Laying On Of Hands
The laying on of hands is a religious practice. In Judaism semikhah (סמיכה, “leaning [of the hands]”) accompanies the conferring of a blessing or authority.
In Christian churches, this practice is used as both a symbolic and formal method of invoking the Holy Spirit primarily during baptisms and confirmations, healing services, blessings, and ordination of priests, ministers, elders, deacons, and other church officers, along with a variety of other church sacraments and holy ceremonies.
The practice of laying on of hands is also used in Navajo religious ceremonies.
Semikhah (סמיכה, “leaning [of the hands]”) or Semicha or Smicha, also smichut (סמיכות, “ordination”), smicha lerabbanut (סמיכה לרבנות, “rabbinical ordination”), or smicha lehazzanut (סמיכה לחזנות, “cantorial ordination”), is derived from a Hebrew word which means to “rely on” or “to be authorized”.
Prevailing smicha generally refers to the ordination of a rabbi or cantor within post-talmudic Rabbinic Judaism, and within all modern Jewish religious movements from Reform to Orthodox. Smicha lerabbanut signifies the transmission of rabbinic authority to give advice or judgment in Jewish law. Smicha lehazzanut signifies the transmission of authoritative knowledge about Jewish musical and liturgical traditions. Although presently most functioning synagogue rabbis hold smicha lerabbanut by some rabbinical institution or academy, this was until quite recently not always required, and in fact many Haredi rabbis may not be required to hold a “formal” smicha lerabbanut even though they may occupy important rabbinical and leadership positions. Some cantorial institutions in the United States currently grant smicha lehazzanut to their students, while others use the term “investiture” to describe the conferral of cantorial authority onto their graduates.
Classical semikhah refers to a specific type of ordination that, according to traditional Jewish teaching, traces a line of authority back to Moshe ben Amram, The Men of the Great Assembly, and the Great Sanhedrin. The line of classical semikhah died out in the 4th or 5th century A.D. but it is widely held that a line of Torah conferment remains unbroken. Some believe evidence existed that classical semikhah was existent during the 12th century when semuchim from Lebanon and Syria were traveling to Israel in order to pass on Torah conferment to their students. Others, such as Rav Yisroel of Shklov (1770–1839), believed semikhah may not have been broken at all but that it continued outside of the land of Israel. Today many believe in the existence of an unbroken chain of rabbinical tradition dating back to the time of Moshe ben Amram (“Moses”) and Yehoshua ben Nun (“Joshua”) (See “The Unbroken Chain of Torah” below).
A third and distinct meaning of semikhah (“leaning”) is the laying of hands upon an offering of a korban (“sacrifice”) in the times of the Temple in Jerusalem, see Semikhah in sacrifices.
Main article: Christian laying on of hands
In the New Testament the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 8:14–19). Initially the Apostles laid hands on new believers as well as believers (see Acts 6:5–6). In the early church, the practice continued and is still used in a wide variety of church ceremonies, such as during confirmation.
The New Testament also associates the laying on of hands with the conferral of authority or designation of a person to a position of responsibility. (See Acts 6:6, Acts 13:3; and 1 Timothy 4:14. Also possibly Acts 14:23, where “ordained”—Greek: χειροτονήσαντες—may be translated “extended the hand”.) The use of the laying on of hands for the ordination of church officers has continued in many branches of Christianity.
The laying on of hands, known as the royal touch, was performed by kings in England and France, and was believed to cure scrofula (also called “King’s Evil” at the time), a name given to a number of skin diseases. The rite of the king’s touch began in France with Robert II the Pious, but legend later attributed the practice to Clovis as Merovingian founder of the Holy Roman kingdom, and Edward the Confessor in England. The belief continued to be common throughout the Middle Ages but began to die out with the Enlightenment. Queen Anne was the last British monarch to claim to possess this divine ability, though the Jacobite pretenders also claimed to do so. The French monarchy maintained the practice up until the 19th century. The act was usually performed at large ceremonies, often at Easter or other holy days.
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