Prayer For the Government of Israel
Mystery of who wrote the ‘Prayer for the State of Israel’ is finally solved
In ceremonies marking Israel’s 70th Independence Day around the Jewish world, the “Prayer for Peace in the State of Israel” will be recited in strong, solemn tones. It begins with the following line:
“Our Divine Guardian, Rock and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the beginning of our redemption.”
Unbeknownst to most worshippers is the decades-long debate over who back in 1948 authored the prayer, which was then and remains today an important addition to Jewish and Israeli liturgy.
Until now, theories have split academics into two camps — those who attribute the prayer to Israeli author S.Y.
Agnon, and those who believe Israel’s first chief Ashkenazi rabbi, Isaac Halevi Herzog penned the poem.
Get The Times of Israel's Daily Edition by email and never miss our top stories Free Sign Up
But recent findings discovered by Dr. Yoel Rappel, an Israeli scholar of Jewish history, confirm that Herzog, the grandfather of current opposition leader in the Knesset, Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, was the true author of the symbolic prayer, which was then edited by his friend and Nobel Prize winner, Agnon.
Israeli author and Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon. (Courtesy Agnon House/JTA)Rappel’s findings were corroborated by Israel’s National Library. The evidence and discourse between Agnon and Herzog surrounding the prayer are a part of the Library’s S.Y. Agnon Archive.
Resolving the question of who wrote the prayer — Agnon or Herzog — isn’t simply a matter of properly assigning credit, Rappel told The Times of Israel in an interview.
“For many people — for many religious people — the ‘Prayer for the State of Israel’ is more important than Israel’s Declaration of Independence,” Rappel said.
“So, of course, it is important who wrote it. It is also important because if a writer wrote the prayer, there is no [religious] holiness to the prayer. If a rabbi wrote it, that means that it becomes a requirement in religious liturgy,” he said.
As such, the confirmation of Herzog as the prayer’s rightful author denotes the prayer as one of great religious significance, according to Rappel. Its message calls for all Jews to return to Israel and marks the State’s founding as the beginning of redemption.
The first page of a letter written from Rabbi Herzog to S.Y. Agnon in 1948 which confirms that Herzog wrote the prayer and asked Agnon to review it. (S.Y. Agnon Archive, The National Library of Israel)
A historical whodunnit
The confusion over authorship began almost immediately with the initial publication of the prayer in the Haaretz newspaper on September 20, 1948.
While the article states that Israel’s Ashkenazic and Sephardic chief rabbis — along with other leading rabbis — intended for the prayer to be read in synagogues, no one author is clearly delineated.
At the bottom of the text, it reads, “We are told that according to Chief Rabbi Herzog, the author S.Y. Agnon also participated in the formulation of the prayer.”
The contemporary prayer for Israel was first published in Haaretz newspaper on September 20, 1948 (From the S.Y. Agnon Archive, The National Library of Israel)
While not explicitly stated at the time, Herzog was considered the main author of the text until 1983 when an article published in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv by Dr. David Tamar first raised the opinion that Agnon penned the prayer. This assertion was a copy of the text he found in Agnon’s writing.
“The foundation of [Tamar’s] article was a photograph [not a source] of Agnon’s manuscript of the Prayer for the Peace of the State, which he found in the Agnon archives in the National Library,” commented Rappel in a recent blog post he wrote for the National Library.
While Rappel points out that Tamar’s logic was less than sound and disputed by many close to Agnon, Tamar so frequently wrote about his theory in the press that it became widely accepted as the years went on.
Dr. David Tamar used the finding of S.Y. Agnon’s copy of the prayer written in his own handwriting as unequivocal proof of authorship. (S.Y. Agnon Archive, The National Library of Israel)In 1998, Rappel began looking deeper into the question of authorship. It started when Rappel met with Rabbi Shmuel Avidor Hacohen, a prominent rabbi at the time, who presented Rappel with an envelope from Herzog’s office of the Chief Rabbi of Israel. Written on the envelope were the words, “The prayer of the state as copied and corrected by Mr. Agnon in his handwriting.”
