What does one have to know in order to be called a "Talmid Chochum"? Hypothetically speaking if one knew Tanach or Medresh Rabbah well or even all 4 parts of Shulchan Aruch relatively well, then is he a Talmid Chochum?

And if it's not about knowing, then what does one have to do in order to be called a Talmid Chochum? Do we say that there are different levels (so to speak) of what it means to be a Talmid Chochum?

  • 7
    How much math do you have to know to be called smart?
    – Double AA
    Dec 25, 2018 at 1:07
  • Lots and lots of Talmud. The more, the more chochum. Good question though, where IS the line to "earn" the title/description?
    – Gary
    Dec 25, 2018 at 1:44
  • Check out Horayos 2b
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Dec 25, 2018 at 2:46
  • 3
    I don't think "Talmid Chachom" is a title in the sense that you earn it based on what you do, I think it's what other people call you when they see (based on their opinion) that you learn lots of Torah. I would call it gaavah if someone walked up to me and said "I'm a talmid chachom!" (Unless, that is, they really were the student of a chachom, in which they would be his talmid...) Like kabbalists, one who calls themselves a talmid chachom is probably not one.
    – ezra
    Dec 25, 2018 at 4:57

3 Answers 3


The Talmud provides several such definitions for various contexts. In the context of conditional marriages we have:

Kiddushin 49b

ע"מ שאני תלמיד אין אומרים כשמעון בן עזאי וכשמעון בן זומא אלא כל ששואלין אותו בכ"מ דבר אחד בלימודו ואומרו ואפילו במסכתא דכלה על מנת שאני חכם אין אומרים כחכמי יבנה כר' עקיבא וחביריו אלא כל ששואלים אותו דבר חכמה בכל מקום ואומרה

‘On condition that I am a disciple [talmid],’ we do not say, such as Simeon b. ‘Azzai and Simeon b. Zoma, but one who when asked a single question on his studies in any place can answer it, even in the Tractate Kallah. ‘On condition that I am a Sage,’ we do not say, like the Sages of Jabneh or like R. Akiba and his companions, but one who can be asked a matter of wisdom in any place and he can answer it. (Soncino translation)

In another context (according to Tosafot, who qualifies for having their lost objects returned by recognizing the object) we find another standard:

Chullin 44b

אמר רב חסדא איזהו תלמיד חכם זה הרואה טרפה לעצמו

R. Hisda said: Who is a scholar? He who would declare his own animal trefah. (Soncino translation)

Still elsewhere, we find definitions for various other contexts:

Shabbat 114a

ואמר רבי יוחנן איזהו תלמיד חכם שממנין אותו פרנס על הציבור זה ששואלין אותו דבר הלכה בכל מקום ואומר ואפילו במסכת כלה ואמר רבי יוחנן איזהו תלמיד חכם שבני עירו מצווין לעשות לו מלאכתו זה שמניח חפצו ועוסק בחפצי שמים והני מילי למיטרח בריפתיה ואמר רבי יוחנן איזהו תלמיד חכם כל ששואלין אותו הלכה בכל מקום ואומרה למאי נפקא מינה למנוייה פרנס על הציבור אי בחדא מסכתא באתריה אי בכוליה תנויה בריש מתיבתא

R. Johanan also said: Who is the scholar to whom a lost article is returned on his recognition thereof? That [scholar] who is particular to turn his shirt.> R. Johanan also said: Who is the scholar that is appointed a leader of the community? He who when asked a matter of halachah in any place can answer it, even in the Tractate Kallah. R. Johanan also said: Who is the scholar whose work it is the duty of his townspeople to perform? He who abandons his own interest and engages in religious affairs; yet that is only to provide his bread. R. Johanan also said: Who is a scholar? He who is asked a halachah in any place and can state it, In respect of what practical matter?-To appoint him a leader of the community: if [he is well versed only] in one Tractate, [he can be appointed] in his own town; if in the whole [field of] learning, [he can be appointed] as the head of an academy. (Soncino translation)

  • @ Alex, each of these examples from Shabbat 114a are not about an ordinary Talmid Chacham, but a Talmid Chacham with additional particular qualifications. For clarity on this concept see the Chassidic discourse of the Lubavitcher Rebbe beginning with the words, “והדרת פני זקן כו׳” beginning on page 271 from תורת מנחם התוועדויות תשכ״ה, חלק שלישי. It can be found at Hebrewbooks.org May 12, 2019 at 23:20
  • hebrewbooks.org/… May 12, 2019 at 23:27

Ritva on Kiddushin 49b

שצריך תלמיד חכם שיהא בקי בכל התלמוד ואפילו במסכה כלה שאין דרך להיות רגילין בה:

Pashtus is to be a buhki in all of Talmud.

Not sure what bukhi means. Talmud meaning Aliba DiHilchasah?

  • Note this is not a uniformly accepted definition. The "pashtus" simple explanation of מסכת כלה is the tractate studied at the current ירחי כלה and the meaning in context would be "holding in whatever tractate is being studied in Yeshiva currently".
    – Double AA
    Apr 30, 2020 at 12:39

The title "Talmid Chakham" is limited to a Talmid who is learned in Nistar.
For "Chokhmah" refers to Kabbalah.

ספר הקנה הקדוש: "ושבתם וראיתם [בין צדיק לרשע,] בין עובד אלקים לאשר לא עבדו": כי מי שעוסק רק בנגלה נקרא "לא עבדו" גם אינו נקרא ת"ח רק בשם תלמיד, כי שם חכם אינו רק על חכמת הקבלה. (איפה שלימה)

Eifah Sh'leimah on Sefer haKana: "Then shall ye again discern [between the righteous and the wicked,] between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not." (Mal. 3:18) For whoever is involved only in the revealed [Torah] is called "not His servant." Nor is he called Talmid Chakham, only Talmid. For the title Chakham only applies to the wisdom of the Kabbalah.

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