In terms of what we call semicha today, does one have to be Jewish to receive or hold it? Is it simply an indicator of learning (like an academic degree) which could be reached by anyone?

Knowing that many semicha conferring programs won't accept a non-Jew, I suggest the following hypothetical:

Someone raised a religious ("Orthodox") Jew studies for and is granted semicha. He writes, learns, answers practical questions based on his learning and "is" a rabbi. Ten years later, after some digging by members of his family, he discovers that his maternal great-grandmother was not Jewish. Therefore, he was never Jewish.

During the time that he practiced as a rabbi, was he one? The learning was the same as was his personal piety (if that matters). If someone asked him for an answer on a situation and was bound (at the time) by his answer as we do not shop for answers, is that person still bound after the heritage is discovered?

[I wonder if I asked a local smart Jewish person a question and he gave me an answer, whether I would be bound by his words even without semicha as I chose him as my generic expert...separate question]

  • The answer to your title: "חכמה בגויים תאמין - תורה בגויים אל תאמין" (איכה רבה פרשה ב סימן יג)
    – Al Berko
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 12:45
  • 3
    From the title I was expecting to find a basic question from a new user who might need help. Boy was I surprised when I clicked through. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 13:09
  • Is it a separate question? Or is it a prerequisite for this one?
    – Double AA
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 1:47
  • 1
    Sounds similar to a Cohen who for years received money from numerous pidyonei haben and later discovers that he was no Cohen, despite the fact that he paid to become one ;-) Question is - does he have to return all that money?
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 2:39
  • 1
    @AlBerko but at the time, in the hypothetical, we (and he thought) that he was Jewish so his Torah was not bagoyim. Do we say that retroactively, because it turns out he was "bagoyim" his title could not have been applied and therefore his thinking was tainted?
    – rosends
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 9:52

1 Answer 1


OK, I just hate to leave interesting questions unanswered:

You ask several different questions I will address one by one:

  1. To your title question: Yes, one has to be Jewish to be a counseling Rabbi. Here's why, but first, I'd like to define who's a Rabbi.

There are two usages of this word: 1. a respectful and knowledgeable Jew (sometimes I'm called a Rabbi :) 2. one who is authorized and certified to JUDGE (as you referred to סמיכה - which has a permit to judge).

In other words, when one comes to a Rabbi, the latter can be either a non-obligating source of wisdom (just as Google or MI@stack) or be the Posek for the asker as if there was a Rabbinical court of one.

In the first case, as I said, anyone can be Rabbi, including a woman or a computer. In the second case, only a Jewish adult male can be a Dayan (see Rambam's Hilchot Sanhedrin or Shu"A Ch"M). Case closed.

  1. To the body of your question - can someone lose his Jewishness?

No, after there's a Chazoke (חזקה) that someone is a Jew, only an accepted Jewish Rabbinical court can theoretically change that. In other words, if one who's been a pious Orthodox Jew for decades finds out some information that undermines his Jewishness he does not become a non-Jew until explicitly decided by a court. Because in the Rabbinical court NOTHING (no piece of evidence, as you put it "he discovers) matters but two Kosher witnesses, it is practically impossible to get anybody out of the Chazoke of his Jewishness.

So your conclusion "he was never Jewish" is totally wrong, and no matter what he will continue to be Jewish.

BTW try to find anything that really proves that his grandmother was not Jewish. What could it be? Besides two Kosher witnesses (that might not be accepted by the court also) there's nothing a Beis Din can not reject.

  • 1
    In the news there have been cases not about the grandmother, but about the status of a beit din as invalid, making all conversion performed invalid. If the mother's conversion is invalidated, then the son, who was raised Jewish and got Smicha would be invalidated.
    – rosends
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 16:06
  • 1
    @rosends the status of a beit din as invalid - there has to be another BD to prove it, not just a public opinion. Once again, you say If the mother's conversion is invalidated - invalidated by whom? Back to square 1
    – Al Berko
    Commented Aug 18, 2018 at 18:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .