‘Star Trek’: How Did Leonard Nimoy Come Up With the Vulcan Salute?

The Vulcan salute is one of the most famous elements of all the classic 1960s TV shows, however, not everyone knows its origins. The Vulcan salute wouldn’t exist if Mr. Spock’s actor Leonard Nimoy hadn’t opened his eyes when he was not supposed to do so. Here’s a look at why Nimoy brought the Vulcan salute into the Star Trek mythos.

Mr. Spock giving the Vulcan salute in an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series
Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock | CBS via Getty Images

The time ‘Star Trek”s Leonard Nimoy peaked when he wasn’t supposed to

StarTrek.com tells us that Nimoy, a native Bostonian, had observed the salute as part of a blessing ritual in a Jewish synagogue. Nimoy said, “My family attended services in an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, or ‘Shul.’ Nimoy states he was often in the choir due to his musical ability. He states “I was therefore exposed to all of the rituals firsthand. I still have a vivid memory of the first time I saw the use of the split-fingered hands being extended to the congregation in blessing.”

Nimoy describes five or six men chanting a benediction as well. “It would translate to ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you.” His father told him not to “look” as the Shekhinah, the feminine aspect of God, would come to bless those in the temple. But Nimoy said, “I peeked.”

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Nimoy continued, “And when I saw the split-fingered gesture of these men…I was entranced. I learned to do it simply because it seemed so magical.” The Kohanim Jewish blessing done with two hands became the one-handed Vulcan salute. Ironically, the Vulcan hand salute had its roots in religion even though Star Trek: The Original Series often treated religion as a relic of the past.

Why Leonard Nimoy introduced the Vulcan salute on ‘Star Trek’

In the Star Trek episode “Amok Time,” Spock went home to be married. For viewers, it would be the first time that Vulcans other than Spock would be seen. According to The Washington Post, Nimoy felt the Vulcans should have a greeting of their very own.

Mr. Spock in Star Trek: The Animated Series
Mr. Spock | CBS via Getty Images

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He thought the prayer gesture he knew of from his childhood could work. SyFy states the phrase “Live long and prosper” was written by Theodore Sturgeon, who wrote “Amok Time.” Of the Vulcan salute, Nimoy said “Boy, that just took off. It just touched a magic chord.” Together, Nimoy and Sturgeon helped the culture of the Vulcans seem interesting and different and many later contributors to the Star Trek mythos would explore the culture further. The richness of the Star Trek universe is one of the many reasons the franchise lasted so long.

How the Vulcan salute may resonate today

The Vulcan salute is widely recognized – beyond Nimoy’s expectations. He might be pleasantly surprised to know that CNN reports a physician suggested lawmakers on Capitol Hill use the Vulcan salute instead of any hand-to-hand contact to avoid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Nimoy couldn’t possibly have imagined the impact his“taking a peek” would have for years to come.