Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The text of the Tefillah L’shlom Medinat Yisrael, the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, first appeared in the newspaper Hatzofeh on September 20, 1948, less than half a year after a nascent nation declared its independence. Written by chief rabbis Herzog and Uziel, together with some suggestions from author and Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon, it was adopted by many communities in Israel and abroad. Even the famed rabbinic journal Hapardes printed it in October of 1948, encouraging readers to adopt this new nusach.

But praying on behalf of the government is not a new institution. The prophet Yirmiyahu instructs the Jewish people before going into exile, “Seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you” (Yirmiyahu 29:7). And throughout Jewish history, we have. Passages in the Talmud, Tosefta, Apocrypha, and Dead Sea Scrolls, all contain references to prayers recited on behalf of the government.


Stressing the need to pray on behalf of the government, the Mishna (Avot 3:2) states: “Rabbi Chanina, deputy High Priest, said: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for fear of it, people would swallow one another alive.” Without a government, there would be total anarchy. Meiri, in his comments to Avodah Zara 4a, writes that indeed it is a chovah, an obligation, to pray on behalf of the government.

Poskim from Kol Bo to Abudraham to Magen Avraham to Aruch HaShulchan codify the practice of praying for the king or the government. In Choreiv, Rav Hirsch writes that it is a mitzvah to express gratitude for the place we live, and pray on its behalf. In one biography about the life of Rav Yisrael Salanter, it is recorded that when visiting a shul that did not recite the prayer on behalf of the government, Rav Salanter would turn to the wall and recite it privately, in order to fulfill this obligation.

And throughout Jewish history, Jewish communities have composed texts on behalf of everyone from the King of Spain to the King of England to Napoleon. Depending on how kind the ruler was to the Jews, sometimes the prayer took an ironic turn, asking for protection from the King!

So why doesn’t everyone recite the prayer for the State of Israel?

Some object to the fact that the prayer calls the State of Israel the “First flowering of our Redemption.” They are uncomfortable with the notion that a secular government, founded by secular Zionists, can be part of the redemptive process. But a little research reveals the truths of history: In the early years, following the founding of the State, many rabbis (not all of them Zionists) believed that the founding of the State of Israel was indeed the “First flowering” of Redemption. A letter entitled “Da’at Torah,” later published in Rav Menachem Mendel Kasher’s Hatekufah Hagedolah (pp. 424-429), begins, “We thank Hashem for what we have merited, because of His abundant mercy and kindness, to see the first buds (nitzanim) of the beginning of redemption (atchalta d’geulah), with the founding of the State of Israel.”

This letter, encouraging participation in elections for the First Knesset, was signed by the leading gedolim of Eretz Yisrael, among them Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav Yechezkel Sarna, Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. In fact, an article by David Tamar published in Hatzofeh (Jan. 2, 1998, p. 6) relates how Rav Shlomo Zalman would stand during the recitation of the Tefillah L’Shlom Medinat Yisrael in the synagogue where he prayed.

The Prayer for the State of Israel was not composed strictly for the Religious Zionist camp. Nor was it composed solely for those living in Israel. It was composed for all Jews to recite. Perhaps it was written at a simpler time in history, when Jews of every stripe and political or religious affiliation fought side by side for an independent Jewish State. They did not have the luxury to sit back and be sectarian.

To ignore the challenges that face us is to be naïve. But our differences should not prevent the entire community from joining together by raising our voices in prayer and solidarity. No matter how we label ourselves – Chareidi, Chassidic, Yeshivish, Modern Orthodox, Dati Leumi, etc. – we are obligated to “feel the pain of the tzibbur” (Ta’anit 11a), and to pray on its behalf. And we need those tefillot now more than ever.


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Rabbi Shimshon HaKohen Nadel lives and teaches in Jerusalem, where he serves as mara d'atra of Har Nof's Kehilat Zichron Yosef, rosh kollel of the Sinai Kollel and Kollel Boker at Hovevei Zion, and lectures at the OU Center.