The semiannual mass priestly benediction service — or Birkat Kohanim –– took place Sunday morning at the Western Wall. Tens of thousands of Jewish worshippers crowded the plaza to receive the blessing from the Kohanim, descendants of Aaron who make up the priestly caste. Both new chief rabbis, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, participated as well.
Hundreds of security personnel were on hand.
The words of the blessing, found in Numbers, Chapter 6, are considered by some to be among the most ancient in the Torah.
“And the Lord spoke unto Moses saying: Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying: Thus you shall bless the children of Israel. Say unto them: ‘The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; The Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto Thee; The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.’ So shall they put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”
The tradition of holding a mass event at the Western Wall began after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, an initiative of a local Hasidic rabbi, Menachem Mendel Gefner. It is usually held on the second of Sukkot’s intermediate days, in order to allow Jews visiting Israel from abroad to participate, since they treat the first intermediate day as a Sabbath-like holiday. This year, however, the second intermediate day was on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, so it was moved to Sunday, or the third intermediate day.