The rabbis held a festive ceremony this past October 13th, the 28th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, inaugurating the Sanhedrin as Judaism's supreme legal body. They stress that by doing so, they are merely fulfilling a Biblical mitzvah (obligation). “It is a special mitzvah , based on our presence in Israel, to establish a Sanhedrin,” Rabbi Meir HaLevi, one of the 71 members of the new Sanhedrin, has explained. “The Rambam [12th-century Torah scholar Maimonides] describes the process exactly in the Mishnah Torah [his seminal work codifying Jewish Law]. When he wrote it, there was no Sanhedrin, and he therefore outlines the steps necessary to establish one."
A religious-legal assembly of 71 Sages that convened in the Holy Temple and for several centuries after its destruction, the Sanhedrin was the highest Jewish judicial tribunal in the Land of Israel. Organizers of the current edition stress that they are still in a transitional phase, and that though today's members are all Torah scholars and experts in many secular and scientific fields, every one of them has agreed to step aside the moment a more deserving candidate should step forward.
Meeting in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Sanhedrin consists of representatives of all stripes of religious Jewish society. Hareidi-religious, Hassidic, national-religious, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, modern Orthodox and university professors sit side by side in a semi-circle, seeking to re-establish Jewish legal tradition after 2,000 years of exile.
"We can make a real difference," said one member, Rabbi Chaim Richman of Jerusalem. "Many cardinal issues are on the public agenda, and our body – which is totally based on Torah, even down to its rules and regulations – is naturally geared to deal with them. Issues such as agunot (estranged women whose husbands refuse to give them a divorce), abortions, traffic safety, economic issues, education, and so much more."
"Not only are we commanded to establish the Sanhedrin," Rabbi Richman told Arutz-7's Yosef Meiri, "but this seems to be the perfect time to do so - a time of Divine will. On the one hand, there is a spiritual void in the 'establishment,' and on the other hand, there is a real thirst among the public for spirituality and guidance."
The Sanhedrin's takanon, document of regulations, is still undergoing final adjustments prior to its official adoption. A permanent Nassi, President, and Av Beit HaDin, literally, Court Father, still must be elected. The continuing role of the Vaad HaMechonen , the founding committee that has led the Sanhedrin thus far, also needs to be determined. But the Sanhedrin is carefully moving ahead, strictly adhering to the guidelines set out by Maimonides, who classified the obligation to reestablish the Sanhedrin as one that is incumbent upon every generation.
“The Sanhedrin is past its greatest initial hurdles,” a spokesman told IsraelNN's Ezra HaLevi, “namely, the return of genuine semikha [authentic rabbinical ordination] to Israel, and the historic meeting in Tiberias in Tishrei, at which 71 rabbis actually convened and officially reinstated the Sanhedrin. We believe these achievements are irreversible.”
Contrary to the expected criticism, Sanhedrin organizers insist that the reinstatement ceremony was neither just a show nor a one-time phenomenon, but is rather Halakhically-sound and a true beginning.
The rabbis were asked to prepare topics they thought the Sanhedrin should deal with, and a fascinating array of topics was produced. In addition to those mentioned above by Rabbi Richman, the list included such issues as:
* uniform kashrut certification
* the precise length of the biblical cubit (with ramifications on many issues, including the location of the altar on the Temple Mount)
* assisting Anousim from Spain and Portugal and others whose ancestors were forced to convert
* lost Jewish tribes from other parts of the world
* unifying Sephardic and Ashkenazi practices on issues such as prayer liturgy, kitniyot (legumes) on Passover, and glass utensils
* the Sanhedrin's decision-making procedures
* foreign workers
* unifying the religious parties
* restoring the Davidic monarchy
* an ethical code for Israel's army (as opposed to the present one, which is based largely on secular sources)
* the establishment of regional "small Sanhedrins"
* the long-missing "t'chelet" blue color
* sending delegations around the country to hear people's concerns,
and much more.
Though a lecture on renewing the Paschal offering was delivered at the last meeting, not all of the 71 are yet convinced that the time is ripe for it. Various opinions were put forth, including by those opposed to the renewal of the Passover offering until the exact location of the Temple altar is determined through prophecy.
"The real achievement of the meeting was that rabbis from such diverse backgrounds could sit together to discuss such an issue," said Rabbi Michael S. Bar-Ron, an associate of the Sanhedrin from Beit Shemesh. " It demonstrated that the Sanhedrin is alive, and has begun the long road towards its chief goal of restoring the crown of Torah to its former glory."
As expected, the issue of the disengagement came up, but the acting Nassi refused to allow the discussion until at least one rabbi supporting the plan could be found to present a sincere argument supporting it. No one could be found, and the topic was dropped.
"The Sanhedrin aims to inspire the Jewish people," Rabbi Richman said, "not coerce them. Via 'ways of pleasantness,' we will achieve a renewal of unified Jewish observance and practice."