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Shalshelet HaKabbalah: The Unbroken Chain of Torah

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From Mt. Sinai to Today

Hashem taught the Torah to Moshe Rabbeinu on Mt. Sinai in 1312 BCE. Since then, the knowledge of Torah has been passed from generation to generation by the conferment of semicha, rabbinic ordination. This unbroken chain of tradition has continued for over 3300 years and continues to this day.

The following represents one chain of tradition, an unbroken tradition of Torah learning from the revelation at Sinai through 130 semicha generations to Rabbi Dovid Bendory. In general, the transmission of Torah from one generation to the next is confirmed by the conferment of semicha, though not all the people in this chain had semicha. (Note that a "semicha generation" here is defined as Rabbi-Student, not father-son — thus a "generation" can be as short as a few years and sometimes the "Rabbi" is younger than the "Student." Also note that in some cases — notably Reb Chaim Ozer and the Chofetz Chaim — the indicated "student" received the semicha of the indicated rabbi though he didn't actually learn from him.)

The dates given for each person are either a date of death (single date) or dates of birth and death (two dates). The sources used to develop this chain of tradition are given below.

Torah

  1. Moses (1392-1272 BCE; Revelation at Mt. Sinai - 1312 BCE)

Prophets

  1. Joshua (1354-1244 BCE)
  2. Pinchus
  3. Eli (929 BCE)
  4. Samuel (889 BCE)
  5. David (876 BCE)
  6. Achiah (800 BCE)
  7. Elijah (870-726 BCE)
  8. Elishah (717 BCE)
  9. Yehoyada (695 BCE)
  10. Zechariah (680 BCE)
  11. Hoshea (575 BCE)
  12. Amos (560 BCE)
  13. Isaiah (548 BCE)
  14. Michah (560 BCE)
  15. Yoel (510 BCE)
  16. Nachum (510 BCE)
  17. Chavakuk (510 BCE)
  18. Tzafaniah (460 BCE)
  19. Jeremiah (462 BCE)
  20. Baruch (347 BCE)
  21. Ezra (348 BCE)

Elders of the Great Assembly

  1. Shimon Hatzadik (400-300 BCE)
  2. Antignus of Socho (305 BCE)

Zugot (Pairs)

  1. Yosi ben Yoezer and Yosef ben Yochanon (280 BCE)
  2. Yehoshua ben Prachya and Nitai of Arbel (243 BCE)
  3. Yehuda ben Tabai and Shimon ben Shetach (198 BCE)
  4. Shmaya and Avtalyon (140 BCE)
  5. Hillel and Shammai (40 BCE)

Tanaim (Mishnaic Rabbis)

  1. Rabban Shimon (10 BCE)
  2. Rabban Gamliel Hazaken (20 CE)
  3. Rav Shimon ben Gamliel (50)
  4. Rabban Gamliel (90)
  5. Rabban Shimon (140)
  6. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (135-219)

Amoraim (Talmudic Rabbis)

  1. Rav (160-248), Shmuel, and Rabbi Yochanon (230)
  2. Rav Huna (270)
  3. Rabbah (310)
  4. Rava (270-350)
  5. Rav Ashi (420)

Savoraim ("Thinkers")

  1. Rafram (443)
  2. Rav Sama B'rei d'Rava (476)
  3. Rav Yosi (514)
  4. Rav Simonia
  5. Rav Ravoi Me-Rov (589)
  6. Mar Chanan Me-Ashkaya (608)
  7. Rav Mari

Gaonim (Leaders of the Babylonian Academies; literally "Geniuses")

  1. Rav Chana Gaon
  2. Mar Rav Rava
  3. Rav Busai (689)
  4. Mar Rav Huna Mari
  5. Mar Rav Chiyah Me-Mishan
  6. Mar Ravyah
  7. Mar Rav Natronai
  8. Mar Rav Yebuda (739)
  9. Mar Rav Yosef (748)
  10. Mar Rav Shmuel
  11. Mar Rav Natroi Kahana
  12. Mar Rav Avrohom Kahana (761)
  13. Mar Rav Dodai
  14. Rav Chananya (771)
  15. Rav Malka (773)
  16. Mar Rav Rava
  17. Mar Rav Shinoi (782)
  18. Mar Rav Chaninah Gaon Kahana (785)
  19. Mar Rav Huna Mar Halevi (788)
  20. Mar Rav Menasheh (796)
  21. Mar Rav Yeshaya Halevi (804)
  22. Mar Rav Kahanah Gaon (797)
  23. Mar Rav Yosef
  24. Mar Rav Ibomai Gaon (814)
  25. Mar Rav Yosef
  26. Mar Rav Avrohom
  27. Mar Rav Yosef (834)
  28. Mar Rav Yitzchak (839)
  29. Mar Rav Yosef (841)
  30. Mar Rav Poltoi (858)
  31. Mar Rav Achai Kahana
  32. Mar Rav Menachem (860)
  33. Mar Rav Matisyahu (869)
  34. Rav Mar Abba
  35. Mar Rav Tzemach Gaon (891)
  36. Mar Rav Hai Gaon (897)
  37. Mar Rav Kimoi Gaon (905)
  38. Mar Rav Yehuda (917)
  39. Mar Rav Mevasser Kahana Gaon (926)
  40. Rav Kohen Tzedek (935)
  41. Mar Rav Tzemach Gaon (937)
  42. Rav Chaninah Gaon (943)
  43. Mar Rav Aharon Hacohen (959)
  44. Mar Rav Nechemiah (968)
  45. Rav Sherirah Gaon (1006)
  46. Rav Hai Gaon (939-1038)

