The “Live Long and Prosper” symbol, a raised hand with the middle finger and the ring finger spread apart to form a “V,” is the most iconic symbol of the Star Trek universe. In the Trekverse, the hand signal is known as the Vulcan salute. It’s a sign of respect that can be used as a greeting, a blessing, or a parting message depending on the situation.
Though the gesture is most often associated with the Star Trek franchise, it’s not a creation of the great minds behind Star Trek. The iconic Vulcan salute isn’t Vulcan at all. It’s actually a Jewish religious blessing.
The Jewish Blessing Behind Live Long and Prosper
During an interview conducted as part of the Wexler Oral History Project, Leonard Nimoy — the actor who played the most well-known Vulcan in the Star Trek universe — told the story of the first time he saw the hand gesture that became the Vulcan salute. He was at Temple, sitting with all the men in his family line when a ritual he’d never seen before started.
Nimoy said that some of the men from the congregation went up in the front of the room and put ceremonial coverings called Tallit over their heads. He said that his father told him to cover his eyes and not watch the ceremony.
Then they started to chant, but not melodic chants like the ones he’d heard before. He described the chanting as “wailing” and said that there didn’t seem to be any order to the utterances. The men weren’t chanting together. They all seemed to be randomly shouting. Nimoy said it was “chilling” and that he got an overwhelming feeling that something profound was happening.
“So, I peeked,” admitted Nimoy. “And I saw them with their hands sticking out from beneath their Tallit like this, toward the congregation.”
Nimoy made the hand gesture now known as the Vulcan salute, indicating that this was the hand signal the men performing the ceremony made. He went on to say that the ceremony filled him with a sense of magic.
Nimoy then explained that the hand symbol represents the Hebrew letter “shin,” which is a very important letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It’s the letter that begins some of the most sacred words in the Hebrew language.
So, the hand gesture that the world knows as the Vulcan salute, is actually a symbol of an important Hebrew blessing.
How Nimoy Brought the Symbol Into ‘Star Trek’
The world was first introduced to Mr. Spock’s homeworld of Vulcan in the episode “Amok Time.” In the Wexler Oral History Project interview, Nimoy recalled talking to the producers about who the Vulcans were as a species and what their culture was like. Nimoy pointed out that humans have many ways of greeting each other, like waves, nods, handshakes and bows.
Since this was the first time Vulcans other than Spock were being seen on the show, Nimoy felt it was important that they have a cultural gesture unique to them. He suggested the hand gesture he’d seen in the temple all those years ago and the producers loved it.
Nimoy reminisced, saying that within days, the hand gesture was synonymous with Star Trek. He said that people started flashing the salute at him when they saw him on the street. Nimoy ended that portion of the interview with a little chuckle about the fact that for decades people have been blessing each other every time they give each other the Vulcan salute.
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