Birkat Cohanim


http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=CedvMT3cNmU&feature=related - Start at 1 minute and 28 seconds into it

there are several others - but they don't start at the beginning

also an interesting cantorial setting - piano and choir

http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=yI8fuZBnhwg&feature=related

Wikipedia article with links, including Halakhah.

Please add your discussion on this page.




This summer in Jerusalem at the CY, I was blessed with the opportunity to lead the Kohanim in Birkat Kohanim. I loved the melody and the feeling that this ritual is so deeply connected back to our ancestors. There is a real power there and yet I am still asking the question does it make sense in our new paradigm?
- Yafa



The youtube rendition at the Kotel was my very first experience with the Priestly Blessing! I found it to be powerful and moving in a way that defies verbalization. I felt connected to archetypal emotions and simply allowed them to carry me along, and I loved it. The rendition with piano was a well-sung performance of interesting music, but it was a performance rather than a spiritual experience. I found myself listening as a singer and voice teacher, and as a music critic. This is precicely what I strive mightily to avoid when I lead services or leyn. Ideally speaking, I want to simply be the medium, using the music to imbue the words with kavanah. This is what the hazzan does when prompting the Kohanim, I'm sure. Historically and emotionally I see value in using the Priestly Blessing, inability of the Kohanim to perform it directly notwithstanding. But I must admit to considerable ambivalence as well! We Jews regard merit more highly than heridity - Jacob's blessings of his sons make this abundantly clear. But human as we are, a part of us gravitates toward honoring inherited position over merit. I have a problem with this and I would be grateful for the insight of others here.
- Leah




Here in the Diaspora I have most frequently encountered the "priestly blessing" as a closing benediction at my parents' Reform congregation (though not at the one I attend now, which is far less formal) and on erev Shabbat (both in some family homes, and during the oneg at my shul where parents bless their children with these words.) I've used the blessing myself as a closing benediction in wedding ceremonies and babynamings. The ritual of duchening qua duchening, though -- in which kohanim specifically serve as conduits of divine blessing -- was something I didn't experience until Yafa and I both spent this past summer in Jerusalem, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I really like it; I still hear it reverberating in my head when I daven the amidah. And on another hand, having grown up in staunchly egalitarian settings, part of me wonders what power structure is being preserved when only a certain lineage of men are able to give this blessing, and whether I'm comfortable with that. At Elat Chayyim one Yom Kippur, we divided the kahal into two groups and took turns blessing one another -- this side of the room raised our hands and blessed that side, and then vice versa -- which was very beautiful and powerful... but that may only work in a kahal where everyone present is really invested in being present and involved in the emotional and spiritual experience of transmitting blessing.
- rbarenblat rbarenblat Feb 25, 2009




Shoshana here. Hi, I hope I'm doing this right...I loved the first u-tube clip. The voice of the hazzan was very clean and powerful--almost...what is the word I'm searching for?--I can't think of it: it pulled something up from my guts, and keyed me into a kind of archaic memory, as if I were tapping into the stream of the collective Jewish unconscious. And as I write this I realize that what I was responding to was not really the KOHANIM, but the voice of the HAZZAN...hmmm, that's interesting, since I am studying to get smicha as a Hazzan. This is what I would like to be able to convey--at least on certain occasions: not a pretty voice, or a virtuosic rendition of a prayer (as the cantor in the second clip did, esp. toward the end), but something more anonymous, as if the ancient voice of the people and all their sad and glorious history were chanting through you. Of course the chanting of the Kohanim--and it seemed many more people in the crowd as well--was powerful, too. It gave a feeling of excitement--that everyone was involved, and anticipating the next cue. I guess I don't mind if women are not considered able by a given congregation to stand under their tallitot and raise their hands, being counted amongst the Kohanim...but I would, as a hazzan, like to be able to lead the Kohanim in the blessing one day. I am reminded of some of the texts of Mishna Yoma, describing the ways the Rabbis helped prepare the Kohen haGadol for his service on Yom Kippur. they did not begrudge him his role, the accepted the hereditary aspect of it--but they wanted to make sure that he had good supervision!
The second clip, as I alluded to above, I thought very pretty, but it had much more the feel of a "performance," and none of the raw power of the first one, none of that beautiful "anonimity." Was that just because I couldn't SEE the hazzan (in the kotel clip)? I don't think so. I think it was the sound, the way it was done. It was not art; it was an opening of the soul as a conduit for an ancient kind of power and, indeed, blessing.
- Shoshana




