Thousands of religious Jews are expected to attend the Priestly Blessing ceremony, which marks the intermediate days of Passover, at the Western Wall after last year the traditional event was massively scaled down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year's festivities fell on the tail end of the first COVID-19 lockdown, allowing only 10 worshippers to attend Birkat Hakohanim, special blessing carried out by members of the Jewish priestly caste (known as Kohanim in Hebrew).
With more than half the population of Israel vaccinated against the virus, restrictions were eased earlier this month to allow congregations to gather with social distancing measures in place.
According to the Health Ministry's outline, all members of the general public are allowed to attend the event without almost any restrictions but in accordance with the Western Wall Plaza's allowed capacity. The only restriction appears to be plastic capsules that separate worshippers into small groups.
In order to avoid overcrowding, however, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation decided to allow the ceremony to be carried out over the course of two days - Monday and Tuesday - instead of the traditional one-day blessing.
"In order to meet the challenge of massive crowds coming from all over the country for the traditional Priestly Blessing, it was decided that this year Priestly Blessing will be split into two different events that will be held day after day to prevent overcrowding," Western Wall Heritage Foundation said in a statement.
Israel Police this morning closed off all main roads leading to the Old City for the event, including Ma'ale Hashalom Street, Jaffa Gate, Gat Shemanim-Ophel Street as well as Rockefeller and Sultan Suleiman streets.
Thousands of police and Border Police officers as well as volunteers have been deployed across the Old City to maintain the safety of worshipers and tourists.
Traditionally, attendees come to the ceremony to be blessed at the holy site by the priests, descendants of the tribe of Levi, twice during the prayer services of Shaharit and Mussaf.
Opposite the worshippers stand hundreds of priests who cover themselves with their prayer shawls and recite the “triple blessing” which is written in the Torah. “May God bless and protect you, shine his face upon you and educate you and grant peace upon you.”
In Israel, the blessing is said during every morning service in which more than one priest participates. However, the days of Passover enable people to visit the Western Wall and receive a blessing from hundreds of priests simultaneously.