By Morton A. Klein
The Prayer for the State of Israel merely specifically asks for the success of the efforts of the defenders of our holy land. Even if a rabbi dislikes a current Israeli government, his congregation should surely be able to pray for the success of efforts to protect Israel from her enemies.
For many decades, during Shabbat services, Conservative movement and Religious Zionist orthodox congregations have recited the heartfelt Prayer for the State of Israel, written by Israel’s chief rabbis in 1948.
The Conservative movement’s Sim Shalom prayer books seem to solely use the prayer’s first paragraph. Reconstructionist Jews, in their Kol Haneshamah prayer books, have also adopted the prayer’s first paragraph, with minor modifications, and made more modifications to latter portions of the prayer.
The prayer’s widely-used first paragraph asks God to bless the State of Israel, the first sprouting of our redemption; to shield Israel with God’s lovingkindness; to envelope Israel with peace; to bestow light and truth and your good counsel upon Israel’s leaders, ministers and advisers; to strengthen the hands of the defenders of our holy land and save them and give them the crown of victory; and to grant peace in the land and eternal happiness to its inhabitants.
This is a nonpartisan invocation for Israel’s continuing existence and well-being. The prayer doesn’t endorse any political party or any government leader or minister. Rather, the prayer beseeches the Almighty to bestow light, truth and good counsel on Israel’s leaders and ministers, whomever they may be.
It is thus sad and divisive that a few Conservative movement rabbis, including the rabbi of New York City’s Congregation Ansche Chesed Jeremy Kalmanofsky, initiated a boycott of this beautiful prayer. Kalmanofsky stated that he is discontinuing having his congregation recite the prayer because he believes that Israel’s current leaders are “dastardly” and he doesn’t want their efforts to succeed.
Which Israeli efforts do these boycotters of the prayer want to fail? The Prayer for the State of Israel merely specifically asks for the success of the efforts of the defenders of our holy land. Even if a rabbi dislikes a current Israeli government, his congregation should surely be able to pray for the success of efforts to protect Israel from her enemies: the Iranian mullahs at the precipice of obtaining a nuclear bomb to wipe Israel off the map; the genocidal Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists with their huge rocket arsenals; the Palestinian Authority which continues stealing Israel’s lands and continues to pay terrorists to murder Jews and Americans; and the Arab terrorists who are shooting, knifing, ramming, murdering and maiming innocent Jewish children, parents and grandparents.
And after almost two millennia of horrific persecution of the Jewish people when they lacked a state, culminating with six million Jewish souls perishing when Britain slammed shut the gates to pre-state Israel, how can we not pray for the success of the protectors of the Jewish state?
Perhaps those who are boycotting the Prayer for the State of Israel should recall that the recommendation for such a prayer comes from the following passage in the Talmud’s Ethics of the Fathers: “Rabbi Hanina, the vice-high priest said: pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear it inspires, every man would swallow his neighbor alive.” (Pirkei Avot 3:2.) In other words, we pray for the welfare of the government to avoid anarchy.
Boycotting the Prayer for the State of Israel, and mislabeling the current government as “dastardly,” encourages the chaos and anarchy created by anti-government demonstrators who are blocking highways, roads, seaports and airports, and violently clashing with the police. Israel can ill afford such chaos, especially at this time when Palestinian Arab terrorists are perpetrating life-threatening terror attacks on Jews every day.
Boycotting praying for Israel can also encourage other boycotts – including the malicious, antisemitic “BDS” economic, academic and cultural boycotts of Israelis and Jews around the world.
But perhaps the biggest losers of the prayer-boycott will be the congregations themselves who stop praying for Israel’s welfare. When we Americans bless and pray for our brethren in Israel, it uplifts our own souls and well-being. As the Torah enjoins: “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:3)
Reciting and hearing the Prayer for the State of Israel is deeply fulfilling. The prayer has inspired some of the most beautiful, soulful music in the liturgy. Some favorites are the Sol Zim version sung by world-famous Cantors Natenel Hershtik, Azi Schwartz and Yaakov Lemmer; sung by IDF Chief Cantor Shai Abramson; sung by cantors from around the world; and sung in the full version by Yeshivat HaKotel in the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem. (The original Hurva Synagogue was destroyed by the Ottomans in 1721; rebuilt; destroyed by the Arab Legion in 1948; and then rebuilt after Israel recaptured and reunited Jerusalem.)
I pray that those who are boycotting saying the Prayer for the State of Israel will reconsider.
Morton A. Klein is the National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), the oldest pro-Israel organization in the United States.
This op-ed was originally published in JNS and can be viewed here.