Dr Spock and the priestly blessing

mr-spockNot only is Leonard Nimoy, the actor behind Mr. Spock, Jewish, but Spock’s famous “Vulcan greeting”, which is copied from the hand formation used for Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing) since the days of the Holy Temple, was his idea.

In the video below, Nimoy evocatively describes hearing the priestly blessing in the synagogue as a child, and how he came to use the unusual hand configuration on Star Trek.

The “raw sound” of a multitude of Cohanim singing – as Nimoy puts it so well – “not in unison, and not musically”, is familiar to most of us and certainly contributes to the special impression the blessing makes on us.

As an aside, on Star Treck Spock’s mother was frequently described as having been human, unlike his Vulcan father, which leaves open the possibility of Spock himself being halachically Jewish (though of course not a Cohen)!


The priestly hand configuration is shown on the back of an unusual – and slightly scary – antique chair on display at Congregation Mikveh Israel of Philadelphia. (Notice the peculiar error in the Hebrew legend above the hands, said to be the work of a non-Jewish artisan.)

In Israel Birkat Kohanim is performed every day. In the diaspora, we hear it only on major holidays, where it’s called “duchening.”

Once on the intermediate day of every festival Birkat Kohanim is performed en mass at the Western Wall. Here’s a video from the fourth day of Succot this year:

Lastly, here’s an excellent article on the facts and misconceptions of duchening


My father ז”ל liked to suggest, only half in jest, that the well known Eastern meditation on the word “Om” is in fact the Hebrew word “Shalom”, the first half of which they have forgotten.

Acknowledgements to Salvador Litvak “The Accidental Talmudist” for the video links on this page.

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