Praying for Israel, Part II

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Last week, I wrote about a JTA article discussing communities that are rethinking the Prayer for the State of Israel, as well as Ariel Beery’s harsh critique of these groups.

The discussion hit close to home for me, because the lead group discussed in the JTA article was my own minyan, Altshul.

Some community members had raised concerns about the traditional Prayer for the State, because it emerged from a very specific religious Zionist ideology that, among other things, places the emergence of the State into a greater messianic context and reaffirms the hope for a sort-of universal aliyah.

Well, this past shabbat at services, Altshul member and AJWS educator Sarah Margles spoke about the solution adopted by the community. Sarah spoke with emotion and reverence for the process and issue. The stakes of this conversation extend well beyond liturgy. The real issue: A community trying to be loyal to tradition and open to contemporary concerns, a community trying to be as inclusive as possible, while containing a unified vision and spirit.

Mine were not the only moist eyes in the room, as Sarah announced the resolution:

We will stand together, pray silently and end together in song.

The new handouts have two tefillot [prayers]. One is the text which was first published in 1948 and is the one we’ve been using until now. It espouses a vision of Israel as the seed of our redemption. It prays for the victory of Israel over its enemies and the gathering of the exiles in the Jewish homeland.

The other prayer espouses a vision of Israel as a vital component of Jewish life. It prays for peace for all of Israel’s inhabitants and for the safety of Jews around the world. This prayer was published by the Reconstructionist movement in 1994. Much of the content has been used and adapted in a number of communities.

The song with which we have chosen to conclude is Yehi Shalom be’chay’lech, one for peace within God’s world. We feel that this song encompasses the primary theme of both prayers, and of all our hopes for Israel. For this reason, we will ask that we all join together, after our silent meditations, to sing for peace.

I will post Sarah’s entire speech on this blog independently, and it should be read — if not studied.

While not everyone was satisfied with the resolution, I believe the moment of silence, as we pray differently and together, will become an important communal ritual, a weekly reminder of Altshul’s diversity. The silence may have emerged from a place of contentious debate, but it will be experienced as a holy moment, proof that difference cannot — and should not — negate the possibility of shared purpose and destiny.

Posted on April 15, 2008

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13 thoughts on “Praying for Israel, Part II

  1. arielbeery

    Daniel, I look forward to reading the speech. My first reaction is to say that this is actually the worst of all worlds; that is, were the congregation to decide on a less messianic vision of Israel and pray accordingly, at least it could argue that it was keeping unity and being loyal to its vision of a collective actor. But by adopting a no-size-fits-everyone moment, the prayer is certainly more personally impactful–but in doing so it sacrifices the idea of collective purpose for individual comfort.

    The more personalized American Judaism becomes, the less will it produce a collective identity.

  2. Daniel Septimus Post author

    But you must allow for some diversity, no? This highlights exactly what I think is problematic with your vision (as I understand it). How can you possibly expect the entire Jewish People to have the same approach to anything?

    This is not a “no-size-fits-everyone moment” — it is a “one-size-fits-everyone moment” — but the moment includes multitudes (to reference this blog and Whitman).

    If your sense of Jewish Peoplehood depends upon all Jews having the same notion of what that means, I feel very comfortable betting that it will never come to fruition.

    Not only that, an ideology that doesn’t allow for difference is susceptible to the abuses and extremes that all orthodoxies are susceptible to.

    Difference is not only a reality, it is critical to ward off totalitarian instincts.

  3. Pingback: Debate on Israel prayer moves to blogs - The Telegraph

  4. Reuel

    Personally, I like the idea of the choice of prayer. Both prayers (from what I’ve seen here) express virtuous sentiments and desires for the State of Israel, and think the diversity is healthy for any people.

  5. clara1


    Why not? Why don’t you just bug out of this site; it’s obvious that you are here to try and convert us which for me I just converted to Judaism and don’t want to hear any more Jaysus crap. I pray for Israel because I want to move there. And, I do have Christian friend an family who support me and my conversion and that don’t act like an xian like you.


  6. son

    I didn’t mean to hurt you I was just wondering why we are to pray for this paticular place. For I do understand prayer changes things,I am sorry that you misunderstood my question.

  7. clara1


    You didn’t hurt me. It’s obvious that you are xian because a question about praying for Israel is ignorant.

    What part of your question did I misunderstand?

  8. Ezekah

    Son, we aren’t required to pray for Israel. It is just a typical part of the liturgy. At synagogue this morning, we prayed for peace, for Israel, and for ourselves.

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