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Priestly Blessing Draws Tens of Thousands to Western Wall

April 27, 2016

“Bring his sons and dress them in tunics and fasten caps on them.  Then tie sashes on Aaron and his sons.  The priesthood is theirs by a lasting ordinance.  Then you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.”  (Exodus 29:8–9)

Enacting a special privilege of the priestly line, hundreds of Kohanim (Priests) participated in a special Passover prayer service at the Western Wall on Monday, blessing the people of Israel in a manner prescribed by God Himself.

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you are to bless the Israelites.  Say to them: ‘”’The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.’” ‘So they will put My name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’” (Numbers 6:22–27)

Levi-Priestly Blessing-tallit

A descendant of Aaron recites the Priestly Blessing over the congregation at the Western (Wailing) Wall. This is done with the shoes removed, hands washed, head covered with the tallit (prayer shawl), and hands outstretched toward the congregation.

Several dozen Jewish men and boys covered in tallitot (prayer shawls) led the blessing over the people in a style that is thought to date back to the Temple era. Young boys stand under their father’s tallit as they conduct or receive the blessing.

The Birkat HaKohanim is known as the Aaronic Benediction, Aaronic Blessing, Duchanen (from the Yiddish word for “platform”) and Lifting of the Hands (Nesiat Kapayim).

Each word of the three verses is pronounced by a leader and then repeated in unison by the priests.  In Ashkenazic practice, the priests raise their hands during the blessing to form “five windows” through which the blessings from God can pass.  They also form the letter “shin,” an initial for one of God’s names —  El Shaddai (often translated as God Almighty).  In Sephardic practice, all the fingers of the hands are separated during the blessing.

Jewish tradition says that the priests’ uplifted hands serve as a conduit to deliver their blessings and the Divine Presence onto the people.

Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Religious Services Minister David Azoulay and the chief rabbis of Israel’s Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, were among the tens of thousands that attended Monday’s ceremony.  (Israel HaYom)

Western Wall-Sukkot-Priestly Blessing

Jewish worshipers gather at the Western (Wailing) Wall Plaza on Sukkot to receive the Priestly Blessing.  (Photo: Go Israel)

The priestly blessing is given by hundreds of Aaron’s male descendants three times a year — at Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot — with tens of thousands of Jews traveling to the Western Wall to receive their blessing.

The Bible describes Aaron (the first Kohen) and his sons — named in Exodus 28:1 as Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar — as being dressed in special clothes, given dignity and honor (v. 28:40), then anointed, ordained, and consecrated “so they may serve me as priests.”  (v.  28:41)

While the Book of Numbers explicitly assigns the giving of this blessing to the sons of Aaron, this year the activist group Women of the Wall advertised “the first of its kind” “priestly blessing” to be given by women.  However, the group of women which assumes traditionally male Orthodox customs in prayer at the Western Wall did not receive a blessing from the State of Israel to assume the Aaronic honor.  (Jewish Journal)

After meeting with Rabinowitz, the Religious Service Ministry legal adviser, attorneys and police, Attorney General of Israel Avichai Mandelblit decided that the women’s plans violated a law that protects “local customs” at Israeli religious sites.

The Women of the Wall rejected the decision, saying their opponents want “to sabotage gender equality at the Western Wall” and delegitimize women’s prayers, “whose only wish is to bless and be blessed.”

The women might be able to make a good argument in favor of them reading the Torah or praying, since these are aspects of Jewish worship Biblically permitted for the entire nation of Israel, but it can also be argued that the priestly blessing is Biblically a matter of male inheritance.

The Women of the Wall did hold a prayer meeting on Sunday in the women’s section as previously planned.

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