Leonard Nimoy aka Spock passed away on Friday, and some fans of the beloved actor are wondering how he came up with the popular Vulcan salute that his character often used in Star Trek.
Nimoy was born to Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, which led to his developing the gesture. As a child, Nimoy witnessed priests forming their fingers in a V-shaped pattern, palms down, which is a traditional Jewish blessing.
“For what would soon become known as the Vulcan salute, I borrowed a hand symbol from Orthodox Judaism. During the High Holiday services, the Kohanim (who are the priests) bless those in attendance. As they do, they extend the palms of both hands over the congregation, with thumbs outstretched and the middle and ring fingers parted so that each hand forms two vees,” he explained in his memoir I am Spocj.
“This gesture symbolizes the Hebrew letter shin, the first letter in the word Shaddai, `Lord.’ … So it was that, when I searched my imagination for an appropriate gesture to represent the peace-loving Vulcans, the Kohanim’s symbol of blessing came to mind.”
Nimoy told the Baltimore Sun that the gesture “struck me as a very magical and mystical moment.”
“I taught myself how to do it without even knowing what it meant, and later I inserted it into Star Trek,” he said. “There was a scene in one episode that needed something. People were seeing other members of the Vulcan race for the first time, and I thought it called for a special gesture.”
“I suggested to the director there should be some Vulcan thing that Vulcans do when they greet — like humans shake hands or military people salute each other, Asian people bow to each other. We have rituals,” he said in another interview. He threw up his hands in the gesture, “and the next thing you know it’s in the script!”
A number of people find that they can’t do the gesture because of a lack of flexability in their hand. Zachary Quinto, who played Spock in the Star Trek movies in recent years, actually could not do it well at first–so he started putting his ring finger and pinky finger together with a rubber band while driving. He eventually glued his fingers into position, with the help of director J.J. Abrams.