A record number of Jews gathered Monday at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount for the traditional priestly blessings.

Ezra HaLevi , | updated: 3:08 PM

A record number of Jews gathered Monday at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City for the traditional massive Birkat Kohanim, priestly blessings.

The ceremony has become a tradition ever since the liberation of the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War in 1967 and is seen as an observance of the Jewish obligation to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple three times a year, on Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles). During the weeklong Pesach and Sukkot holidays, the ceremony is held on the second of the Hol haMoed (intermediate) days.

Hundreds of kohanim, Jews who trace their lineage to Aaron, the first High Priest, stood closest to the Western Wall to take part in the special blessings. Attending the Western Wall prayers Monday were Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger, as well as Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch. Rabbi Rabinovitch told Arutz-7 that Monday's priestly blessing marked the largest such gathering for prayers at the site since the first Sukkot after the Six Day War.

Police were forced to close the gates leading to the Western Wall Plaza due to its being filled to capacity by worshippers. "The blessing, however, reaches those stuck outside the plaza as well, obviously," Rabbi Rabinovitch said. He added that many of those packing the plaza were not outwardly observant. "Many secular Jews have adopted the custom of making a pilgrimage to the Western Wall on the holiday," he said.

The Birkat Kohanim is a part of daily prayers in Israel, but is only recited on holidays in most communities outside Israel. The blessing given appears in Numbers 6:23-27:

And G-d spoke to Moses saying: Speak unto Aaron and his sons, saying, in this manner shall you bless the children of Israel. Say to them:
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord shine His face upon you.
May the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and grant you peace.

Meanwhile, there have been ongoing visits to the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site, throughout the week.

National Union faction head MK Uri Ariel ascended the Temple Mount Monday morning, saying that there is special significance to completing one's pilgrimage at the actual site of the Holy Temple on the three festivals. Ascending today, even as the Holy Temple is not standing, broadcasts a message reminding the entire world and first and foremost Israeli society, that the Temple is the center and the heart of the Jewish nation," Ariel said. "And we still expect and are prepared to rebuild it."

Visits for Jewish men and women who wish to ascend the Temple Mount in accordance with Jewish law are being offered over the course of the Sukkot Festival free of charge. All tours begin at 7.30 AM, beginning at the Mughrabi Gate, adjacent to the main entrance to the Western Wall plaza.

Remaining guided visits, in various languages:
Tuesday October 10: Dr. Yaacov Heyman (H), Rabbi Nachman Kupietzky (E), Yosef Dayan (Spanish)
Wednesday October 11: Menachem Ben-Yashar (H), Rabbi Zvi Rugan (E), Lily Richman (Women only, Bilingual)
Thursday October 12: Golan Shai-Cohen (H), Adv. Shmuel Caspar (E), Moshe Garbuz (Russian)
Sunday October 15: Yoel Lerner (Bilingual)

Participants must undergo physical preparations and immerse in a ritual bath beforehand, as well as arrive dressed in non-leather shoes. Police currently require a passport to ascend the mount and forbid the carrying up of religious articles aside from tzitzit and head coverings. For more information about the free tours and instructions on how to prepare, call (02) 571 0171 or 050 658 0224 (from outside Israel: +972 2 571 0171 or +972 50 658 0224).