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  • Halacha
  • Birkat Cohanim

Birkat Cohanim for a woman


Rabbi David Sperling

Sivan 3, 5774
Dear Rabbi, If a woman expresses the wish to receive the blessing of a Cohen, is it possible for the Cohen to say the specific blessing? (or maybe, since everyone, not only a Cohen can give a blessing with these words, is it possible for a man to give such a blessing to a woman (more specifically one in distress)? On the other hand, it there a diffence if the man is a Cohen? In particular my question would be about a person under some kind of distress, like a woman who is a patient in a hospital and requests a blessing. Would it also be proper to bless a female person who is not under distress? If there is a case where such a blessing is proper, should the words of the birkat cohanim be adapted, such as: Yevarechech (Hashem) ve Yishmerech. Yaer (Hashem) panav eleich ve Yechuneich. Yissa (Hashem) panav eleich veyassem lach shalom. to address a female person? Do you have a practical solution (in case a female person under distress requests such a blessing?) Thank you very much in advance
Shalom, Thank you for your interesting question. Firstly, let me point out that the essential mitzvah of the cohanic blessing is fulfilled in synagogue during the repetition of the amidah (the silent devotion). In the Land of Israel, this is done every morning, and outside Israel, most communities perform this blessing only on the festivals. This blessing, when said by the Cohen(s) with a minyan, is a fulfillment of the Torah obligation to bless the Jewish people. Their blessing falls on all those in the synagogue, as well as on those people who were unable to attend – such as the sick in hospital (as per your question). So, in the question you asked, you should tell the sick lady (may she be blessed with good health) that on the upcoming festival of Shavu'ot she will automatically be receiving the blessings of G-d via the cohanim as they say the priestly blessing in synagogues around the world. May their blessings be a source of holiness and goodness for us all. Secondly, anyone (cohen or not) visiting the sick should make sure that they say a prayer for them during the visit. This can be in any form, and not necessarily using the words of the priestly blessing from the Torah. The use of the priestly blessing outside the synagogue service (by cohanim or non-cohanim) raises some interesting legal questions (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Haim 128,1 Mishna Brura and Bi'ur Halacha ibid) – nonetheless the custom is to use the language of the priestly blessing on occasions other than the synagogue service. So, in relation to your question, if one wanted to, they could bless the lady using this language, whether or not they were a cohen. There is no difference, or problem, whether a man blesses a man or a woman. If a man is blessing a woman (or woman blessing a man) it would be inappropriate to place their hand on the head of the one being blessed – but they are allowed, if they so desire, to hold their hand above the head. (One should not separate one's fingers in the manner of the cohanim – and some are particular not to place two hands, but rather only one hand, on the head of the person being blessed with the words of the priestly blessing). We do not change the language of the blessing from masculine to feminine when blessing a lady (see the prayer book – with the blessing of one's daughters on Friday night before Kiddush). I hope this is of help to you – and may we have only blessings.
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