Today’s semikha, or Rabbinic ordination, is a last remaining hint of what was once an institution that connected the recipient to Moshe Rabbeinu standing at Mount Sinai. While at one time the Rabbi received his ordination from his teacher who was part of a chain of tradition, that true semikha was lost with the exile of the Jewish people from Israel.
Common semikha today is called yoreh yoreh, which indicates expertise in Yoreh De’a, the section of the Shulḥan Arukh whose focus is on issur ve-heter – what is permissible and what is forbidden – mainly in the realm of kosher food. A higher level semikha is called yadin yadin, which indicates that the student has also shown fluency in Ḥoshen Mishpat, whose focus is on interpersonal and monetary matters.
These terms – yoreh yoreh and yadin yadin – are actually a question and a response, as is clear from a story told on today’s daf.
Our Gemara reports that there was an existing tradition in both Israel and Bavel that someone who wanted to rule as a judge would need to receive permission from the head of the community – the Resh Galuta (Exilarch) in Bavel and the Nasi in Israel. Once such permission was granted, even if the judge erred in his decision, he would not be personally responsible for paying for the mistake. The Gemara relates that when Rav came from Israel to Bavel his uncle, Rabbi Ḥiyya, presented him to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and asked “yoreh?” – can he act as a judge in matters of issur ve-heter? Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi responded “yoreh!” Rabbi Ḥiyya continued and asked “yadin?” To which Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi replied “yadin!”
The Gemara relates that Rabbi Ḥiyya made one further request, one which is no longer in the lexicon of yeshiva students today. He asked “yatir bekhorot?” Will he be allowed to rule on questions of a blemish on a first-born animal? Here Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi replied “al yatir!” He cannot. The Gemara explains that it was not a lack of knowledge that kept him from receiving this ordination, as Rav had spent 18 months living among the shepherds in order to learn these laws, rather he knew the material so well that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi feared that others would come away with incorrect lessons because they would not understand the nuances that led him to make his decisions.