I have extensive experience with egalitarian/kahal based engagement with the Birkat Ha Cohanim, since my home congregation (Fabrangan in Washington DC) benches it every Shabbos and chag. Our most common formulation is for all of us to stay seated and stretch out our hands behind the heads of those seated next to us and we recite both the brachot and the response-Ken yehi ratzon-all together. Sometimes we have one side of the room bless the other and we do it twice. Sometimes we bless one another and then all rise and turn our backs on one another (we daven in the round) and bless everyone else in the world. Sometimes we use a lovely new melody. I always feel grateful to be able to bless and be blessed. It is sweet and lovely.

But it is almost never powerful.

When I sat in the balcony at the Great Synagogue in Yerushalyim in 1992 and experienced the Cohanim coming to the front of the kahal, waving their arms under their tallitot, I was transfixed. Energy was moving. Something alchemical happened. The groaning/moaning/chanting of the blessing was not pretty. It was not sweet. It was primeordeal.

Even though I am an ardent feminist/egalitarian I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water and say no to the traditional formulation because I am dedicated to creating transformational experiences and drawing down the Godfield and duchanan works in a way that, at least for me, being a nation of priests has not yet worked on this count.

So, I think I would seek to transform this in ways that allow all folks to have the opportunity to play the role of the Cohen, and I think I'd want to train folks who do it in becoming a channel for the God field. Those who master the bitul/nullification necessary for both transmitting the blessing from the Kadosh Baruch Hu and who master the dvekut/cleaving necessary to bring all of their own energy body into alignment with this bracha, who can bring all of their koach ugevurah to be able to be ferocious, like a lion mother protects her cubs, to be able to really say, "Yivarechecha HaShem veyishmerecha" and to bring all of their own or v'chen so they could say, "Yaer HaShem panaiv elecha vichunecha" and to be able to bring enough of their own chesed v'rachaman to be able to say, "Yisa HaZShem panaiv elecha, veyasem lcha shalom", those folks can alternate every week-a minyan a week-to come up to the front or center of the kahal and break open the klippot that may be preventing anyone in the room from feeling blessed and from feeling HaShem.

- Deb Kolodny




Jerusalem- Yakar Shul

I went to Yakar for services one Shabbat morning with Jan and Ed. We were about to leave for a variety of reasons when all of a sudden we saw these shrouded figures go to the front of the kahal and recite words sent from the back of the room out to the larger community. It was so other worldly that we were transfixed. None of us had ever seen or heard Birkat ha Cohanim done this way. I think it took us a bit to figure out what was going on. I am not sure if I felt blessed but I know we all felt that something very archaic was happening and was touching us in a deep and ancient place. I don't know any better words for it other than other worldly, mysterious, moving, dramatic.
Later I experienced it at a small shul created by Bonna Devorah Haberman, also in Jerusalem. This time I knew what was happening and was able to feel the blessing of it. I can't remember if both men and women did it but I have been places where that has happened since then.
- Melissa



A simple teaching about Birkat Cohanim has always stuck with me. After the actual verses of the blessing in Torah, we see: "Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them". Who is the them? Is God blessing the people through the Kohanim, or is God blessing the Kohanim themselves? Probably both - but it has always struck me that we oursleves are blessed when we offer blessing - that by stepping into the "power" - or the possibility maybe- of ourselves becoming channels through which blessing can flow into the world, we are acknowlegeing ourselves as conduits, as holy vessels, and this is part of what makes Birkat Kohanim stand out to me. We are a "nation of priests" - a nation of blessers - so for me this idea, when really embodied, can make congregational recitiation of birkat Kohanim really powerful, or personal recitation of it. While I have no problem with duchanen done in a traditional way - and agree with what some people above are saying about it evoking some kind of deep connection to our roots - I also like the idea of the new, creative ways that Birkat Kohanim is and can be used to empower all of us to see ourselves as channels of blessing.
- Simcha Z