Inside the envelope was the original manuscript, but the note on the envelope was significant in indicating that Agnon only copied and edited the prayer, rather than penning it himself.
An envelope Dr. Yoel Rappel received in 1998 with the original and complete manuscript of the prayer that Agnon had copied. (S.Y. Agnon Archive, The National Library of Israel)
Still, Rappel needed more concrete evidence to prove without any doubt that Herzog was the true author.
He found his “smoking gun” only a few months ago upon the discovery of a 1948 letter from Herzog to Agnon.
The letter reads: “People from various communities in the Diaspora are asking me to amend the prayer for the well-being of the state and its leaders.
Our brothers in the Diaspora trust me, and I trust you, because you have the proper poetry and style and you are a God-fearing person from your days as a young man, and you are a most worthy person to amend the prayer.”
This letter further clarified Agnon’s role as editor but didn’t solidify Herzog as the writer. But this letter combined with the earlier discovery of an article Herzog wrote on Israel’s 10th anniversary was the final piece of the puzzle. In this piece, Herzog referred to “the prayer that I established” with quotes from certain portions of the “Prayer for the State of Israel.”
A mutual admiration
It makes sense, Rappel said, that Herzog wrote the prayer and then asked Agnon to review his work.
“Agnon and Herzog were very good friends, very close. Rabbi Herzog d Shai Agnon very much and appreciated him a lot as a writer, though not as a man of Judaism and Jewish law. He did not see him as an arbitrator of Jewish law. He saw a person that knew [about Judaism] through his writing,” he said.
“In the end, there are five words that Shai Agnon wrote that entered into the [final version] of the prayer,” Rappel said.
On why Agnon copied the original prayer, Rappel explained, “The copying was done for halachic [the code of Jewish law] reasons on the basis of the prohibition to erase or delete words on a sacred text.”
The now-established fact that the prayer was written by a rabbi is what gives the prayer its religious significance, Rappel said.Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog in 1945. As chief rabbi upon Israel’s foundation, Herzog grappled with how a secular state can operate Jewishly. (public domain)
“By knowing who wrote [the prayer], you can start to understand what was the author’s intent and there is much significance to that,” Rappel said.
This is particularly true when it comes to understanding the implications of the three most important words in the prayer, Rappel said, found in the opening line, that the establishment of the State of Israel is, “reyshit tz’mikhat g’ulateynu,” “the beginning of the rise of our redemption.”
If a writer wrote this line, it means very little, Rappel said, but, “if a rabbi wrote that the State of Israel is the start of the redemption, then that means that the [establishment of] the State of Israel was an act of God. That’s very important.”
“For religious Jews in Israel until today, this prayer is more important than the Declaration of Independence — much more important. High school students in Israel don’t know every word of the Declaration of Independence — they know it exists,” he said.
“But if you go to a religious high school and ask them who knows the ‘Prayer for Peace in Israel,’ they will know it by heart,” Rappel said.
Herzog’s prayer, according to Rappel, is religious Zionism’s stated connection to the State of Israel.
The issue today, Rappel said, is that both in Israel and abroad, political disputes concerning the State of Israel have prompted certain religious groups to alter or take out certain verses of the prayer.
“Politics has entered into the prayer book with this prayer because there is political significance to this prayer,” he said. “For example, during the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, many Jews made changes because they thought that the state betrayed them by pulling Gaza,” he said.
The politicization of Herzog’s prayer was not the author’s intent, Rappel said.
“That was not the intention of Rabbi Herzog — his only intention was to create a religious Declaration of Independence for the State of Israel,” said Rappel.
The International House of Prayer (IHOPKC) is committed to seeing the nation of Israel walking in their full destiny at the end of the age. Our primary role is to pray for and partner with Messianic Jews living in Israel, and to pray for God’s purposes in the nation of Israel.
