Whenever Trekkies flash Spock's Vulcan "Live Long and Prosper" sign, they're actually borrowing from Judaism, Leonard Nimoy often said. That fact came to the fore in numerous retrospects after Nimoy's death Feb. 27.
"People don’t realize they're blessing each other with this!" he says in one of the better stories, based on a recorded interview reported by the Post.
Nimoy became a photographer, a director, a narrator, even a singer over his career. But his best-known role was, of course, Spock, the logic-minded alien in three TV seasons and eight films based on the original Star Trek. The religious/spiritual gesture? Abby Ohlheiser of the Washington Post nails it in the first two paragraphs:
Leonard Nimoy first saw what became the famous Vulcan salute, “live long and prosper,” as a child, long before “Star Trek” even existed. The placement of the hands comes from a childhood memory, of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue service in Boston.
The man who would play Spock saw the gesture as part of a blessing, and it never left him. “Something really got hold of me,” Nimoy said in a 2013 interview with the National Yiddish Book Center.
The story is absorbing both on a personal and religious level. Ohlheiser, with contributions by ace religion writer Michelle Boorstein, fills in Nimoy's Ukrainian background and upbringing in Boston. His acquaintance with Yiddish led him to helping support the book center.
In a little disclosure, Ohlheiser says she worked at the book center as a college student. Her experience led her to ask about anything that Nimoy had done there, leading to the gold mine of the recorded interview.
Religiously, the story is, as Spock might say, fascinating:
“This is the shape of the letter shin,” Nimoy said in the 2013 interview, making the famous “V” gesture. The Hebrew letter shin, he noted, is the first letter in several Hebrew words, including Shaddai (a name for God), Shalom (the word for hello, goodbye and peace) and Shekhinah, which he defined as “the feminine aspect of God who supposedly was created to live among humans.”
The Shekhinah, Nimoy has said, was also the name of the prayer he participated in as a boy that inspired the salute. The prayer, meant to bless the congregation, is named after the feminine aspect of God, Nimoy explained in a 2012 post on the “Star Trek” site. “The light from this Deity could be very damaging. So we are told to protect ourselves by closing our eyes,” he wrote in the blog.
“They get their tallits over their heads, and they start this chanting,” Nimoy says in the 2013 interview, “And my father said to me, ‘don’t look’.” At first he obliged, but what he could hear intrigued him. “I thought, ‘something major is happening here.’ So I peeked. . And I saw them with their hands stuck out from beneath the tallit like this,” Nimoy said, showing the “V” with both his hands. “I had no idea what was going on, but the sound of it and the look of it was magical.”
He plugged the gesture into Star Trek when a storyline had Spock revisiting his homeworld. "I think we should have some special greeting that Vulcans do," he said -- recreating the "Shin" gesture from synagogue.
The idea of Shekhina spurred more than science fiction, as Nimoy told me in a phone interview back in 2003. It also inspired him to try to capture the Shekhina in art photography -- an eight-year project that led to a book of the same name.
To my delight -- probably yours, too -- the Washington Post includes a comparatively generous five-and-a-half-minute video of the interview with Nimoy. Even over 80, he speaks with humor and animation in the video -- a man at ease with his spirituality, his profession, his ethnic heritage, and even the alien persona he bore for five decades.
The video also pops up in some of the other coverage, which reveals other sides of Nimoy's many-faceted life. CNN has an affectionate piece, which scans his roles in such projects as Mission Impossible, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and A Woman Called Golda. There's much on the Jewish "Shin" gesture in International Business Times, which borrows heavily from the book Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish," by Abigail Pogrebin.
There's even a decent effort in The Inquisitr, not the most religious of sites. I say "effort" because it says “Shin” means “Almighty God.” As you know by now, Shin is actually the first letter in Shaddai. Also, the article mentions the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. That was getting a little too Jewish; the title was actually The Wrath of Khan.
All told, though, the story of Nimoy, the Shin sign and Shekhina stand as a welcome example of how news media can weave spirituality into coverage. This time, it's no mere religious "ghost." More like an acknowledgement of the Holy Ghost.