Sunday, December 25, 2011

Why Shmuel Was Denied Semicha (Ordination)

I go to a Gemara Chaburah (group) on Shabbos and during one of the many discussions I found out something very interesting. Someone mentioned a very interesting point about Shmuel and why he was not given semicha. I asked for the source and the doctor who mentioned the idea was kind enough to share with me his sefer "Doros Ha'amoraim."

Why was Shmuel not ordained?
This question has brought about different answers.
1) [Shmuel] was an expert in the calendar [for which months were full (30 days) and which months were not (29 days)]. Therefore, if he were ordained it is possible that the people of Bavel would follow after him with regards to when to bless the new month and when the holidays would fall and they would not rely on the institutions in Israel. Perhaps this is why they gave Shmuel the sharp nickname of Yarhinaah (referring to the moon).
2) Shmuel dealt with Mada (secular knowledge), outside knowledge, and foreign languages. He also attached himself to wise men from other nations. These things created a stumbling block in the road for him to get ordained. Even though he had good intentions this was a burden and pain to Rebbi [Yehuda Hanasi].

According to the first opinion I can understand why the Rabbis of Israel did not want to ordain Shmuel. They wanted to keep a center for Torah Judaism. If the Rabbis of Israel came up with one date for the holidays and Shmuel came up with another date, then there would be total chaos. Therefore, they needed to keep Shmuel from getting ordained in order to prevent this potential split within Rabbinical Judaism.

However, the second opinion sounds much more disturbing in my eyes. The reason they refused to give Shmuel ordination was because he was well versed in secular knowledge and associated with non-Jews? That is a reason not to ordain someone, because he knows everything in Torah and secular society? This seems like the Rabbis of Israel were making more of a power play than a just decision. They don't want people associating with non-Jews or learning secular knowledge so they refuse to ordain Shmuel. However, it seems like Shmuel would encourage these things and that is the sole reason they did't want to ordain him.

I prefer to believe the first opinion to be correct for the following inferences that we can draw. According to the first opinion the Rabbis did not ordain Shmuel because they realized Rabbinical Judaism must be united, whether in Israel or Bavel. There must be one law for everyone. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, etc needs to be on the same day for all Jews no matter where they are in the world. If Jews in Israel kept Rosh Hashana on Sept. 1st and the Jews in Babel kept Rosh Hashana on Sept. 10th, that disparity would cause major problems. That is a unity issue that seems, to me, a very legitimate concern.

However, to disregard someone from the leadership because he is well versed in secular subjects and associates with non-Jews seems ridiculous. If anything it would seem, to me, that associating with non-Jews and having secular knowledge as well as Torah knowledge would make a person MORE capable of being a leader. Shmuel felt that way and so did many Rishonim after him (Rambam, Ralbag, etc).

This is why I believe the first opinion to be correct and the second opinion to be wrong. However, even if the second opinion were true, we clearly have a Mesorah that learning secular subjects and associating with non-Jews is definitely acceptable..