Women of the Wall to Hold First-ever Female Priestly Benediction at Western Wall

With funding from the Leonard Nimoy estate, Women of the Wall will hold event during Passover.

2013 | Western Wall, Jerusalem.
A member of Women of the Wall dons tefillin, a religious custom traditionally performed only by men. The group wants to secure the right of women to pray at the site.
Michal Fattal

In a move bound to draw opposition from the Orthodox establishment, feminist activists are planning to hold a first-ever priestly blessing ceremony at the Wailing Wall for and by women.

The event, scheduled to be held during the Passover holiday, is being organized by Women of the Wall, the multi-denominational prayer group that holds a monthly prayer service at the Jewish holy site. The blessing will be led by women who trace their lineage to the priestly class known as the “cohanim.”

Traditionally, this blessing is recited by men who trace their lineage to the priestly class. As part of the ritual, these cohanim bless the congregation with their hands raised and their fingers spread.

The Women of the Wall event is being held in collaboration with the estate of the late Leonard Nimoy, the Jewish actor best known for his role as Spock, the half Vulcan character in Star Trek who popularized the priestly gesture in his famous salute. Nimoy died last year.

Funding provided by the Susan Bay Nimoy and Leonard Nimoy estate is meant to help Women of the Wall advertise the event as well as bus in women from around the country so that they can attend at no cost.

In a statement, Women of the Wall noted that Nimoy “took something precious from antiquity and brought it to the ‘future.’ His benediction ‘Long live and prosper’ takes one of the best messages from the Jewish faith and transforms it into a universal message of peace, purpose and prosperity.”

The statement said the event was meant to “offer women a unique, spiritual and empowering experience on the Jewish world’s stage: the Western Wall.”

Twice a year, once during Sukkot and once during Passover, on the interim days of the holiday known as Chol Hamoed, a mass priestly blessing of the public is held at the Western Wall. The event is typically attended by thousands.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who serves as the custodian of the Western Wall, has in the past tried to block Women of the Wall from engaging in practices reserved exclusively for men in Orthodox Judaism.

Close to two months ago, the government approved an agreement that would have created a special prayer section at the southern expanse of the Western Wall, where non-Orthodox Jews could hold their own separate prayer services. According to the agreement, Women of the Wall were to have moved their prayer services to this new section.

But as opposition to the agreement among the ultra-Orthodox parties has mounted, its future now hangs in the balance. Rabinowitz, who was originally party to the agreement, has since withdrawn his support.