Like many synagogues around the world, praying for the
safety and health of the State of Israel has taken on new importance in the
aftermath of October 7th. While I know that many of us have
questions about the theological and philosophical efficacy of petitionary
prayer in general, the act of coming together as a community in worship and
publicly affirming our fears about and connection to the State of Israel feels essential - especially at this troubling time.
Here at Temple Emanuel we have now added the Tfillah L'Medinat Yisrael (Prayer for the State
of Israel) into every service.
In making the decision to add this prayer to our weekly
services, the question arose about which version we should utilize – as there
are many variations Recently, I have been looking into the origins of this
prayer, and how they have evolved over time.
When the Modern State of Israel was established in 1948, the
newly appointed Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion tasked the Chief Rabbis of
Israel – Yitzhak HaLevi Hertzog and Ben Tzion Meir Hai Uziel - to compose a
suitable prayer commemorating the occasion – a prayer that could be used in
Synagogues around the world asking God’s blessing on and protection of for the
nascent Jewish state.
The full text of the original prayer is rarely used in most
synagogues today. It was written in the aftermath of the Shoah and
reflects both the pain of our people’s experience and the desire for Jews to
gain power over our enemies so that there never could be another
Holocaust. In particular, the phrase, “…send
us quickly the Messiah son of David, agent of Your vindication, to redeem those
who await Your deliverance,” shows the pain of a people who directly
experienced the terror of the Nazi regime, as well as the fear of our enemies and concern for those who remain in peril.
One phrase that has remained constant though, is the
description of the State of Israel as “Reishit tzmichat g’ulateynu” – “The beginnings of the
flowering of our redemption.” This
phrase was reportedly added by Chaim Nachman Bialik,
who is widely recognized as the most famous of all modern Hebrew poets. There
are multiple ways to interpret this phrase. The meaning of ‘redemption’ can
take on Messianic overtones, historical longings, and/or a statement about
Jewish self-determination. The implication of the prayer is that redemption is
not only in God’s hands, but that we can bring it about by our actions and intention.
Bialik’s words reflect a belief in the fact that, for too long, Jews were
subject to foreign rule. Now that we have a State of our own, we have the
ability and responsibility to raise ourselves up out of the morass of
subjugation and take matters into our own hands.
Another component of the original text calls for God’s
protection and guidance over the government, armed forces, and all religious,
judicial, and secular leaders of the State. These words have remained intact in most
versions of the prayer, but sections of the prayer that ask God to destroy our
enemies so that we might prosper are problematic and have been edited out of
Many feel that it is also important to stress the hopes of
peace – even in times of war – and, in the spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence,
to remind ourselves that all of humanity is created in the image of God. Given
that certain Far-Right elements in the current government are vocally calling
for “resettlement” of Palestinians in Gaza, it is vitally important that the
language of prayer rejects this draconian and racist agenda.
Here at Temple, we use the following text:
God who watches over the world,
bless the State of Israel- first fruit of the fulfillment of Your promise of
hope and peace. Protect it with Your care – that it may serve as a light to the
world. Spread over it the shelter of Your peace. Extend the light of Your
wisdom to all who govern and advise that they may work to create a society
based on safety, equality, and love. Establish peace in the land and grant fullness
of joy to all who live there.
Eternal God, we ask you to spread
your shield of protection over all who are in harm’s way
And let us say, Amen.
It is incumbent upon us to pray for peace in Israel for all – Israelis
and Palestinians alike – so that we can work towards the day when conflict will
cease and cooperation and coexistence will take root – flowering like the hopes
for redemption that is the central theme of our prayer.