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The Blessing

The Blessing

A step-by-step guide leading the priest through the blessing


This article discusses the function of the Kohanim. Click here for the congregation's participatory role in the blessing.

Calling Upon the Kohanim

The chazzan recites the prayer which precedes the Birkat Kohanim ("Our G‑d and G‑d of our fathers, bless us with the threefold [Priestly] Blessing…"), until he reaches the word "Kohanim"—which he proclaims out loud; officially summoning the Kohanim to discharge their priestly duty. The chazzan then continues, "am kedoshecha ka'amur" ("Your holy [priestly] nation, as it is said...").1

At this point, the Kohanim – who are facing the Ark – rotate themselves clockwise to face the congregation and incant a blessing, thanking G‑d for "sanctifying us with Aaron's sanctity and commanding us to bless His nation Israel with love."

Raised Hands

Immediately after the blessing, the Kohanim lift their hands beneath their tallits—shoulder-high, palms outstretched and facing downwards. The right hand should be slightly more elevated than the left one.

The fingers are positioned in a manner which leaves five "windows" through which G‑d's blessings flow to the congregation. The general idea is to separate each hand into three "sections"—leaving spaces on each hand between the thumb and index finger, and between the middle and ring finger. The fifth space is completed by the way the two thumbs are configured together. There are different traditions regarding this configuration—Kohanim should consult with their father or rabbi to determine their family/community tradition in this matter.

Sephardim have a completely different tradition. They raise their hands above their heads and separate all their fingers.

The Kohanim should not gaze at their hands during the Birkat Kohanim.

The Chazzan Leads

The chazzan then leads the Kohanim in the Birkat Kohanim. He recites aloud the fifteen words of the blessing:

'May G‑d bless you and guard you.
'May G‑d shine His countenance upon you and be gracious to you.
'May G‑d turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.'" (Numbers 6:24-26)

The Hebrew words are:




The Kohanim repeat after the chazzan word-for-word. The Kohanim must chant the words of the Birkat Kohanim in a loud voice—but not a shout. It is traditional in many communities for the Kohanim to precede each word with a short melody. The Kohanim must wait for the chazzan to completely conclude saying a word before repeating it.

After the conclusion of the Birkat Kohanim, the Kohanim remain facing the congregation until the chazzan begins the Sim Shalom blessing. At this point they turn around – clockwise again – and only when they are once again facing the Ark may they bring down their outstretched hands.

While the chazzan recites the Sim Shalom, the Kohanim recite a short prayer, "informing" G‑d that they had complied with His command to administer the Priestly Blessing, and now He must do as He has promised—"Look down from Your holy Heavenly Abode and bless Your people and the Land which You have given us…"
Ideally, the Kohen should conclude this prayer as the chazzan finishes the Sim Shalom blessing—allowing the congregation to respond "Amen" to both prayers simultaneously.

The Kohanim remain at the front of the sanctuary until the conclusion of the kaddish which immediately follows the Repetition of the Musaf Amidah. They then (put on their shoes) and file back to their places.


If there's only one Kohen present, the chazzan does not say "Kohanim" – the plural form of Kohen – aloud, rather he says the entire prepatory prayer silently, and the Kohen begins saying the blessing on his own.

Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Anonymous wi February 28, 2017

you really helped Reply

Michael Cohen NY. Queens May 31, 2016

I like that, it's the best and the right way!
G-d's favorite.
Yesher Koach. Reply

Menachem Montrreal September 22, 2015

Thank you Yehuda for your comments, that the Cohanim sing the melody one time more than the Chazzan. This doesn't seem to happen in my shul.
The other thing that I find irksome is the minute details one has to go through with the hand washing, removal and stowing of shoes, how to place your hands, splaying the fingers, etc. etc. etc. Does G-d really want all this ??? Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for September 22, 2015

Re: Anonymous from Montreal If one is unfamiliar with the melody, you can take their cue from your fellow cohanim. You can hum the melody quietly and then say the actual word out loud. After just a few times you will get the hang of it and be able to sing it on your own.

