kosher bookworm

Fighting over the Prayer for the State of Israel


With the commemoration of the anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel this week, we are once again faced with the annual rants concerning whether to say Hallel with a blessing, or not to say Hallel at all. Or, for that matter, do we say the Tachanun or not. And then there is the prayer that was specifically composed after the founding of the state asking for divine protection for the state, its people, and its military.

Does the State of Israel deserve our prayers?

This review deals with a work published in 2012 by the OU Press and the Yad HaRav Herzog Institute entitled, “Prayers for the Welfare of the State & For the Welfare of the State of Israel,” written by Rabbi Dr. Avraham Steinberg, a distinguished physician and ethicist.

Praying for the welfare of the country in which they live in the Diaspora has been a standard liturgical presence in Judaism since time immemorial. Thus, the institution of a special prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel should not have been the controversial decision that evolved over time. This work details the controversy, a sad story that is finally being brought to light.

“In this small volume, I would like to examine the dispute regarding the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel and primarily the phrase, ‘the First Flowering of our redemption,’ on a purely halachic and ideological basis, without the involvement of political, ethnic, vested interest, or emotional considerations,” the author writes in his introduction.

This 179-page book features valuates footnotes — 304 citations, as well as an extensive appendix and bibliography, with both the views of religious Zionism and chareidi ideology presented with dignity and respect. The author’s personal opinions are deliberately absented.

One aspect of this book’s narrative that caught my immediate attention was the history behind the composition of this prayer. According to the author, the text of this prayer was first published in the Ha-Tzofeh newspaper on the 16th Elul I n 1948, and the next day in the Haaretz newspaper. It was later published in the periodical Kol Torah, Adar.

“At the end of the prayer, the first time it was published, it stated, ‘This was established and ordained by the rabbis of Eretz Israel, Chief Rabbis IA Herzog and BZ Uzziel.’ For years there was debate whether the person who had composed the prayer was Rabbi Herzog, both chief rabbis, or the writer SY Agnon.”

In a footnote to the above quote, the author adds the following information that places this issue of origin and authorship into its proper perspective.

“See a detailed summary of this polemic in Dr. Y. Rappel’s article in Manu’ah LeYitzchak, vol. one, 5709, page 594 ff. This includes an itemized list of all the sources pertaining to this question. The argument was decided in that article, that indeed it was Rabbi Herzog who wrote the prayer, Rabbi Uzziel assisted him, the writer Shai Agnon commented and corrected a number of points, and members of the Chief Rabbinate Council together with the Chief Rabbis of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Petach Tikva were involved in a number of corrections, endorsing the final text.”

Unfortunately, this process, as well as the very founding of the Jewish state, did not prevent those nay-sayers, many of whom questioned the very legitimacy of the state, from viciously attacking the premise of this prayer and have, to this day, sought to either undermine or alter its text and inclusion in the liturgy of our faith.

It is unfortunate to note that even in the face of some of the most draconian and jingoistic propaganda being spread by our anti-Jewish enemies, we continue to witness the sad spectacle of those within our own community who seek to marginalize the very support that the Jewish state needs for divine protection through prayer on its behalf.

Hopefully, a careful reading of this work by all will help to give this issue a better understanding as to the spiritual need for prayer on behalf of the six million Jews in Israel, for their safety, and for the political as well as spiritual integrity of the State of Israel.

A version of this article was first published in 2013.