they themselves will arrange in order. This requires great wisdom and humilty. As Avos 6:1 notes, הַמַּכִּיר אֶת מְקוֹמוֹ is one of the "kinyanei torah", and is explained in this way (knowing where one is in Torah relative to their Rabbeim and students, and presumably peers) by various mefarshim there (e.g Mirkeves Hamishneh, second explanation, Maharal).

This understanding seems to be the simple one, and is elaborated upon by the Alei Tamar to Yerushalmi Sanhedrin here.

  • Thanks for answering. 1. "misunderstanding" of what? 2. of course, we can attribute just about anything to miracles - "they just knew it". I, personally, don't buy it. How does it emerge? A guy is sitting somewhere in Lod, studies Torah in private and suddenly it hits him - "you've just reached rank 79 on the Sanhedrin benches!". Is this how you see it? – Al Berko Jul 9 at 18:08
  • You say "Even Rambam agrees that there was no formal evaluation of the great Sages of any time" - where do you take it from? – Al Berko Jul 9 at 18:40
  • @AlBerko "A guy is sitting somewhere in Lod, studies Torah in private and suddenly it hits him - "you've just reached rank 79 on the Sanhedrin benches!". Is this how you see it?" No. Anyone that great a Talmid Chacham in the age of the Sanhedrin would be present at (or a student of someone great on) the Sanhedrin and would presumably be familiar with many of them... Not to mention that the other Talmidei Chachamim aware of him would likely reach out at some point... – רבות מחשבות Jul 9 at 20:04
  • @AlBerko "You say "Even Rambam agrees that there was no formal evaluation of the great Sages of any time" - where do you take it from?" I take it from the fact that he never mentions it, but also because he uses passive language in Peirush Hamishna here and Hilchos Sanhedrin 1:7, as opposed to language of "שמושיבים אותם לפי מעלתם", such as is seen in Encyclopedia Talmudit. – רבות מחשבות Jul 9 at 20:10
  • Exactly. Because it's your interpretation, you'd better start with "it seems" or "IMHO" or the like. Often Rambam simply cites other sources without elaborating or altering anything, so nothing can be said on his own opinion. – Al Berko Jul 9 at 21:38

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