Thousands of Kohanim, Jewish men descended from members of the priestly class in the People of Israel, gathered at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem on Thursday morning for the traditional Birkat HaKohanim.

The Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall, October 16, 2008

Israel News Photo: Tovia Singer

Holiday festivities also are being held in Hevron, where the Jewish community is offering activities for children and live Chassidic vocal entertainment.


The Kotel ceremony featured some two thousand Kohanim who blessed all those present with three verses from the Torah (Numbers 6:23-27) that were recited by Jewish priests in the First and SecondHolyTemples.

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The Western Wall plaza was packed with some 50,000 Jewish worshippers who streamed into Jerusalem from all over the country and around the world especially for the event. 

During the recitation of the blessing, the Kohanim gathered into groups spread their prayer shawls over their own heads, spreading out their arms over the congregation to form a small enclosure that prevented congregants from seeing them during the actual blessing. There is a custom for the congregants who are being blessed to avoid looking at the Kohanim during the blessing as well. 

Kohanim have the tradition of being direct descendants of the first High Priest of the Jewish People, Aharon (Aaron), the brother of Moshe (Moses), and as such have a separate status in Judaism. All Kohenim are members of the Tribe of Levi by direct patrilineal descent, although not all members of that tribe are Kohanim. The Levites who were not Kohenim served as Temple assistants and provided the music and songs to accompany ceremonies, among other tasks.

Following the ceremony, Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger recited a prayer he composed especially for the occation, asking G-d to "rescue" Jonathon Pollard, imprisoned in America for more than 20 years on a single count of espionage for handing classified information to Israel, an allied nation, and kidnapped IDF St. Sgt. Gilad Shalit, held captive by Hamas terrorists in Gaza since June 25, 2006.

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar followed with a supplication of his own composition as well, asking G-d to take away distress from the People of Israel, to end the numerous tragic motor vehicle accidents that have destroyed so many lives in the country over the past year and the sicknesses that have affected so many people, and finally to decimate Israel's enemies.


To both blessings, some 50,000 voices answered with a resounding, "Amen!" according to an eyewitness, who added that security officers were discreet but clearly present. "It wasn't an overwhelming presence, you didn't get the feeling they were imposing themselves on you, but you did see them everywhere," he said. "I saw one soldier up on a roof with binoculars."