Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock
Photo Date: 1966 Photo by Ken Whitmore - All Rights Reserved, 1978 Ken Whitmore - Image courtesy

In light of the current J.J. Abrams cinematic reboot of the Star Trek franchise, the JFacts team decided to dig a little deeper and see what impact Jewish people have had on this ever-evolving cultural phenomenon. First and foremost, you should know that three members of Star Trek: The Original Series (or TOS in geekier circles) are, in fact, Jewish.

William Shatner as Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Before negotiating the terms of air travel and hotel stays for, Shatner negotiated through space and time as Captain of the USS Enterprise. Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Shatner’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Hungry. Shatner’s grandfather was born Wolf Schattner and later anglicized the family name to Shatner. After the initial 1966-69 run of Star Trek, Shatner reprised the role of James Kirk in seven subsequent Star Trek films,starred as the title role in T.J. Hooker and won an Emmy for his performance as attorney Denny Crane in Boston Legal.

Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock

Leonard Nimoy was born in 1931 in Boston, Massachusetts to Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Izyaslav, Ukraine. After starring in over 50 television and film roles, Nimoy was cast as Mr. Spock in Star Trek and received three Emmy nominations for playing the complicated half-human, half-Vulcan character. Nimoy would go on to star in seven subsequent Star Trek film adaptations, including 2009’s Star Trek, and directtwo of the films, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the most successful of the original film adaptations, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Nimoy also directed the 1986 hit comedy Three Men and Baby starring Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg.

Walter Koenig as Pavel Checkov

Koenig was born in 1936 in Chicago, Illinois to Jewish immigrants from Russia who upon coming to the United States shortened their last name from Konigsberg to Koenig. Koenig was added to the cast of Star Trek because of his resemblance to The Monkees star Davy Jones, in an attempt to woo a younger audience. The character was also added because of an article in Pravda (the central publication of the Soviet Union), which complained about the lack of Russians in Star Trek. After the run of the initial television series, Koenig rejoined the cast of Star Trek for six subsequent films and was a frequent cast member n the TV series Babylon 5. Koening stood as best men for Trek cast mate George Takei (Sulu) in his highly-publicized 2008 wedding to Brad Altman.

The Vulcan Salute

One of the most famous lines in Star Trek is the Vulcan salutation, “Live long and prosper,” which is usually accompanied by a hand salute with an extended thumb and a v-shape made by spreading the index and ring fingers. This salute was created by Leonard Nimoy on the fly during the filming of the first episode of the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series. Nimoy felt there should be a distinct greeting amongst Vulcans, something akin to a handshake, so he adopted a gesture similar to what was used in the synagogue he attended as a youth. The Jewish gesture he co-opted for Star Trek is half of the original blessing used by the kohanim, whom are genealogical descendents of Jewish priests from the Jerusalem Temple. The true blessing used for Jewish worship uses both hands. As the Vulcan salute seeped into pop culture, many incorrectly assumed it was a tip of the hat to the hippie culture that arose around the same time. It was not until much later when Nimoy revealed the secret of the salute, that its Jewish origins were made public.