Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Koren-Sacks Siddur, p. 523-522.
Prayer for the State of Israel: Introduced after the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948. A key element of the prayer is the phrase "the first flowering of our redemption." It means that the restoration of Israel as a sovereign nation in its own land was not merely an event in secular history. It was the fulfillment of the prophetic vision--first stated by Moses in the quoted verse from Deuteronomy--that Israel would one day be gathered from "the furthermost lands under the heavens," an astonishingly precise prediction of what actually happened. According to the third-century Babylonian teacher Shmuel, "The only difference between this world and the messianic age is subjection to foreign powers" (Berakhot 34b). In the view Israel's independence was in itself a redemptive moment, a return to Jewish self-determination, self-government and self-defense under the sovereignty of God alone.
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.” (Arend, p. 192 and cf. the reproduction of that edition on p. 200). Since then, other prayers for the State of Israel have been composed by Rabbis Isser Yehudah Unterman, Israel Brodie, Moshe Greenberg and Simchah Roth (Arend, p. 193 and note 38; Siddur Va’ani Tefilati, Jerusalem, 1998, p. 373). 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
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” (Sadan, p. 551).
Similarly, Agnon himself frequently hinted or stated that he had a hand in writing the Prayer for the State of Israel (Cohen, pp. 103-106).
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 (Yoel Rappel’s research was summarized by Eldar). 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.
The text attributed to the late Chief Rabbi Herzog, which is widely used in Israel and in some diaspora communities, specifically refers to the State of Israel as "the beginning of the sprouting forth of our Redemption. " Inother words, it authentically declares the Jewish State to be not only thefulfillment of our hopes and prayers, but the incipient phase in the processof the promised "Redemption," a term used only for the realization of our messianic aspirations. On the other hand, this phrase is omitted in the text authorized by the late Chief Rabbi Brodie, as it appears in the Singer's Prayer Book and is commonly used in Britain and the Commonwealth communities. This version passes no authentic opinion, or reserves final judgment, on whether or not the present State of Israel is in fact the embryonic nucleus out of which the ultimate Redemption is bound to develop, with all its universal ramifications of the Messianic era which form an essential par of Prophetic teaching and Jewish belief.
The difference between these two versions is of course not only of semantic, theoretical or even purely philosophical significance. It marks a fundamental divergence of views on the religious interpretation of present-day events as well as the place of the State of Israel in the perspective of biblical visions. From this divergence naturally flow some importantpractical consequences.
If the premessianic character of the State is taken for granted as a certainty, whether as an act of faith or of rational conviction, then obviously conscious and deliberate efforts must be made to ensure that all related biblical prophesies fall into place, and that our national strategy must be based on this assumption. This might, for instance, include the planned liquidation of the diaspora, or an unconcerned resistance to thepressures of world opinion, safe in the knowledge that the advancestowards full Redemption are irreversible. Faith can thus govern pragmatic policies, and risks can be disregarded.
On the other hand, if the premessianic stage of our current experience lies in the realm of hope, rather than certainty, then such conclusions may not yet be warranted, and a more "realistic" approach may be indicated. This more cautious attitude, while it in no way affects the intensity of the commitment to Israel, would of course also cushion our people against the impact of reverses such as we suffered in the Yom Kippur War, and as may yet be encountered before Israel is finally at peace and the promise of Redemption shared by the entire human family.
צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ, בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל,
[שֶתְּהֵא] רֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ.
Siddur Lev Shalem, The Rabbinical Assembly, 2016, p. 178
Avinu she-ba-shamayim, stronghold and redeemer of the people Israel: Bless the State of Israel, [that it may be] the beginning of our redemption...
From SLS commentary:
That it may be שֶתְּהֵא
This Hebrew word was added by the Chief Rabbi of England, Immanuel Jakobovits, turning the phrase "the beginning of the redemption" into an expression of hope, rather than a statement of fact.
אֹמְנֵנוּ | אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ,
צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגוֹאֲלוֹ, בָּרֵךְ אֶת מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל,
שֶׁתְּהֵא לְרֵאשִׁית צְמִיחַת גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ.
