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Literally, laying on of hands. The act of ordination of a religious leader, originally performed by the ordainer’s placing his hands upon the person to be ordained, probably in emulation of the manner in which Moses ordained Joshua (Num. 27: 22-23).

Gradually, the ceremony of the laying on of hands was abolished, and by the 2nd century B.C.E., religious leaders were ordained simply by being awarded the title “rabbi.”

Any ordained rabbi is empowered to confer the rabbinate upon a worthy disciple by ordination. This practice has persisted in Orthodox Jewry to our day, although it has largely been replaced by institutional ordination, namely through the award of an ordination certificate by a recognized rabbinical school. In the United States today, one may be ordained as a rabbi in Orthodox Judaism by one of the numerous yeshivot, or theological colleges, or by Yeshiva University; in Conservative Judaism, by the Jewish Theological Seminary; and in Reform Judaism, by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

A traditional Semikhah vests the ordained rabbi with the authority of rendering decisions in ritual matters and in monetary disputes.

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