JERUSALEM (JTA) – Tens of thousands of Jewish worshippers gathered Monday at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for the traditional priestly blessing.
The crowd – estimated by the office of the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites in Israel at 50,000 – converged on the Old City for the blessing, called Birkat Kohanim in Hebrew, during the second intermediate day of Passover. The mass blessing also is held on Sukkot and Shavuot, the other of the pilgrimage festivals, when the Jews would ascend to the Holy Temple. Religiously observant Jews who pray daily in a quorum, or minyan, observe the rite during the services.
Hundreds of kohanim, members of the priestly class, raised their hands and blessed the worshippers, including many visitors from the Diaspora. The crowd also recited the prayers for the State of Israel, the safety of Israeli soldiers and for Israeli police officers.
Additional security forces protected the worshippers due to increased tensions at the Temple Mount, located above the Western Wall, and throughout the city.
“Today everyone felt a wonderful unity at the Priestly Blessing ceremony, attended by Jews from all over Israel and abroad, regardless of their outlook,” Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the rabbi of the Western Wall, said in a statement.
“The pilgrimage to Jerusalem is an impressive testament to the Jewish People’s attachment to the remnant of our Temple; when the masses of Israel come to touch its stones,” Rabinovich also said in the statement. “This joyous sight of the masses of Israel completely filling the streets is somehow reminiscent of ancient times when crowds of pilgrims would come to see and be seen. More than a commemoration of the Temple’s destruction, it is a commemoration of the Temple itself.”
The chief rabbis of Israel, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Rabbi David Lau, as well as Rabinovich, greeted the visitors after the services.
On Sunday, the Women of the Wall group held Passover holiday prayers at the Western Wall, but did not hold a priestly blessing ceremony after being banned by Israel’s attorney general, who ruled that holding a female version of the ceremony violated a law enforcing “local customs” at religious sites in Israel.
Also on Monday morning, police removed two Jewish visitors from the Temple Mount for violating the site’s visitation rules, reportedly by attempting to pray there. Jewish prayer is forbidden at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. The previous day, 13 Jews were removed from the site.