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Hebrew semichah ("And the Lord said to Moses: Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay [semichah] your hand upon him" Numbers 27:18) means "leaning" or "laying" on of hands in the ordination ceremony for a judge, elder or rabbi. Laying on of hands is, in the Tanakh, a symbolic act that confers or transfers an office, along with its duties and privileges, by dramatizing God's bestowal of the blessings and giftings needed for the work.

In Judaism the practice is traced back to Moses' ordination of Joshua and of the seventy elders (Numbers 11:16-17, Numbers 11:24-25; Numbers 27:18-23; Deuteronomy 34:9). A rabbinic ordinand was granted the right to judge and to decide point of halakhah by a board of three elders, at least one of whom had also received semichah.

"And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching and said, By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" (Matthew 21:23).

The priests and elders, who are also Pharisees, were asking: "What kind of ordination [semichah] did you receive that entitles you to teach as authoritatively as you do, to decide points of halakhah as you do, and to disturb the peace in the Temple courts? And who dared give you such an ordination (so that we can interrogate him too)?". But Jesus did not answer their question.

This practice (semichah) is found in the New Testament : "And when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them" (Acts 6:6) and in Acts 8:17, Acts 9:17, Acts 13:3, Acts 19:6, Acts 28:8; 1 Timothy 4:4, 1 Timothy 5:22; 2 Timothy 1:6.