The operation and visitation of the Spirit in Israel is a vital part of releasing the great end-time harvest among the nations (Ezek. 36:23–36).
However, this full release of the Spirit will only come as a result of a body of believers who are committed to a life of night-and-day prayer and fasting.
Jesus Himself prophesied that He would raise up a last-day prayer movement that would cry out for the Jewish people (Isa. 56:6–7; 62:6–7). We take this mandate seriously.
Our mission is to mobilize an international prayer movement that would pray 24/7 for the nation of Israel to receive their Jewish Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus).Jesus promised the nation of Israel an unusual visitation of His presence at the end of the age, when the Jewish leaders will recognize Him as their true Messiah and deliverer (Mt. 23:39).
We invite you to get involved and join us in praying for the nation of Israel. Join us on the free prayer room webstream, or in the Global Prayer Room here in Kansas City during our prayer meetings that focus on Israel.
Israel Prayer Schedule
|Monday||1–2pm||Global Prayer Room, Side Room 4|
|Tuesday||12–2am; 4–6am; 10am-12pm; 4–6pm; 8–10pm||Global Prayer Room|
|Tuesday||8:00–9:00am||Global Prayer Room, Side Room 12|
|Tuesday||3:00–4:00pm||Global Prayer Room, Side Room 6|
|Tuesday||10am–12pm (in Chinese)||All Nations Prayer Room|
|Wednesday||9–10am||Global Prayer Room, Side Room 4|
|Wednesday||1–2pm||Global Prayer Room, Side Room 3|
*Email firstname.lastname@example.org for information
Please note that only the Global Prayer Room is streamed; prayer in side rooms is not on our webstream.
Houses of Prayer in Jerusalem
Succat Hallel » (Succat hallel means “tabernacle of praise.”)
Jerusalem House of Prayer for All Nations »
Jerusalem Prayer Tower »
Mishkan Elohai » (Mishkan elohai means “the dwelling place of my God.”)
Scriptures to Use in Prayer for Israel
“For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns.” (Isa. 62:1)
Jerusalem’s End-Time Significance
Jesus “bound” Himself by His own prophecy, saying He would only come back and rule in Jerusalem when Israel’s leaders ask Him to reign as King over them.
“O Jerusalem! Jerusalem . . . How often have I wanted to gather your children together . . . but you were not willing . . . for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Mt. 23:37, 39)
The Armageddon campaign is a battle for Jerusalem
Military forces of all nations will gather in one place and lay siege against Jerusalem.
“And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all the peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut to pieces, though all the nations of the earth are gathered against it.” (Zech. 12:3)
“For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem.” (Zech. 14:2)
Jesus will bring military breakthrough.
“In that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be David, and the house of David shall be God, the Angel of the Lord before them. It shall be in that day that I shall seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” (Zech. 12:8–9)
“Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle.” (Zech. 14:3)
At the same time, Jesus will bring spiritual breakthrough.
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zech. 12:9-10)
“And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls.” (Joel 2:32)
Jesus will rule over all nations from His throne of glory in Jerusalem.
“For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place. This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” (Ps. 132:13–14)
An Urgent Prayer for Israel!
Congress and the U.N. Security Council are voting against Israel in a shameful act to force Israel to divide the land in a Palestinian state. For our sake as well as theirs, we must pray that Congress vetoes the resolutions to divide Israel.
GOD made a covenant with Israel. GOD is the one that divided the land and distributed it to whom He saw fit – from the very beginning. GOD has made certain promises to Israel that no other nation should try to take away.
Those that come against Israel come against God. Let us pray for wisdom for our nation’s leaders, but also pray for Israel to hold on to their inheritance. I have updated this prayer for Israel the current circumstances with Congress and the U.N.Security Council’s recent actions.
