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A Sanhedrin (from Greek word Synedrion meaning "sitting together", hence "assembly" or "council") is an assembly of 23 judges Biblically required in every city. The Great Sanhedrin is an assembly of judges who constituted the supreme court and legislative body of ancient Israel. The make-up of the Great Sanhedrin included a Chief (Prince or Leader) called Nasi, a Cohen Gadol or the High Priest, a vice chief justice, and sixty-nine general members who all sat in the form of a semi-circle when in session.

"The Sanhedrin" without qualifier normally refers to the Great Sanhedrin (e.g. In John 11:47). When the Temple in Jerusalem was standing, (prior to its destruction in 70 CE), the Great Sanhedrin would meet in the Hall of Hewn Stones in the Temple during the day, except before festivals and Shabbat.

The Greek root for the name suggests that the name was adopted during the Hellenistic period. Judaism asserts that the concept was founded by Moses, at the command of God. The Torah records God commanded Moses as follows:

"Assemble for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the people's elders and officers, and you shall take them to the Tent of Meeting, and they shall stand there with you" (Numbers 11:16).

Further, God commanded Moses to lay hands on Joshua son of Nun (Numbers 27:23). It is from this point, classical Rabbinic tradition holds, the Sanhedrin began: with seventy elders, headed by Moses, for a total of seventy-one. As individuals within the Sanhedrin died, or otherwise became unfit for service, new members underwent ordination (Semicha). These ordinations continued, in an unbroken line: from Moses to Joshua, the Israelite elders, the prophets (including Ezra, Nehemiah) on to all the sages (see chakham) of the Sanhedrin. It was not until sometime after the destruction of the Second Temple that this line was broken, and the Sanhedrin dissolved.