Nimoy’s photos explore femininity of divinity
May 20, 2004 -Associated Press
... In 2002, [Leonard Nimoy] published “Shekhina,” a book of about 40 photographs that explore his interest in the feminine aspects of Jewish divinity. Many of the images are on display this month at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton.
“At the heart of it all is the fact that I was trying to really completely enter into the world of the feminine,” says Nimoy, 73. “I didn’t want to do misty, cloudy figures. I didn’t want to shroud her. I wanted to make her flesh and blood, and I wanted to make her definitively female.”
It’s an idea that was planted with Nimoy when he was about 8, although he didn’t fully realize it until a few years ago. During a segment of high holiday services at his Orthodox synagogue in Boston, members of the congregation stood before the assembly to deliver a special blessing. Standing with his brother, father and grandfather, Nimoy was told not to look at the men as they chanted the prayer.
But he took a peek, and saw the men swaying with their arms outstretched and their hands splayed in the manner he would later use as the Vulcan greeting in his “Star Trek” role. The hand symbol represents the first letter of a Hebrew word for God [shin, Shaddai].
“These gentlemen are up there in a fervent, singsong, swaying presentation,” Nimoy said. “It was like a revivalist meeting. The entire congregation had their eyes covered. But I was entranced by it.”
For decades, Nimoy didn’t know why the congregation was not supposed to look as the blessing was being given. A few years ago, he finally asked the rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood, the reform synagogue he now attends.
“There’s a legend that the Shekhina — the feminine aspect of God — comes in to bless the congregation,” Nimoy said. “But the light from the Shekhina could be overwhelming and you could not survive it, so you shouldn’t look. I was taken by that when I heard the explanation.” ...
Any Trekkie staring at this letter in Leonard’s photographs experiences a shock of recognition. It is the same shape made by Mr. Spock’s hand when offering his benediction, “Live long and prosper.” Indeed, a common thread runs through Leonard’s portrayal of Spock and his images of Shekhina. Not a particularly observant Jew, Leonard is nonetheless fascinated by spiritual themes. In Shekhina, he quotes the twentieth century Jesuit priest/scientist, Teillhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”