The Boston Museum of Science announced on Friday that they would be creating a 20-foot tall stainless steel sculpture to honor the memory of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played the Vulcan science officer in the original Star Trek 1960s television series. The sculpture, titled Live Long and Prosper, was created by artist David Phillipsis in the shape of a hand signaling the Vulcan greeting which Nimoy styled after the hand gesture accompanying the Kohanic blessing.
“The ‘Live Long and Prosper’ symbol represents a message that my dad believed so strongly in,” said Julie Nimoy, daughter of the entertainer. “My dad always loved Boston and he would be honored knowing that the Museum of Science would be the permanent home to this memorial. The sculpture not only depicts one of the world’s most recognized and loved gestures for peace, tolerance, and diversity, but it will also be a beautiful tribute to my dad’s life and legacy.”
In his 1975 autobiography I Am Not Spock, Nimoy, who was Jewish, wrote that he based the Vulcan Salute on the Priestly Blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim with both hands, thumb to thumb in this same position, representing the Hebrew letter Shin (ש), which has three upward strokes similar to the position of the thumb and fingers in the gesture. The letter Shin here stands for El Shaddai, meaning “Almighty (God)”, as well as for Shekhinah and Shalom. Nimoy wrote that when he was a child, his grandfather took him to an Orthodox synagogue, where he saw the blessing performed and was impressed by it.
Nimoy, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 83, was very active in the Jewish community and could speak and read Yiddish. In 1997, he narrated the documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, about the various sects of Hasidic Orthodox Jews. In October 2002, Nimoy published The Shekhina Project, a photographic study exploring the feminine aspect of God’s presence, inspired by Kabbalah.
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 lineage is rigorously protected, and its integrity has been proven in recent years as scientists have discovered a genetic factor common to most kohanim.
Demographically, kohanim have always represented about five percent of the Jewish population. The Temple Institute recently instituted a registry for the priestly class as a step towards reinstating the Temple service.
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.
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.
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.