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Updated: 2013.10.10

sᵊmikh•âh; "leaning [of hands]," modern ordination (in contrast to the pre-135 C.E. —pre-4th century ordination), Christianized to "laying on of hands," from . Though modern ordination is still called Sᵊmikh•âh, post-4th century Sᵊmikh•âh is not equivalent and doesn't confer the same authority ("Semikhah," Ency. Jud. 14:1140ff).

Sᵊmikh•âh is used in two senses:

  1. Of qor•bân•ot—the dedication by the owner of animals sacrificed on the Mi•zᵊbeiakh. The act, which was obligatory whenever sacrifices were offered by individuals was carried out by the owner laying both his hands with all his might between the horns of the animal immediately before it was dispatched (Semikhah, EJ 14.1140).

  2. Of Sho•phᵊt•im, zᵊqan•im, Ribis & Rabbis—All Jewish leaders had to be ordained before they were permitted to perform certain judicial functions and to decide practical questions in Jewish law. The Bible relates that Moshëh ordained Yᵊho•shua ha-Nâ•vi Bin-Nun by placing his hands on him, thereby – the origin of the Biblical term, – transmission of his own portion of the Ruakh ha-Qodësh to Yᵊho•shua ha-Nâ•vi Bin-Nun (bᵊ-Mid•bar 27.22-23; Dᵊvâr•im 34.9).

    Moshëh also ordained the 70 zᵊqan•im (bᵊ-Mid•bar 11.16-17, 24-25). The zᵊqan•im ordained by Moshëh ordained their successors, who in turn ordained their successors, so that there was an unbroken chain of Sᵊmikh•âh from Moshëh and Har Sin•ai down into the time of the Beit ha-Mi•qᵊdâsh ha-Shein•i. Only a transfer of the Ruakh ha-Qodësh, which originally rested on Moshëh, empowered the person with Sᵊmikh•âh to make decisions in crucial areas. For some centuries the tradition of conferring Sᵊmikh•âh by the "leaning" of hands continued, but the rabbis later decided to ordain by merely conferring the title "rabbi" either orally or in writing. (Semikhah, EJ 14.1140).



Sᵊmikh•âh was originally performed by every ordained teacher on his tal•mid•im.

In Ërëtz Yi•sᵊr•â•eil, it also became necessary for individual tal•mid to obtain the consent of the Nâ•si before conferring Sᵊmikh•âh on their tal•mid•im. On account of the high regard in which the patriarchs of Beit-Hi•leil were held subsequent to 20 C.E. when the Pᵊrush•im achieved predominance in the Beit-Din ha-Jâ•dol, no Sᵊmikh•âh was considered valid without the consent of the Nâ•si. The Nâ•si was, at first, permitted to confer it without consulting the Beit-Din ha-Jâ•dol. Later, the Nâ•si could only confer Sᵊmikh•âh with the affirmation of the Beit-Din ha-Jâ•dol.

Due to persecution from the Roman Hellenists, a new term introduced in the Ërëtz Yi•sᵊr•â•eil in the 2nd-3rd centuries C.E. was (min•ui; allocation, apportionment), from the verb (min•âh; reckoning, allocating, apportioning), however, the term Sᵊmikh•âh was retained in Iraq (Bâvël).

Sᵊmikh•âh could only be granted by teachers residing in Ërëtz Yi•sᵊr•â•eil to tal•mid•im present in the Ërëtz Yi•sᵊr•â•eil at the time Sᵊmikh•âh was conferred upon them.

The appellation of "rabbi" is therefore never used for the Babylonian Âmor•âyim since they didn't posess Sᵊmikh•âh, and they have the title "rav." As a result, the Babylonian sages were dependent upon their colleagues in Ërëtz Yi•sᵊr•â•eil. "We submit to them" was the Babylonian attitude (Pes. 51a).

After the Bar-Kokh Revolt (132-35 C.E.), the Roman emperor Hadrian attempted to end the spiritual authority still wielded by the Beit-Din ha-Jâ•dol, which had been shorn of all government support, by forbidding the conferral of Sᵊmikh•âh to new tal•mid•im. It was declared that "whoever performed ordination should be put to death, and whoever received ordination should be put to death, the city in which the ordination took place demolished, and the boundaries wherein it had been performed uprooted" (Sanh. 14a).

It isn't clear when the original Sᵊmikh•âh with the powers described above was discontinued. Majority opinion favors the latter part of the 4th century C.E., during the time of Hi•leil II. (Semikhah, EJ 14.1140-42).

In modern usage, the title "rabbi" is no longer an indication, as it was up to the last centuries, that its bearer is thoroughly acquainted with the Tal•mud and codes. Ignoring the fact that, for centuries, the tunnel-visioned focus of "rabbis" on Tal•mud has produced a teaching caste blissfully ignorant of Ta•na"kh, in Israel today (rav; a great) denotes an Orthodox leader, while (rabi; my great) is the appellation for non-Orthodox leaders. See also Ribi.

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