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A prayer for the welfare of the national government and its leaders has been part of the Jewish liturgy from ancient days. This tradition can be traced in practice to the daily sacrifices made in honor of Caesar at the end of the Second Temple period over 2,000 years ago.
The importance of praying for the welfare of the ruling body was established by the prophet Jeremiah after the first exile from Jerusalem, in 586 B.C.E. He tells the exiled Jews, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have caused you to be exiled, and pray to God on its behalf, for in its prosperity you shall prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
By instructing the Jews to pray for Babylonia, Jeremiah is teaching them to recognize that in exile they were physically, economically, and politically dependent upon Babylonia and the good will of its rulers. The situation of powerlessness and dependence demanded that God be implored to direct the leaders of the country to rule the Jewish population in a just and merciful way.
The first siddur [prayerbook] including a prayer for the government is from the 14th century, and the practice is described there as an “established custom.” Hundreds of different prayers for various governments under which Jews have lived (and live) exist today, and are valuable windows to these Jewish communities.
This background is important to understand the thinking of the authors of the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel.
Composing the Prayer
On the Fifth of Iyar–May 15–1948, the Jewish people became sovereign rulers in the Land of Israel. This new situation posed many challenges to the Jewish people, a people that had lived most of its history under the direct control of others. Confronting and understanding the meaning of sovereignty and independence created a high level of political, cultural, and religious creativity during the early years of the state.
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