It is sad and regrettable that we must pray against our own government, but they are not acting with wisdom, and how the U.S.A. acts towards Israel can either release blessing or a curse upon our nation and it’s leadership. Let us pray that Israel is preserved!
We beseech your favor and assistance for our brothers and sisters in Israel and other parts of the world. We pray for angelic assistance, supernatural intervention and divine help to be given to them in their time of need.
Send help to them, O God! We stand in agreement as we make this decree – Israel is forever and we pray for peace and healing. We pray for an immediate intervention and angelic assistance to to be sent out to help carry out Your word on Israel’s behalf.
Hear our prayer, O God, as we decree Your word against the adversary and enemy of Your people.
We also ask Your forgiveness on behalf of the American government’s decisions to try to divide Israel and rob them of the inheritance You gave them. Father, please forgive the POTUS, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Security Council and others that are involved in the decision making processes.
They know not what they do. They are spiritually blind and ignorant of Your ways, and do not understand the consequences for their actions. Forgive us as a nation for the sin of acting a thief and adversary towards this nation.
Israel is our friend, and many in America do not share the same viewpoint as some of our nation’s leaders. Let the blood of Jesus cover these sins we pray. In Jesus name, amen.
The LORD has set the lines of Israel’s inheritance and they have a good inheritance. We declare the enemy shall have no memorial nor any right of inheritance in Israel. Let angelic sentries be established over every boundary line. Secure their borders, patrol their cities and help them hold the line of defense.
Praying for the Welfare of the State of Israel
A prayer for the welfare of the national government and its leaders has been part of the Jewish liturgy from ancient days. This tradition can be traced in practice to the daily sacrifices made in honor of Caesar at the end of the Second Temple period over 2,000 years ago.
The importance of praying for the welfare of the ruling body was established by the prophet Jeremiah after the first exile from Jerusalem, in 586 B.C.E. He tells the exiled Jews, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have caused you to be exiled, and pray to God on its behalf, for in its prosperity you shall prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
By instructing the Jews to pray for Babylonia, Jeremiah is teaching them to recognize that in exile they were physically, economically, and politically dependent upon Babylonia and the good will of its rulers. The situation of powerlessness and dependence demanded that God be implored to direct the leaders of the country to rule the Jewish population in a just and merciful way.
The first siddur [prayerbook] including a prayer for the government is from the 14th century, and the practice is described there as an “established custom.” Hundreds of different prayers for various governments under which Jews have lived (and live) exist today, and are valuable windows to these Jewish communities.
This background is important to understand the thinking of the authors of the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel.
Composing the Prayer
On the Fifth of Iyar–May 15–1948, the Jewish people became sovereign rulers in the Land of Israel.
This new situation posed many challenges to the Jewish people, a people that had lived most of its history under the direct control of others.
Confronting and understanding the meaning of sovereignty and independence created a high level of political, cultural, and religious creativity during the early years of the state.For the first time since antiquity, Jewish religious leaders had the opportunity to compose a prayer for the Jewish leaders of a Jewish state.
Should the prayer express the ideology, hopes, and aspirations of the Zionist movement? Or, should it be a prayer for the leaders of Israel (treating them any other political leaders of any country), without taking into account the profound meaning of Israel to many Jews?
Here is the translation of the prayer:
“Our Father Who art in Heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless Thou the State of Israel which marks the dawn of our deliverance. Shield it beneath the wings of Thy love. Spread over it Thy canopy of peace; send Thy light and Thy truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Thy good counsel.
“O God, strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them salvation and crown them with victory. Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants.
“Remember our brethren, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion.
Speedily let them walk upright to Zion, the city, to Jerusalem Thy dwelling-place, as it is written in the Torah of Thy servant Moses: ‘Even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather and fetch you. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it.’
“Unite our heart to love and revere Thy Name, and to observe all the precepts of Thy Torah. Shine forth in Thy glorious majesty over all the inhabitants of Thy world. Let everything that breathes proclaim: The Lord God of Israel is King; His majesty rules over all.” Amen.
