Can Agents, Women, or Friends Perform Semicha on a Sacrifice?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

We discussed these issues on Sunday’s daf (93) this week. On 93b the Gemara derives from the passuk that only the owner himself may perform the semicha (by placing both hands on the head of the animal offering and leaning on it just before it is offered)--as opposed to having an agent do so.

The Olas Shlomo asks on this Gemara: It would appear that semicha is a mitzva that is similar to the mitzva to wear tefillin or shake a lulav which definitely cannot be accomplished through an agent. Isn’t it obvious then that one cannot use an agent to fulfill the mitzva of semicha?

The Olas Shlomo gives an answer which makes a fundamental point about the mitzva of semicha: Semicha is not strictly an obligation on the person, rather, semicha should also be understood as focused on the object. In other words, separate and distinct from the owner’s personal obligation to lean, the Halacha is also saying that the animal must be leaned upon. Thus it is indeed conceivable that semicha can be accomplished through an agent.

This point presents a possible resolution to a question posed by Tosfos (93b heading "ידו"). Tosfos wonders why we need the passuk to teach us that women do not perform semicha when we already have an established rule that women are exempt from all time-dependent mitzvos (and since semicha can only be performed by day, it is a time-dependent mitzva). Based on the Olas Shlomo’s point, we can answer that the rule the Tosfos cites isn’t necessarily relevant here. For if semicha is simply what must happen to this animal before it is offered, there’s a good case to make that women are required to fulfill this for their animal offerings. Thus, the passuk is needed to teach us that in fact women do not perform semicha.

One more interesting point to consider is the fact that the Gemara presents a separate derivation to establish that “a friend” (who isn’t an owner of the korban) cannot perform semicha. The Keren Ora asks: Since we’ve already derived that an agent cannot perform the semicha, why isn’t this teaching redundant (especially since an agent had the superior quality of being legally considered like the owner himself--so all the more so by this “friend” who wasn’t even formally appointed an agent!)?

The Keren Ora answers by invoking the concept that we’ve been discussing: The idea that in one sense semicha is animal-oriented rather than owner-oriented. Because of this concept, we might have said the following: By teaching that an agent cannot fulfill the semicha obligation the Torah is saying that the primary obligation, i.e. the owner-oriented idea that the owner himself has a personal obligation to perform semicha, cannot be fulfilled through an agent. However if in the absence of the owner, someone comes along and does the semicha, we might have said that that still accomplishes something, i.e. that it fulfills the secondary element of the obligation that the Halacha wants the animal to be leaned on. The Torah teaches us that in fact, anyone other than the owner does not achieve anything whatsoever by leaning on the sacrifice.