Dear graduates, it is my great honor to address you and your loving supporters—your family, friends and teachers—as we begin the ceremony of your investiture and ordination. We are pleased to welcome many distinguished guests, including our JTS faculty, and members of the Cantor’s Assembly and the Rabbinical Assembly, whose presidents will participate in ceremonies of investiture and ordination. We are especially grateful for the presence of your mentors, whose names are listed in the program, and who will soon be offering you their personal blessings.
In chapter 9 of Leviticus we read: And it was on the eighth day that Moses called to Aaron and his sons, and to the elders of Israel.
ויקרא פרק ט
וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי קָרָא מֹשֶׁה לְאַהֲרֹן וּלְבָנָיו וּלְזִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
This day was a day of hasmakhah—of dedication for the first clergy of our people. In English we call this ritual either ordination or investiture, but in Hebrew we use the word semikhah, or the more modern hasmakhah—literally a laying-on of hands and leaning into the recipient as if to act out the transfer of energy from one body to another. In the Talmud Bavli, Hagiga 16b, Rami bar Hama teaches that the act if semikhah requires all of one’s strength:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת חגיגה דף טז עמוד ב
אמר רמי בר חמא: שמע מינה סמיכה בכל כחו בעינן.
Now, he was talking about the laying on of hands before sacrifice—as the Mishnah says, ותכף לסמיכה שחיטה (Menahot 9:8), which is somewhat different than what we plan today…. Still, there is something tactile about the transfer of authority, and it is not only from teacher to disciple. Continue reading