Thousands participate at Birkat Kohanim, a lot less than usual

Though this year's attendance was poorer than usual, thousands participated at Monday's Birkat Kohanim at the Western Wall Plaza.

 Priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Passover, April 18, 2022 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Passover, April 18, 2022
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Thousands participated in the first Birkat Kohanim ("priestly blessings") of Passover that took place Monday morning at the Western Wall Plaza in a festive and moving event with many kohanim (priests) families from around Israel and the world. 

Due to the current security tensions and as result of the riots yesterday on Temple Mount, the attendance was poorer than it usually is. At the end of the prayer, the officiating rabbis proclaimed another one in light of the security situation. 

This year is the 51st year since the first public Birkat Kohanim ceremony took place on Passover at the Western Wall, when hundreds of kohanim bless the public with the special blessing from the Torah, was reinstituted at the Western Wall by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gafner.

It has been organized for years by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation on Hol Hamoed (the intermediate days of the holiday) of Passover and Sukkot. Thousands stream to the Western Wall Plaza to take part in this unique experience.

Monday's event took place in the presence of the Rishon LeZion, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, and Rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz.

 Priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Passover, April 18, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Passover, April 18, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

At the end of the prayer service, there was a special service and "kabbalat ol malchut shamayim" ceremony (accepting the kingship of heaven) by the Rishon LeZion who blesses the audience and the security forces. There was also a special prayer recited for the welfare and safety of the Jewish nation in Israel by Rabinowitz.

After the Meron disaster, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation decided to hold two identical ceremonies, on Monday and on Wednesday, in order for less people to participate in each gathering, hoping to avoid overcrowding in the plaza. Last year, on Sukkot, the ceremonies were divided into two for the first time, then, due to the fear of crowds as result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Rabinowitz said after the ceremony: “Birkat Kohanim at the Western Wall has become a tradition of over 50 years. The event is full of excitement, hope, and prayer for protection from harm, so necessary now. As it says in Chronicles, 'And the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to His holy habitation, to heaven' (Chronicles II 30, 27).

 A worshiper draped in Ukraine's flag during priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Passover, April 18, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) A worshiper draped in Ukraine's flag during priestly blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Passover, April 18, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In a press release sent by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the organization is quoted saying that it "wishes to remind the public that another Birkat Kohanim will take place on Wednesday, the 4th day of Hol Hamoed, in the same format, for those who weren’t able to come today."

The Birkat Kohanim events are broadcast live on the Kotel website and on other media outlets for those unable to come to the Western Wall Plaza.

The foundation asked to add that "The Western Wall Heritage Foundation asks that the public abide by the directions of the Israel Police and the ushers who will direct crowds throughout the holiday for the benefit of all who come to the Western Wall."