By Robert Gluck/JNS.org
Click photo to download. Caption: Leonard Nimoy, at the 2011 Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona, gives his Vulcan hand gesture from “Star Trek”—a gesture he said was modeled after the Jewish kohanim. Credit: Gage Skidmore.
Leonard Nimoy says there is a “strong strain of Judaism” in
everything he does—including his famous on-screen hand gestures.
Best known for his character Mr. Spock in the “Star Trek”
television show and movies, most recently in his cameo as Spock Prime in this
year’s blockbuster “Star Trek Into
Darkness,” Nimoy’s Vulcan hand gesture comes from an experience he had
at synagogue when he was 8 years old.
Nimoy’s father told him not to look as worshippers averted their
eyes during blessings recited by the kohanim.
“The men were chanting, shouting and praying in an Orthodox
service,” Nimoy, 82, says in an interview with JNS.org. “It was very passionate, very theatrical. I was chilled by
the whole thing.”
Years later, while on the set of the “Star Trek” television show,
Nimoy suggested to the director that Vulcans like Spock should offer some
gesture in greeting other Vulcans.
“The director asked me what I had in mind and I suggested the
gesture used by the kohanim,” Nimoy says. The gesture went on to be
accompanied by the expression “live long and prosper.”
Nimoy, born in Boston, recalls that he grew up “in a very Jewish
environment and was bar mitzvahed appropriately when I was 13.”
Click photo to download. Caption: Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk from the television program “Star Trek” in 1968. Credit: NBC Television.
“The neighborhood I grew up in had several synagogues, and I
sang in the choirs for the High Holidays,” he tells JNS.org. “There is a strong strain of Judaism in everything I do.
It is a presence that I do not deny and do not want to deny. It is a valuable
resource for me and a valuable part of my consciousness.”
Born to Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jews from Ukraine, Nimoy
narrated the documentary “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America” in 1997, about the
various sects of Hassidic Jews. In October 2002, Nimoy published “The Shekhina Project,” a
photographic study inspired by Kabbalah. exploring the feminine aspect of God’s
According to Rich Michelson, owner of the Northampton, Mass.-based
R. Michelson Galleries, the best art often opens up a societal debate—and
Michelson believes Nimoy’s religiously controversial “Shekhina Project”
certainly did so when it was published and shown to the public in 2002.
A feminine word in Hebrew, Shekhina
is the Talmudic term for the dwelling or settling of God’s divine presence on
Earth. Over time, the concept of Shekhina
evolved in more progressive Jewish circles into a softer, empathetic feminine
counterpart to God who could argue for humanity’s sake, comfort the poor and
sick, and stand as the mother of Israel.
“[Nimoy’s] depiction of women—some wearing tefillin and nothing
else—as the essence of the feminine manifestation of God struck some as
revolutionary and others as salacious,” Michelson tells JNS.org. “The response in our gallery was overwhelmingly positive, as
it was in most venues where we toured the exhibit. There were some synagogues
that refused to show the work, and …read more