75,000 Flock to Western Wall for Passover Priestly Blessing

'Joyous sight of the masses of Israel thronging the streets' is reminiscent of biblical pilgrimage to Temple, says Western Wall rabbi.

AP

More than 75,000 Israelis and tourists went to the Western Wall on Monday morning to receive the priestly blessing, known in Hebrew as birkat kohanim.

Hundreds of kohanim — Jewish men thought to be descended from the line of the biblical Aaron, who are often referred to as Jewish priests because of their prominent role in Temple worship — recited the blessing.

"The pilgrimage is an impressive testimony to the Jewish people's affinity to the remnants of our Temple," said Shmuel Rabinovich, the rabbi of the Western Wall. "This joyous sight of the masses of Israel thronging the streets is reminiscent of the days of yore, when pilgrims would come [to the Temple] en masse to see and be seen, and it is more of a reminder of the Temple than it is a reminder of its destruction."

In addition to Rabinovich, Israel's chief rabbis, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, also attended the ceremony at the Western Wall, part of the retaining wall that surrounded the Temple Mount.

The priestly blessing, known in Hebrew as birkat kohanim, became a public event at the Western Wall in 1970. The custom of holding it there was established by a Jerusalem rabbi called Menachem Mendel Gafner during the War of Attrition.

It is based on a tradition from the Talmudist and mystic Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, who lived between 1176 and 1238, that attributes mystical significance to the utterance of the priestly blessing by 300 kohanim close to the location where the Temple once stood.

The practice encompasses two separate Jewish traditions: Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple during the biblical holidays of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, and the blessing itself, which is recited daily in Israeli synagogues and in Sephardi synagogues around the world. (In Ashkenazi synagogues outside of Israel, it is only recited on major holidays.)