Praying for the Welfare of the State of Israel

While following a tradition of praying for the government, this prayer has some significant differences.

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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.

For the first time since antiquity, Jewish religious leaders had the opportunity to compose a prayer for the Jewish leaders of a Jewish state. Should the prayer express the ideology, hopes, and aspirations of the Zionist movement? Or, should it be a prayer for the leaders of Israel (treating them like any other political leaders of any country), without taking into account the profound meaning of Israel to many Jews?

Here is the translation of the prayer:

"Our Father Who art in Heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless Thou the State of Israel which marks the dawn of our deliverance. Shield it beneath the wings of Thy love. Spread over it Thy canopy of peace; send Thy light and Thy truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Thy good counsel.

"O God, strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them salvation and crown them with victory. Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants.

"Remember our brethren, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily let them walk upright to Zion, the city, to Jerusalem Thy dwelling-place, as it is written in the Torah of Thy servant Moses: 'Even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather and fetch you. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it.'

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Rabbi Ed Snitkoff

Rabbi Ed Snitkoff is the Director of the Ramah Israel Seminar and lives in Jerusalem.