Modern Attempts To Revive The Sanhedrin - A Brief Summary of The Last Five Rabbinical Attempts To Create A Sanhedrin

A Brief Summary of The Last Five Rabbinical Attempts To Create A Sanhedrin

A discussion of the last five rabbinical attempts to reinstate Semicha can be found in the Wikipedia entry on Semicha. Rabbi Bavad, a member of the new Sanhedrin, gives a brief discussion of those attempts and how they affected the most recent attempt.

  • Attempt by Rabbi Jacob Berab in 1538. Rabbi Berab assembled 25 of the most leading Rabbis of Israel, who at the time were located in Safed, and re-instituted the Semicha. They convened and ordained Rabbi Berab as their "Chief Rabbi". The Rabbis of Jerusalem felt a slight on their honor and declared the election invalid, and a major dispute ensued. Some Rabbis held that it wasn't possible to renew the Semicha, but Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, took the position that the procedure was valid and he was one of four Rabbi ordained by Rabbi Berab. Rabbi Karo in turn ordained Rabbi Moshe Alshich who in turn ordained Rabbi Hayyim Vital the prime disciple of the Ari Hakodosh. The new Sanhedrin has modeled its actions after this attempt.
  • Attempt by Rabbi Yisroel of Shklov in 1830. In Rabbi Yisroel's lifetime the Turkish empire was crumbling, and for the first time in almost a thousand years westerners were being allowed into Yemen. Scientific journals of the time seriously speculated that the remnants of the lost ten tribes would be found. Based on Jewish traditions and "scientific evidence" Rabbi Yisroel sent an emissary to obtain Semicha from these lost tribes. In the end, no remnant was found, however the responses involved in this shed light on the Vilna Gaon's position that it was permissible to attempt to re-establish the Sanhedrin.
  • Attempt by Rabbi Aharon Mendel haCohen in 1901. Rabbi Mendel collected the approval of approximately 500 leading Rabbis in favor of the renewal of Semicha according to Maimonides. His involvement in the founding of Agudath Israel and the breakout of World War I distracted him from implementing this plan. The new Sanhedrin bases its use of phones, fax and regular mail rather than physically assembling "all the scholars of the Land of Israel" on the rabbinical responsa surrounding this attempt.
  • Attempt by Rabbi Zvi Kovsker in 1940. Rabbi Zvi Kovsker came to Israel from Soviet Russia. Seeing the condition of Jews in the years leading up to World War II, he undertook an effort to contact and work with many Rabbinic leaders in Israel towards getting their approval for the renewal of Semicha, and the reestablishment of a Sanhedrin, as an authentic government for the Jewish people (this was before the establishment of the State of Israel). His efforts to lobby the Rabbinic leaders were the model for twenty years of groundwork and discussions by the organizers of the new Sanhedrin.
  • Attempt by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon in 1949. Rabbi Maimon proposed turning the Israeli Rabbinate into a Sanhedrin. The perceived subordinate position to the government of Israel was compared to Napoleon's Sanhedrin, and led to strong vocal opposition by most Haredi rabbis. Israel's Chief Ashkenazi rabbi at the time Rabbi Isaac Herzog, was hesitant to support this goal, and the idea eventually died away. In contrast, the new Sanhedrin has declared itself entirely independent of the government, and in several respects has opposed the government.

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