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Sep 16, 2014

should semicha be counted as equivalent to a degree?

Should rabbinical ordination, semicha, be considered equivalent to a bachelors degree?

Perhaps, or at least partially towards a degree, in my opinion. It could definitely replace many of the more liberal arts courses that help populate the requirements of a degree. My yeshiva studies and semicha were used to give me a percentage of my required credits towards my degree. I still had to take all the required courses for my specific field of study, but the semicha took care of many of the other required credits that were general studies, liberal arts courses, that weren't necessarily necessary for any given degree but were required nonetheless.

What semicha should be acceptable towards a degree? any private semicha or only one that is publicly recognized, or perhaps with proof of study and curriculum? I can say that the Rabbanut semicha should be recognized as such, as well as other recognized rabbinic groups or rabbinic study programs, but many others where somebody just gets a document from a private rav with no documented study - how can that be verified to qualify for a degree or towards a degree? Maybe somebody just wrote up a nice certificate, or the holder bought one?

Regardless, right now in Israel semicha is not equivalent to a degree. And the courts have just upheld that.

Kooker reports that people cannot apply for jobs that require a degree using the semicha as that degree, nor will salary scale take semicha into account as a degree.

Two rabbis had submitted a bid in a tender published by the Ministry of Education for supervisors. Being disqualified from the tender, they petitioned the court saying that such a requirement is discriminatory against the Haredi community and not recognizing semicha as a degree is demeaning  and damaging to the freedom of employment and equality of the Haredi community.

The Ministry of Education's response is that to be accommodating to the Haredi community, they already lowered the normal requirements from a second degree and only required a first degree. Semicha for the rabbinate does not train the applicant in in writing ability nor in expressing criticism, while the requirement of the degree is to expose the candidate to a variety of approaches and opinions, while encouraging original and critical thought.

The judge accepted the Ministry's opinion and said requiring a first degree is reasonable, and this complaint does not justify the courts involvement.

So, Semicha in Israel is still not good enough to be counted as a degree, but I think th system should start considering it as fulfilling some of the requirements towards a degree. This also might encourage more people from the Haredi community to seek out higher education. The idea of it won't be so daunting, as part of it will already be covered, as well as positively making people approach it as it would be good to get a degree and the controversial topics (any required liberal arts topics) are already taken care of.


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  1. Colleges in Israel generally do not have liberal arts requirements for non humanities degrees.

  2. You can make a fairly good case that some Smicha courses are no different from any other specialized liberal arts degree, but just passing an exam is not the same. Most (all?) bachelors programs require the student to spend a certain amount of time in classes. Smicha does not require that. If yeshivot which run Smicha programs want their graduates to be considered college graduates, they should try to get their yeshivot certified. At the very least, if they fail, they can make a better case of discrimination.

  3. It seems the Ministry was fairly specific in citing that 'semiha' simply didn't attest to some of the knowledge and skills they expect. Seems entirely reasonable. It is even possible to say that one specialized degree (let's say sociology) simple doesn't provide the specific knowledge and skills we require for a job in another area (biology, or whatever else you like).

    As for a supervisor's position: who can honestly claim that the beit midrash provides an education in management, logistics, human resources, etc.?

    It used to be that 'semiha' was counted as a 'equivalent to a degree' for certain positions in Israel. But they had to be relevant positions. And it often applied only to pay scale, but not to advancement. As Rafi already noted, even that needs to consider what the 'semiha' actually required of the student. A place like Har Etzion is a very different learning and educational environment than most little kollelim in Meah Shearim.


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