At least 50,000 Jewish worshippers attended a prayer ceremony at Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Monday as Israel marked the week-long Passover festival, police said.
Known as the Priestly Blessing, the ceremony involves Jews from the Cohanim priestly caste gathering to bless the crowds in a ritual which dates back to biblical times.
Hundreds of Cohanim draped in traditional white prayer shawls held their arms in the air to bless the crowds, reciting words which are taken from the biblical book of Numbers.
The blessing can only be performed by Jewish men who are believed to be of direct patrilineal descent from Aaron, the brother of Moses.
Israel’s two chief rabbis attended the ceremony along with the rabbi of the Western Wall, the holiest site at which Jews can pray.
Police put the number of pilgrims at around 50,000 but the rabbinical authorities responsible for the ceremony said there were more than 75,000.
“The pilgrimage is an impressive testimony of the people’s affinity with the last remains of our Temple when the masses come to cling to the stones of this place,” Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said in a statement.
The Western Wall is the last remnant of supporting wall of the Second Temple complex which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Above it lies the plaza where the Temple once stood and which now houses the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam. Known to Jews as the Temple Mount, Muslims refer to it as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.
Passover, which began at sundown on Friday, is a week-long holiday remembering the Jews’ escape from slavery in Egypt. It is one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals when Jews traditionally visit Jerusalem.