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Rabbi Professor David Golinkin

Rabbi Professor David Golinkin

IV) Who Wrote the Prayer for the State of Israel?

In Elul 5708, September 1948, the Prayer for the State of Israel was printed in Jerusalem. At the end of the first edition it says: “Founded and established by our rabbis in Eretz Yisrael, the Chief Rabbis Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog and Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel …” (20) Since then, other prayers for the State of Israel have been composed by Rabbis Isser Yehudah Unterman, Israel Brodie, Moshe Greenberg and Simchah Roth. (21) Nonetheless, the Chief Rabbis' version has always been the most popular. It has been reprinted enumerable times in popular prayer books such as Birnbaum, Rinat Yisrael, Artscroll (in the RCA version) and Sim Shalom.

Despite the attribution at the end of the first edition, rumors and testimonies persisted that it was written by Shai Agnon, who later won the Nobel Prize for Literature. For example, Prof. Dov Sadan related in 1986 that [blockquote]when I came before Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halevi Herzog and I mentioned…that I tried to compose…a sort of prayer for the welfare of the State, he smiled at me and said: “R. Shai Agnon beat you to it”. (22[/blockquote] Similarly, Agnon himself frequently hinted or stated that he had a hand in writing the Prayer for the State of Israel. (23)

In 1999, the mystery was cleared up by Yoel Rappel as a result of research he did while studying with me at the Schechter Institute. (24) The testimony of Dov Sadan does not jive with a letter which Rabbi Uziel sent to New York in 1949. He enclosed there “the prayer for the State of Israel which I edited together with my friend the Chief Rabbi [=Herzog]”.

In 1975, Yaakov Goldman, Rabbi Herzog's former secretary, wrote to Emunah Yaron, Agnon's daughter, that Herzog was upset one day because they had asked him to quickly compose a prayer for the State for an important ceremony. Goldman told him not to worry; “I will bring your version to Mr. Agnon who will take a look at it and write his comments.” Goldman took it to Agnon who told him to come back the next day. Agnon did not change much. He improved the style here and there and he added the phrase “reishit zemihat geulateinu” [=the beginning of the flowering of our redemption].

According to Akiva Eldar's article, “a well-known public figure” called up Yoel Rappel and gave him a xerox of an official envelope upon which is printed “The office of the Chief Rabbi of Israel”. Underneath that heading, someone wrote: “The Prayer for the State as it was copied and corrected by Mr. Agnon in his handwriting”. This note was written in the handwriting of Rabbi Herzog. In other words, Agnon copied the version which Herzog had sent him and then added his own corrections, but it was composed by Rabbis Herzog and Uziel. Yoel Rappel has informed me that the “well-known public figure” was Rabbi Shmuel Avidor Hacohen who served as Rabbi Herzog's secretary for a number of years.

V) Conclusion

For thousands of years, Jews prayed or offered sacrifices for the king or the government primarily because they were afraid of them. In the nineteenth century, Jews in democracies such as the United States began to compose new prayers which expressed their true love and identification with their country. In 1948, the Jewish people for the first time since the days of King Alexander Yannai, entered a new phase of its history when it could pray to God to preserve and protect the State of Israel, “the beginning of our redemption”. As we celebrate Israel's 58th birthday, we hope and pray to God: “Bless the State of Israel…protect her under the wings of Your grace and spread over her a Sukkah of peace”.

For Bibliography and Notes, see Schechter.edu

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