It took a couple of years, but it was worth it. StarTrek.com repeatedly and politely asked Leonard Nimoy to recount how and why he created the Vulcan salute, which remains one of the classic, defining, iconic gestures in Star Trek. It’s been splashed all across the franchise, often accompanied by the words, “Live long and prosper.” Nimoy – borrowing a page from an ancient Jewish ritual he observed as a boy in his native Boston -- had introduced the salute in the episode “Amok Time,” in a scene in which Spock greets T’Pau (Celia Lovsky), the Vulcan official who was to preside over his wedding to T’Pring (Arlene Martel). Nimoy had no idea at the time, as he stood on the set of “Amok Time” with Lovsky, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley and director Joseph Pevney, that he’d be setting a pop culture moment in motion, but that’s precisely what he did.
Anyway, Nimoy had written about the gesture's evolution in his autobiography and he'd discussed it in some archival interviews and at a few conventions, but we impored him to put it all in his own words once and for all for the readers of StarTrek.com. Nimoy, agreed to do so in 2012, to coincide with the upcoming Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Almost as importantly, he was kind enough to set up the context in which he raised the notion of the gesture to Pevney during the “Amok Time” shoot in 1967 and to address the oft-asked question of whether or not Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry played any role in its creation or signed off on it. Now, with Yom Kippur upon us today, and with Nimoy gone almost two years, we're pleased to once again share Nimoy's comments and essay with you.
“The idea came when I saw the way Joe was staging the scene,” Nimoy told us. “He had me approach T'Pau and I felt a greeting gesture was called for. So I suggested it to Joe, who accepted it immediately. Gene was not involved.”
Now, to Nimoy’s account -- written by Nimoy exclusively for StarTrek.com -- of first seeing the Jewish blessing/benediction performed and to his thoughts on the Vulcan gesture’s enduring legacy:
I grew up in an interesting inner-city neighborhood in Boston. The area was known as the West End and was written about in a book called the Urban Villagers. It was a desirable area since it was within walking distance of downtown Boston and the Boston Commons, as well as being situated along the banks of the Charles River.
The population was mostly immigrants. Maybe 70% Italian and 25% Jewish. My family attended services in an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue, or “Shul.” We were especially attentive to the high holidays, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Since I was somewhat musical, I was hired as a young boy to sing in choirs for the holidays and I was therefore exposed to all of the rituals firsthand. I still have a vivid memory of the first time I saw the use of the split-fingered hands being extended to the congregation in blessing.
There were a group of five or six men facing the congregation and chanting in passionate shouts of a Hebrew benediction. It would translate to “May the Lord bless you and keep you,”…etc.
My Dad said, “Don’t look.”
I learned later that it is believed that during this prayer, the “Shekhina,” the feminine aspect of God comes into the temple to bless the congregation. The light from this Deity could be very damaging. So we are told to protect ourselves by closing our eyes.
And when I saw the split-fingered gesture of these men... I was entranced. I learned to do it simply because it seemed so magical.
It was probably 25 years later that I introduced that gesture as a Vulcan greeting in Star Trek and it has resonated with fans around the world ever since. It gives me great pleasure since it is, after all, a blessing.
Live Long And Prosper,