Fans of science fiction know that death had no dominion over Mr. Spock, the child of human-Vulcan intermarriage who died in Star Trek II and returned in Star Trek III. It turns out that Leonard Nimoy, the Jewish actor who portrayed Mr. Spock for nearly 50 years and died last February, lives on — or at least his influence does.
The Women of the Wall have announced that they will hold a women’s priestly blessing at the Kotel on Pesach — with support for marketing from Mr. Nimoy’s estate and from his widow, Susan Bay Nimoy.
The priestly blessing is the formula that God, in the Book of Numbers, commanded Aaron’s descendants to bestow on the people. In traditional Ashkenazi synagogues, kohanim — men who are descendants of the priestly caste — go to the bimah, hold their hands out, fingers paired and split down the middle, and recite the three-part liturgy, which begins “May God bless and keep you.”
In 1970, a Jerusalem rabbi began to make it a public event at the Kotel; last Pesach, the rite attracted tens of thousands of men.
But the ritual, and in particular its distinctive hand gesture, has Mr. Nimoy to thank for its fame. He had seen the ceremony as a child in his synagogue. And on a June day in 1967, either during or immediately following the Six Day War, he realized that the Star Trek episode he was working on then would benefit from some distinctive gesture of greeting. And thus was born the Vulcan salute, which accompanied the greeting reminiscent of the blessing from Numbers: “Live long and prosper.” And as Star Trek went on to live long and prosper, the priestly hand gesture entered popular culture. (Now it’s available as an emoji character on your cell phone.)
So perhaps it’s only logical that the first public grant from the Nimoy estate would come to a priestly blessing — even if a rather un-Orthodox one. The Women of the Wall are inviting women from the priestly caste to bless the audience and other women to receive the blessing. The grant will enable the group to publicize the event.
The road from press release to priestly ritual is likely to be a rocky one, given the ongoing controversy over non-Orthodox rituals at the Western Wall. (The rabbi of the Kotel has backed away from his approval of a compromise on the issue agreed upon by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Reform and Conservative movements.)
At least the Kotel conflict, unlike the one featured on the planet Vulcan in that 1967 episode, will not be resolved with a battle to the death.