Praying for the State of Israel

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I’m a few days late, but I must take serious issue with my good friend Ariel Beery’s recent Blogs of Zion post about the prayer for the State of Israel — and some communities that are revisiting its language and place in the service.

In a move that should shock no-one who understands the history of reform Judaism and its paradigm shift away from Judaism-as-a-lifestyle, the JTA is reporting that congregations have decided to stop or change their recitation of the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel.

So wasn’t I surprised when the JTA article begins with a discussion of Altshul, the traditional egalitarian (reform?) minyan in Park Slope, Brooklyn that I have been involved with since its inception.

Ariel seems to see all those communities mentioned in the article as distinctly “religiousâ€? or “spiritualâ€? — i.e. unconcerned with Jewish Peoplehood. Writes Ariel: “From a Zionist perspective, this move is further proof that a Judaism that is limited to the religious tradition of the Jews acts to tear apart our historical community.â€?

As a loyal member of Altshul, I have to say that Ariel is seriously mistaken in his diagnosis of who we are. Altshul does, indeed, hold a prayer service, but I’d venture to say that more of its members come for a sense of community and connection to other Jews than they do to commune with the Divine Spirit.

(In fact, I’ve described Altshul – in jest – as Hadar without soul.)

Ariel concludes his post with a bewildering statement that I’d love for him to explain:

In this case, the unwillingness of American Jewish ’spiritual folk’ to get their hands dirty suggests, I would argue, that they’re leaving us behind — that is, the Jewish People — in their own search for purity. But since they haven’t yet accepted the principal of conversion, they’re less like the early Christians and more like the Essenes — and if history is any indication, I’m not sure it’ll turn out so well for them either.

What principal of conversion have the “spiritual folk� (we Altshulers?) not accepted?

For the record, Altshul — as far as I know — continues to recite the prayer for the State of Israel.

Posted on April 9, 2008

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3 thoughts on “Praying for the State of Israel

  1. arielbeery

    Hi Daniel,

    I think we’re mixing up a few issues here, so let me take them on shortly one-by-one:

    1. There is a very big difference between small, opt-in communities that are created by the voluntary association of individuals to lessen their alienation, and large, meta-communities known as “Peoples.” Religion, to be clear, comes from the Greek term meaning “to bind.” But in action, religious communities often take the structure of small associations who more than anything else socialize together, and consecrate that experience through a common experience of the sacred.

    Religious communities, while in many ways larger than their localities, do not bear the same features as political communities that are Peoples. Buddhists or Maronites might see one-each other as coreligionists, but their obligation stems from a common belief in a religious truth (a hub-and-spokes model) and not in the sovereign whole (a corporate model that makes up a People).

    Zionism holds that the Jews are primarily a covenanted community amongst themselves — that is, a corporate body — and only later do they covenant with God. Reform Judaism holds (or classically held, because I’m not sure Reform Judaism clearly holds anything at this moment) that Jews primarily communicate with God — and then connect with each other as citizens of their relevant States.

    When it comes to Altschul, I’m sure it’s a wonderful place — but I can’t comment about it in specific because, although I love Park Slope and have become a frequent visitor lately, I’ve never been to their services. I guess I’m a bad religious Jew in that regards.

    2. As for the conversion principal, I mean active proselytizing — sorry for not being clear on that. Which means, Reform Judaism hasn’t taken the zeal of the Jewish followers of Jesus, or the Jewishly-inspired followers of Muhammad, to get others to convene around God in their own particular way.

    I look forward to your lucid response,


  2. Daniel Septimus Post author

    Your comments distinguish between “meta-communities known as ‘Peoples'” and “small, opt-in communities that are created by the voluntary association of individuals to lessen their alienation.”

    I gather you would put those groups discussed in the article (such as Altshul) in the latter category.

    A few thoughts:
    Describing the primary motivation for joining these groups as “to lessen alienation,” is unfair.

    People join these communities to cultivate and facilitate their sense of responsibility to others as much as they do for their own social fulfillment.

    More importantly for our conversation, for many community members, participation in these opt-in networks is a way of actualizing a connection to Klal Yisrael — the Jewish People — generally.

    Most importantly, you seem to believe that there is the possibility of a “Jewish People” in which every individual therein relates to the whole with the same attitude and commitment.

    You seem to believe that either you put religion first or you put Peoplehood first, and that both of these terms have immutable meaning.

    So let me ask you: If I object to haredim getting military exemptions to study in yeshiva, am I looking out for the Jewish People or rejecting the Jewish People? Aren’t I looking out for some Jewish people and not looking out for other Jewish people?

    If I support a two-state solution along the 1967 borders, am I looking out for the Jewish People or rejecting the Jewish People?

    Do you really believe that there can be a single sense of what responsibility to Klal Yisrael means?

    And so, questions about saying or not saying, revising or not revising the Prayer for the State of Israel MAY — as you suggest — reflect a battle between those who care about Jewish Peoplehood and those who only care about Jewish religion.

    But it may just as well reflect a disagreement about what is best for the Jewish People — or whatever our own individual understandings of what that dynamic term can mean.

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

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