May 19, 2024
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The Prayer for the State of Israel

I would like to add a few words of clarification and some humble suggestions regarding the topic of Rabbi Jachter’s learned and thoughtful column on the prayer for the State of Israel “The Great Reishit Tzemichat Geulatenu Debate,” May 5, 2022).

He refers in it at the outset of the essay to an October 2005 shouting match on a Shabbat morning at the 8:30 minyan at the Bnai Yeshurun synagogue in Teaneck. The gabbai added the single word “sheteheh” to the Prayer for the State of Israel. That meant he said that we prayed that the Lord protect Israel and that the State “will be” the first flowering of our redemption—instead of praying that the Lord protect it because it “already is” the beginning of our redemption.

The policy at CBY officially was to add that “will be” qualifier. The 9:00 minyan always did. The 8:30 did not—based on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” understanding. But then the rabbi got wind of this unfortunate laxity. He scolded the gabbai and insisted that the policy of qualifying the prayer be rigidly enforced. It was. The resultant shouting match followed.

By that Shabbat afternoon, the rabbi felt compelled to make a speech between Minchah and Maariv about the matter. He chastised everyone—for violating the charter of the synagogue, for being negative—and he reminded folks that if they did not like his leadership they could choose to form another shul or release him in five years at the conclusion of his contract.

Details do matter. But really, the issue here is not to clarify the history of a particular shul or rabbi, but about why anyone cares about what qualifying words are said in this “prayer” for the State of Israel.

Common sense should tell everyone in the synagogue that this whole prayer is unimportant, peripheral, second rate and really not a critical part of the davening.

Why is that? First off, the “prayer” is recited by the gabbai, not the chazan. Second, the “prayer” usually is recited in a monotone, not chanted, and from the side of the bimah, not from the front and center of the synagogue. Third, the “prayer” is recited after the Torah reading and before the Mussaf service—in between the “real” parts of the davening.

You don’t have to be an expert in Jewish liturgy to conclude that this relatively recent “prayer” is treated like an afterthought, recited quickly, and that it has been pasted into our davening. In fact in some synagogues, the text is actually pasted into the back cover of the siddur.

So really as things stand now 16+ years after that shul shouting match, I ask Rabbi Jachter why would anyone argue or pout about what word is or is not said in this “prayer”?

Shouldn’t we be concerned with real prayer-book reform?

Shouldn’t we be integrating a real prayer for the modern State of Israel into the middle of the actual prayer services of our tradition? Shouldn’t we have the chazan chant it properly from the bimah? Shouldn’t we have the congregation join in responsively or together with the chazan in singing the prayer with joy?

Naturally, we should not hem and haw liturgically about the importance and centrality of the State of Israel. It is real. Most of our shul community members have been there. Most of our community members have been inspired by the State and its history. The State of Israel is a factual, powerful, pervasive, long-lasting creator of religious moods and motivations.

Shouldn’t those who debate or who shout at each other about this or that word in a second- or third-rate “prayer”—one that is mumbled by the gabbai from the side of the bimah in between Shacharit and Musaf—stop and reconsider?

Isn’t it time to shout and argue about how to promote the thanksgiving, the praise and the petition concerning the modern State of Israel as a real core, central theme of our synagogue prayers—three times every day?

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy
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