However, with regards to whether the custom described is as explained here or as in the jukebox, the chazzan usually chants it once or twice and then afterward the Cohanim chant the melody twice or three times. In other words, the Cohanim chant the melody one more time than the chazzan. Reply

Anonymous Montreal September 16, 2015

I am a Cohen but have never done the priestly blessing. I recently found out that if I don't "duchen" I must leave the sanctuary during this prayer. So I am now considering duchening in the future.
However, in researching the procedure I find that the ritual is replete with many small details, which frankly, puts me off. Why does it have to be so complex? One question concerns the melody chanted before each word. Is this melody chanted once only as the chazzan chants it (as indicated above) or is it repeated twice and even thrice as the link to the Jewish Jukebox indicates. Reply

B.R.Schenk MD Smithtown, NY June 27, 2015

The Blessing Excellent review. There are always additional details that one can learn from the learned. Reply

Anonymous FARMINGTON February 23, 2015

Birkat Kohanim I want to thank you from my heart for posting this. Adonai bless you, and shalom! Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for May 8, 2013

Re: Ritual Purity laws For a discussion on the laws of the Kohen's purity see The Kohen's Purity Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for May 8, 2013

Re: Washing hand and removal of shoes This article is about the actual priestly blessing, the required preparations for the blessing such as the washing of the hand and the Kohen's removal of his shoes is discussed in the article: Preparing for the Blessing - How the priests prepare themselves for the blessing Reply

David K. Los Angleles May 6, 2013

Is there a complete source for all of the Ritual Purity laws for Kohanim? I have been searching and asking Rabbis for the answer. The most common answer is that the laws pertaining to Kohanim are in four obscure books and are very difficult to find. Reply

Anonymous Israel December 6, 2012

priestly blessing Your article is incomplete: you don't discuss when the shoes are removed, the washing of the hands, the role of the levites. Reply

Elchanan Anonymous May 31, 2011

Jacqueline Aaron was commanded to raise his hands and bless Israel. According to the authorities, there is nothing in the Torah specifying exactly how he held his fingers. Reply

Elchanan Anonymous May 31, 2011

To GG and Naftali There are 15 words in Birkas Konanim. On each hand, there are 14 joints/segments of the fingers. Three for each finger and two for the thumb. Each designated part of the fingers(and thumb) represent a pronounced "word". The palm represents Shalom, the 15th word. Reply

Abraham Birenbaum Toronto, Canada May 17, 2011

Birkat Kohanim I understand the translation of the 15 words of the Blessing, I do not know what we are to be blessed with. Is there any allusion to good health,prosperity , fruitfulnes or any other blessing? Reply

Anonymous NYC March 2, 2011

Re: 28 There is special symbolism in the Kabbalah to the number 28. There are 22 regular letters in the Hebrew alphabet, plus 5 "final letters" (letters that are written differently when at the end of a word), and the Alef of breath that is needed to "go along with" and vocalize every one of the letters.

There are twenty eight letters in the first verse in the Torah, and the introductory verse of the 10 commandments. Reply

Jacqueline Brunger Cirencester, Glos March 1, 2011

The Blessing When did God explain all this positioning of the hands? Reply

Naftali Silberberg (author) Brooklyn, NY February 28, 2011

To GG I have no clue. Reply

gg Botkins, Ohio February 21, 2011

Blessing I have a picture of the hands for the Priestly Blessing and on each joint of the fingers and thumb (28joints) are Hebrew numbers or letters. What is their meaning? Reply

Naftali Silberberg (author) Brooklyn, NY February 19, 2011

Re: Aaronic Blessing Which twenty-eight sections are you referring to? The blessing is comprised of a total of fifteen words. Reply

gg Botkins, Ohio February 19, 2011

Aaronic Blessing What where the twenty-eight sections of the blessing. I know they started with the
Hebrew letter, but what were the words in English for these sections. Thanks for you help Reply

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