This is much more than a prayer for the government. It is a proclamation of belief that:
1) the establishment of the State of Israel is a divine event and that this event is the fulfillment of God’s promise to the Jewish people and part of the divine plan to redeem the world;
2) the maintaining of the state and its defense is a matter for God’s intervention;
3) God will bring all Jews to live in Israel from the Diaspora.
The ideology that is the basis of the prayer is expressed best by Rabbi Yehudah Amital, a former government minister and leading religious leader in Israel. He writes that Zionism is “…the Lord’s vehicle for preparing Israel for its redemption.
The habitation of the Land of Israel by a group of its children, transforming wastelands into gardens, and the establishment of independence within its borders, are stages in the process of redemption…and even though they are accompanied by suffering and tribulation, the strides are certain and the course is clear…”The authorship of the prayer is unclear. Some say it was written by Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Herzog and Ben Zion Uziel with the assistance of other rabbis.
Others suggest that the prayer was revised by the rabbis after suggestions made by Nobel Laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon, one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew literature.
Still others are convinced that Agnon wrote the prayer himself and that it was later adopted by the Chief Rabbinate.
A prayer for the State of Israel is recited in synagogues of most religious streams in Israel and the Diaspora (outside of the ultra-Orthodox communities).
In Israel, most use the text of the Chief Rabbinate, although there are congregations that use their own versions and variations.
In the Diaspora, there is even less conformity, and while many communities use the text of the Chief Rabbinate, many utilize other prayers.
There are many reasons why all congregations haven’t adopted the Chief Rabbinates prayer.
Most of the arguments surrounding the prayer concern the Messianic role of the state. The first line of the prayer pleads, “Bless Thou the State of Israel which marks the dawn of our deliverance.“The belief that the Jewish state is the first step in redemption is seen by Rabbi Amital as “certain” and “clear,” but the fact is that not everyone is certain and clear on this point.
For most haredim (ultra-Orthodox), no matter where they live, redemption will not be brought by the establishment of a secular state, but by the observance of Torah. Although the vast majority in this community are deeply connected to the state and are proud of it in many ways, they do not see the state in Messianic terms.
They are not alone. The notion that Israel is the “dawn of our deliverance” sits uncomfortably with many Jews of all streams of Judaism. Some say that while we may hope and pray that Israel is the “dawn of our deliverance,” it is pretentious to proclaim that this is a known and proven fact.Others hold that Messianic beliefs in God’s impending intervention in history are fine for the realm of the spirit, but have no place in the affairs of a sovereign state. They point to many examples in Jewish history when Messianic ideas caught the imagination of the people and led to disaster, such as the war against the Romans that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem.
There are other problematic passages in the prayer. Jews in the Diaspora, who are quite comfortable in their homes, may not relate to a prayer that pleads with God to speedily return them to Israel. Such an idea may be acceptable in a spiritual, theoretical sense, but when tied to a prayer for the sovereign Jewish state, it may be difficult to accept.
Others find the triumphant nature of the prayer problematic. In my own congregation in Israel, there is a constant debate over the words that ask God to grant the defenders of the land with “victory.” Why do we need to ask for military victory in addition to peace, as if war is an inevitable, permanent part of living in Israel?
These tensions have led many religious leaders to re-write the prayer in a way that expresses love and devotion to the State of Israel, without the Messianic overtones and with less of the triumphant spirit of the original.
The Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel is the product of one of the great creative avenues within Judaism: the crafting of religious poetry and liturgy that expresses our basic desires and beliefs.
Over the centuries some of this literature has touched the community deeply and has made its way into the liturgy. Whether or not the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel (in its present form) will be universally adopted is still an open question.
In any case, this prayer is an eloquent and moving religious expression of the Zionist dream.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.
Pronounced: eetz-KHAHK, Origin: Hebrew, Hebrew name for Isaac.
Empower your Jewish discovery, daily