During morning prayers and holidays, the Kohanim approach the front of the synagogue and bless the congregation.
This is known as the Priestly Blessing, Birkat Kohanim or Nesiat Kapayim.
The prayer or blessing is based on the scriptural verse:
"They shall place My name upon the children of Israel, and I Myself shall bless them."
The powerful Jewish Blessing consists of the following Biblical verses (Numbers 6:24–26):
May Hashem bless you and guard you
May Hashem make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you
May Hashem lift up his face
After the Amidah, the Kohanim wash their hands, remove their shoes and walk up to the platform in front of the ark, which is at the front of the synagogue. They cover their heads with their tallit and recite the blessing over the performance of the mitzvah – turn to face the congregation, and then the hazzan recites the three verse blessing (written above) with the Kohanim repeating after him. The congregation responds Amen after each verse.
The text is found in the Bible in Numbers 6:23–27, when Aaron and his sons bless the Israelites. Amulets, dating from the First Temple Period, inscribed with this text are found today in Jerusalem at the Israel Museum.
A range of interpretations on these verses relate them to the three Patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to the three applicable attributes of God: Mercy, Courage and Glory.
Only Kohanim are permitted to perform the Priestly Blessing, however the Torah strictly prohibits a Kohen from reciting the blessing when under the influence of alcohol, or immediately following the death of a close relative.
All of the Kohanim present in the synagogue are obliged to participate and so should a Kohen refuse, he is required to leave the sanctuary for the duration of the blessing.
In many traditional Jewish communities it is customary for congregants to spread their tallit over their own heads during the blessing and they must not look at the Kohanim. Should a man have children, they will come under his tallit for a blessing.
In addition to synagogue prayer services the Birkat Kohenim is also used by parents to bless their children on Friday night before eating the Shabbat meal; and some rabbis say the blessing to a boy at his bar mitzvah. Usually it is prefaced for boys with a request for God to make the child like Ephraim and Manasseh (this is Jacob's prayer to the children of Joseph).
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