40,000 Attend Priestly Blessing at Western Wall

“Three times in the year, every one of your males shall appear before the Lord, your God, in the place He will choose: on the Festival of Matzot and on the Festival of Weeks, and on the Festival of Sukkoth, and he shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.” Deuteronomy 16:16 (The Israel Bible™)

An estimated 40,000 worshippers filled the Western Wall, or Kotel, Plaza on Monday morning for the Birkat Hakohanim (priestly blessing) performed en masse at the Kotel during Passover and Sukkot.

The blessing is performed by kohanimmale 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. Demographically, kohanim represent about five percent of the Jewish population. The Temple Institute 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 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.

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 52 years ago.

One of the VIP guests was the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Speaking with Arutz Sheva, Friedman said the essence of the priestly blessing is a prayer for peace, and expressed hope that the prayers would be answered “in a land that people yearn for [peace] and deserve it.”

“It gets more and more exciting each time. This is my third Sukkot, I was here twice on Pesach [Passover]. It’s a great privilege as the ambassador to be treated to this lofty spot and to be able to see over the entire congregation of Israel,  100,000 people. It is very exciting.”