Aug 08, 2022
JERUSALEM WEATHER
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The largest gathering of Jews in one place is undoubtedly the twice-annual Birkat Hakohanim (priestly blessing) attracting about 40-50,000, but this year, the coronavirus transformed it into a dim shadow of its glory with the crowd limited to a total of ten priests with no representatives of the people of Israel to be blessed.

Normally held at the Kotel (Western Wall) during the second intermediate day of Passover and again on Sukkoth, the large plaza is full to overflowing with about 40-50,000 attending and hundreds of kohanim (Jewish men descended from Aaron the High Priest). 

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation hosted a live stream of the event, announcing, “We invite the thousands of participants who come every year and the general public to join the prayers from home.”

The U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a kohen and has been attending for many years, even before he was appointed to his position. He was invited to be one of the ten priests blessing Israel.  He posted a tweet lamenting how the health ministry restrictions affected the event.

“I will pray that the world is spared further illness or sorrow from COVID-19 or otherwise,” Friedman posted in another tweet.

The blessing is performed by kohanim, male Jews with priestly heritage who have a clear patrilineal tradition leading back to Aaron the high priest, brother of Moses. The priestly blessing is said daily during the year as part of the morning prayer service, and twice during Sabbath and holiday morning prayer services. Before saying the blessing, men from the tribe of Levi wash the hands of the kohanim. The ritual may only be performed by a kohen and only in the presence of a quorum of ten Jews. A kohen who is under the influence of alcohol or in mourning may not perform the blessing.

The blessing is performed by the priests holding their hands up with the fingers spread in the manner made famous by Leonard Nimoy (a kohen) when he played Spock on the television series Star Trek. The fingers of both hands are separated so as to make five spaces between them; spaces are between the ring finger and middle finger of each hand, between the index finger and thumb of each hand, and the two thumbs touch each other at the knuckle. During the prayer, kohanim must cover their heads with their prayer shawls and hold up their hands towards the congregation of Israelites to make the blessing upon them.

The priests then recite Numbers 6:23-27:

May the LORD bless you and guard you,

May the LORD make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you,

May the LORD lift up His face unto you and give you peace.

 

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