‘Star Trek’s’ famous Vulcan Salute has a backstory some long-time fans haven’t heard. But its creator, actor Leonard Nimoy, didn’t conceal its origins.
I would guess there are people who’ve never seen a full episode of Star Trek but who would still recognize the Vulcan Salute.
You make the gesture by holding up a hand with the thumb extended and a gap between the middle and ring fingers. It forms a double-V shape.
The world first saw it during the original Star Trek episode, “Amok Time,” which aired on NBC on Sept. 15, 1967. In that episode, Mr. Spock must travel to his native planet of Vulcan to honor a betrothal. For the first time, viewers would see how members of the Vulcan race greeted each other.
Actor Leonard Nimoy happily shared the story of the salute’s origins on numerous occasions since he borrowed it from his faith.
He told the director of the episode that he felt Vulcans would have some sort of gesture to greet each other. He pointed to rituals like shaking hands or bowing as examples. So the director asked what he had in mind.
That’s when he suggested what he’d seen as a boy during a religious ritual.
Nimoy told the story many times over the years in interviews and in his autobiography, I Am Not Spock.
Nimoy’s Vulcan Salute came from an Orthodox Jewish service.
Christa Whitley interviewed Nimoy about the gesture in an interview for the Wexler Oral History Project at the Yiddish Book Center.
Nimoy spoke of the High Holiday service he attended as a child with his brother, father and grandfather. He described the priests, known as Kohanim, who at one point during the service rose and stood facing the congregation to bless them.
Nimoy’s father told him to cover his eyes and not look. But Nimoy admitted he couldn’t resist, and saw the Kohanim raise both hands out toward the congregation. Their hands formed the shape of the Hebrew letter Shin, ש.
Nimoy explained that shin is the first letter of the word shalom, which means “peace” as well as being the first letter of the word Shadai, which is one of the names of God. (It’s also worth noting that some religions, like Judaism, write out God as G-d, because they feel His name is so reverent that it should only be used in the holiest of occasions and should not be written out otherwise.)
“It was chilling, you know?” he said. “And I thought, ‘Something major is happening here.'”
So that gesture became the suggestion Nimoy offered as the Vulcan greeting. And to say it took off would be an understatement. He said it suddenly began appearing in scripts and that people would greet him on the street with the gesture and the accompanying Vulcan motto, “Live long and prosper.”
It even eventually became an emoji: 🖖
And in 2015, upon learning of the death of Nimoy while orbiting the earth, Astronaut Terry Virts offered a Vulcan Salute as he passed over Nimoy’s hometown of Boston:
My favorite part of the interview comes toward the very end. Nimoy reflects on one aspect of the salute’s original religious meaning. And it’s one I’m sure even most who know the story don’t often consider:
“People don’t realize they’re blessing each other with this!” he said.