US Amb. Friedman joins Passover priestly blessing at Western Wall

American Ambassador David Friedman, an observant Jew, was one of select few to offer the priestly blessing at the holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman was invited to be one of the select 10 men Sunday for the special priestly blessing offered during Passover prayers in Jerusalem’s Old City.

An observant Jew, the ambassador joined nine other worshipers to form the minimum quorum required at the morning prayer that would normally see the nearly empty plaza overflowing with tens of thousands of worshipers.

“Today I will be one of just 10 worshipers attending the “Priestly Blessing” ceremony at the Western Wall. Last year I was among 100,000; this year, unfortunately, far less. I will pray that the world is spared further illness or sorrow from COVID-19 or otherwise,” the ambassador tweeted.

With synagogues, mosques and churches in Israel all closed to group prayer because of the coronavirus crisis, religious officials received special dispensation to hold the televised open-air service at the Western Wall, the site of the ancient Jewish Temple.

“We invite the thousands of participants who come every year and the general public to join the prayers from home,” the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in a press statement. “Due to the coronavirus and resulting restrictions, the blessing, which takes place during the intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot, respectively, normally in the presence of many thousands of people, will be limited to only one group of 10 kohanim (Aaronic priests).”

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The blessing has its roots in the Bible where Aaron the priest blessed the people, and the text of the blessing is found in the Book of Numbers. In Judaism those who are priests (kohanim) or Levites retain that status by paternal lineage, so that Friedman’s paternal ancestors were also all kohanim.

When the blessing is given, the kohanim cover themselves in their prayer shawls and stretch out their hands with the fingers held to form the shape of the Hebrew letter “shin” – symbolic of the word “shaddai,” meaning almighty. The hand gesture was made famous by actor Leonard Nimoy, who introduced it to Star Trek as the Vulcan greeting “live long and prosper.”

The practice of the priestly blessing has continued for thousands of years in synagogues, where the kohanim bless the worshipers. Mass blessings are normally held at the Western Wall during festivals, but were curtailed because of the pandemic with health regulations prohibiting group prayer.

As the camera panned across the worshipers it was clear that an extra few had entered to give the blessing, with at least 15 men visible at one point, but all maintaining the required two-meter (six-foot) social distance to lower the chances of infection.

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The worshipers concluded with a prayer for the health and speedy recovery of all those sick with the coronavirus.