On Monday, Arabs rioted on the Temple Mount, attacking Israeli police to prevent Kohanim from blessing Israel.
Twice a year since 5731 (1970), during the second intermediary days of Passover and Sukkot, a mass priestly blessing takes place at the Kotel(Western Wall) in Jerusalem. This event is usually attended by tens of thousands of Jews blessed by hundreds of Kohanim. The recent blessing attracted relatively few people, perhaps due to a wave of violence which included mass Arab riots on the Temple Mount. Around 2,500 police officers were securing the area around the time of the prayers. Due to security reasons, the event is divided into two separate events, and another mass blessing will be held on Wednesday morning.
Arabs attacked police on the Temple Mount, throwing rocks and attacking them with fireworks as the priestly blessing began.
On Friday, massive Arab rioting and attacks against Temple Mount police came after Arabs stored rocks in the mosque. 17 Palestinians were wounded on the Temple Mount, and nine were arrested as Israeli police entered the compound.
On Sunday, Arabs attempted to block Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount by placing stones at the passageways used by Jews. They stockpiled rocks along with iron bars and makeshift barricades in the mosque. Five Israelis were injured when ten buses carrying worshipers to the Western Wall were attacked with rocks. Also, on Sunday, a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews in prayer shawls was attacked while walking through the Old City.
The blessing is performed by kohanim, male Jews with priestly heritage who have a clear patrilineal tradition leading back to Aaron, Moses’s high priest, brother. 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. 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 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.
In Biblical Israel, the Temple was the center of the Passover holiday as the entire nation arrived to sacrifice the Paschal lamb and celebrate the seder as individual families. The bi-annual priestly blessing is an impressive reminder of the glory of the Jewish people coming together as a nation to serve God, something that was entirely lacking until the Jews returned to Jerusalem less than fifty years ago.
Sefer Haroke’ach by Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (1176-1238) states that “If three hundred Cohanim were standing on the Mount of Olives, they would say the priestly blessing, the Messiah would come.”