I cannot imagine Star Trek without Mr. Spock. He was the character I often identified with…someone who had two halves that did not always blend seamlessly. The Vulcan side of him–the stoic, somewhat distant part–was predominant, but occasionally the human, emotional side would break through…and he didn’t seem to quite know what to do about that.
As a Vulcan, he had a unique greeting. I practiced off and on in order to get the hand position correct. Sometimes I succeeded; more often than not, my fingers wouldn’t quite cooperate. And I loved his verbal greeting–“Live long and prosper.” It seemed such a wonderful invitation.
Many years later, I was intrigued to find the source of that greeting. I read his autobiography, discovering that he grew up in an orthodox Jewish household–and that when Mr. Spock needed some kind of a greeting, Leonard Nimoy drew on that background. The best description I have found comes from an article by Rabbi Yonassan Gershom:
The Vulcan greeting is based upon a blessing gesture used by the kohanim (koe-hah-NEEM) during the worship service. The kohanim are the genealogical descendants of the Jewish priests who served in the Jerusalem Temple. Modern Jews no longer have priests leading services as in ancient times, nor do we have animal sacrifices anymore. (Yes, people really do ask about that!) The sacrificial system ended with the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in the year 70 C.E. However, a remnant of the Temple service lives on in the “kohane blessing” ritual (duchenen in Yiddish) that is performed on certain holy days.
The actual blessing is done with both arms held horizontally in front, at shoulder level, with hands touching, to form the Hebrew letter “shin.” This stands for the Hebrew word for “Shaddai,” meaning “Almighty [God].” Nimoy modified this gesture into one hand held upright, making it more like a salute. So, technically, the Vulcan greeting is not the same thing as the ceremonial Jewish blessing. Still, the resemblance is close enough to evoke instant recognition among knowledgeable Jews.
As a child Nimoy was curious about the experience of this blessing, and when he uncovered his face to watch, he was deeply moved by the great sense of spirit and theatricality…and it stayed with him.
The vocal greeting also has Jewish connections. Again, from Rabbi Gershom’s article:
In addition to the salute itself, the ceremonial use of “Live long and prosper” and its lesser-known reply, “Peace and long life,” also show a strong Jewish influence. The format is similar to a traditional greeting in Hebrew: “Shalom Aleichem” (peace be upon you) and the answer, “Aleichem shalom” (upon you be peace.) Muslims have a similar greeting in Arabic.
Jews, Muslims, Vulcans, Christians…all with an awareness of something greater than ourselves…all with a desire for peace.
Thank you, Leonard Nimoy, for reminding us of the best within us. We will miss you.
Live long and prosper.