Published Jul 17, 2021
How Leonard Nimoy's Jewish Roots Inspired the Vulcan Salute
Let's dive into the history of science fiction's most famous salute
By Leonard Nimoy
The Vulcan salute, first seen in the episode “Amok Time,” is perhaps one of pop culture’s most enduring images. It has become shorthand for not only the Star Trek franchise, but a greeting for fans from all walks of life to find each other. Accompanied by the phrase “Live long and prosper,” the salute is as key to Star Trek as starships, warp capabilities, and the phrase “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Spock actor and Trek legend Leonard Nimoy created it on the set of The Original Series. In 2012, StarTrek.com caught up with Nimoy to ask about the history behind the gesture and how it came to life on set. Inspired by a gesture he’d seen during a blessing at an orthodox Jewish shul as a boy, Nimoy carried the memory with him until the fateful day filming the scenes on Vulcan in “Amok Time.”
“The idea came when I saw the way Joe (Pevney, the episode’s director) 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.”
Not only did Nimoy take the time to speak with the site back in 2012, but he also wrote about his inspiration. Nearly ten years later, we’re honored to share his words again.
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,