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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They are not alone. The notion that Israel is the "dawn of our deliverance" sits uncomfortably with many Jews of all streams of Judaism. Some say that while we may hope and pray that Israel is the "dawn of our deliverance," it is pretentious to proclaim that this is a known and proven fact.

Others hold that Messianic beliefs in God's impending intervention in history are fine for the realm of the spirit, but have no place in the affairs of a sovereign state. They point to many examples in Jewish history when Messianic ideas caught the imagination of the people and led to disaster, such as the war against the Romans that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem.   

There are other problematic passages in the prayer. Jews in the Diaspora, who are quite comfortable in their homes, may not relate to a prayer that pleads with God to speedily return them to Israel. Such an idea may be acceptable in a spiritual, theoretical sense, but when tied to a prayer for the sovereign Jewish state, it may be difficult to accept.

Others find the triumphant nature of the prayer problematic. In my own congregation in Israel, there is a constant debate over the words that ask God to grant the defenders of the land with "victory." Why do we need to ask for military victory in addition to peace, as if war is an inevitable, permanent part of living in Israel?

These tensions have led many religious leaders to re-write the prayer in a way that expresses love and devotion to the State of Israel, without the Messianic overtones and with less of the triumphant spirit of the original.

The Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel is the product of one of the great creative avenues within Judaism: the crafting of religious poetry and liturgy that expresses our basic desires and beliefs. Over the centuries some of this literature has touched the community deeply and has made its way into the liturgy. Whether or not the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel (in its present form) will be universally adopted is still an open question. In any case, this prayer is an eloquent and moving religious expression of the Zionist dream. 

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Rabbi Ed Snitkoff

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