Rishonim

  1. Rav Gershom Meor Hagolah (1040)
  2. Rav Yaakov ben Yakar (1064)
  3. Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) (1040-1105)
  4. R' Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam) (1174)
  5. R' Yaakov ben Meir (Rabbenu Tam) (1171)
  6. R' Eliezer Me-Metz (1175)
  7. R' Elazar Rokeach (1238)
  8. R' Yitzchak of Vienna (Ohr Zaruah)
  9. Rav Meir of Rothenberg (1293)
  10. R' Yitzchak of Duren (Shaarei Durah)
  11. R' Alexander Zusiein Hakohen (Agudah) (1348)
  12. R' Meir Bar Baruch Halevi (1390)
  13. R' Sholom of Neustadt
  14. R' Yaakov Moelin (Maharil) (1427)
  15. R' Yisroel Isserlein (Trumas Hadeshen) (1460)
  16. R' Tavoli
  17. Rabbi Yaakov Margolies (1501)
  18. Rabbi Yaakov Pollak (1530)

Achronim

  1. Rabbi Sholom Shachna (1558)
  2. Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rama) (1530-1572)
  3. Rabbi Yehoshua Falk Katz (1614)
  4. Rabbi Naftoli Hirsch ben Pesachya (1650)
  5. Rabbi Moshe Rivkas (Be'er Hagolah) (1671)
  6. Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (1682)
  7. Rabbi Moshe Kramer (1688)
  8. Rabbi Eliyahu Chasid (1710)
  9. Rabbi Yissachar Ber (1740)
  10. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman (1765)
  11. Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer (Vilna Gaon) (1720-1797)
  12. Rabbi Chaim Voloziner (1749-1821)
  13. Rabbi Yitzchok Voloziner (1848)
  14. Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Beis HaLevi) (1820-1892)

Contemporary

  1. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik (Reb Chaim; Reb Chaim Brisk; The Brisker Rav) (1853-1918)
Several alternative paths trace back from Rav Dovid to Reb Chaim.
  1. Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer (1870-1953)
  2. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910-1995)
  1. Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, shlita, Av Beis Din Yerushalayim
  2. Rabbi Dovid Bendory
  1. Rav Dovid Ostroff
  2. Rabbi Dovid Bendory
  1. Rav Moshe Soloveitchik (1879-1941)
  2. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (The Rav) (1903-1993)
  3. Rav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, shlita, head of the Chicago Rabbinical Council and Av Beis Din D'America
  4. Rabbi Dovid Bendory
  1. Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky (1863-1939)
  2. Rav Yisroel Meir Kagan HaKohen (Chofetz Chaim) (1838-1933)
  3. Rav Dovid Leibowitz (1889-1941)
  4. Rav Henoch Leibowitz (1918-2008)
  5. Rav Mordechai Goldstein, shlita, Rosh Yeshiva, Diasporah Yeshiva
  6. Rav Don Channen, shlita
  7. Rabbi Dovid Bendory
Depending on the path followed, Rav Dovid is 129-133 semicha generations from Moshe Rabbeinu.

The Rambam in his hakdama (introduction) to the Mishneh Torah lists the first 40 semicha generations given here, begining from the Revelation on Mt. Sinai and continuing down to Rav Ashi (420 CE). Lawrence Kelemen researched the next 83 semicha generations, from Rav Ashi down to Rav Chaim Voloziner (1749-1821) and verified each link in the chain in at least two independent written sources. (Note: Rav Dovid changed the link between Rav Sharira Gaon and Rabbeinu Gershom Meor HaGolah to go through Rav Hai Gaon (the son of Rav Sharira) rather than through R' Meshulam HaGadol, as Rav Dovid believes there is better support for this chain of tradition.) The final six semicha generations of biographical information — from Rav Chaim Voloziner to Rav Dovid — were compiled by Rav Dovid using various biographical sources including the OU Biographies, Dei'ah VeDibbur, the Jewish Observer, the Shema Yisrael Torah Network, and Tzemach Dovid Biographies of Gedolim. Rav Dovid takes full responsibility for any mistakes in this history and would very much appreciate it if the reader would contact him with any corrections.

For another perspective on this topic, see: The Unbroken Chain by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman.

 
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