הָגֵן עָלֶיהָ בְּאֶבְרַת חַסְדֶּךָ, וּפְרֹשׂ עָלֶיהָ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ,
וּשְׁלַח אוֹרְךָ וְצִדְקֶךָ לְרָאשֶׁיהָ שָׂרֶיהָ יוֹעֲצֶיהָ
וְשׁוֹפְטֶיהָ, וְלַלְּאֹם שֶׁבּוֹחֵר בָּם
וְתַקְּנֵם בְּרוּחַ מִשְׁפָּט מִלְּפָנֶיךָ
שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר ״צִיּוֹן בְּמִשְׁפָּט תִּפָּדֶה וְשָׁבֶיהָ בִּצְדָקָה.״
הָצֵל נָא אֶת כָּל אַרְצֶךָ בֵּין יַרְדֵּן לַיָּם מִשְּׁפִיכוּת דָּמִים
וְאֶת כָּל הַיּוֹשְׁבִים וְהַגָּרִים בָּהּ תַּחַת כָּל שִׁלְטוֹן
מִשׂוֹנְאִים בַּחוּץ וּמִשִּׂנְאָה בִּפְנִים.
וְנָתַתָּ שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וְשַׁלְוָה לִמְגִנֶיהָ,
שִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְכָל יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ וְתִקְוָה טוֹבָה לְכָל עַמֶּיהָ,
Prayer for the State of Israel at 70
Our Nurturer / Our Parent, in heaven and on Earth, Rock of Israel and its redeemer, bless the State of Israel, so that she may become the beginning of the flowering of our redemption.
Shield her with Your embrace of love and spread over her Your sukkah-shelter of peace, and send Your light and Your righteousness to her heads, ministers, advisers, and judges, and to the nation that elects them, and align them with the spirit of justice from You, as it says, Zion through justice will be redeemed and her captives through righteousness. (Isaiah 1:27)
Rescue all of Your land, from the Jordan River to the sea, from the spilling of blood, and all residing and sojourning there, under every government, from haters without and hatred within. Grant peace in the land, and secure calm to her defenders, lasting joy to all her inhabitants, and real hope for all her peoples. And let us say: Amen.
Om’neinu* / Avinu shebashamayim uva’aretz, Tzur Yisrael v’go’alo, bareikh et m’dinat Yisrael shet’hei l’reishit tz’michat g’ulateinu. Hagein aleha b’evrat chasdekha, ufros aleha sukat sh’lomekha, ush’lach orkha v’tzidkekha l’rasheha sareha yo’atzeha v’shofteha, v’lal’om shebocher bam, v’takneim b’ru’ach mishpat milfanecha, shene’emar, “Tziyon b’mishpat tipadeh v’shaveha bitz’dakah.” Hatzeil na et kol ar’tzekha bein yardein layam mish’fichut damim, v’et kol hayoshvim v’hagarim bah, tachat kol shilton, mison’im bachutz umisin’ah bifnim, v’natata shalom ba’aretz v’shalvah lim’gineha, simchat olam l’khol yoshveha v’tikvah tovah l’khol ameha, v’nomar: Amen.
*Om’neinu is a gender-diverse alternative to Avinu derived from omenet, one who breastfeeds (see Num 11:12, Rut 4:16, Esth 2:7).
Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, Pirke Avot Lev Shalem, commentary on Avot 3:2, p. 114.
But to pray regularly for the peace of the government that is at times at odds with one's own outlook--isn't that going too far? These words seem to be dispatched from a distant time especially to us. They have made their way from a man of the Temple, which had been destroyed, to the contemporary generation, in which a sovereign Jewish state exists. We live in a time of establishing sovereignty, a time in which there are many questions and challenges. And indeed, it is entirely possible these days to find oneself keeping one's distance from the authorities--that is to say, from legitimate governance--because of the sadness one feels about all that has yet to be realized. It is to such people--and to some extent, actually, thus to us all--that the text speaks. It asks: Can a Jew really reject the reality and existence of such sovereignty, the still-developing polity, simply because of all the divisions it has not healed and the challenges it is facing? If that were to happen, what new layer of governance could possibly emerge? And what kind of world would Jews (and their children) be facing without responsible governance? The horrors of the Shoah and its unbearable story of human perfidy against millions of fellow humans, Jews and others, still ring in our ears. And it is thus particularly to us, twenty-first century Jews who are witnesses to Israeli sovereignty, that I hear Hananiah speaking. He is calling out to the present-day citizens of the sovereign State of Israel and admonishing us not to distance ourselves from our own authorities and not to denigrate it...even if it has not yet put all its values into practice. Pray for it, he exhorts us, for all of Jewish history has been pointing to and leading up to this moment. Now, more than at any other moment, is the time to pray for the welfare of the Jewish polity: that it may rise to all its challenges, and especially the longing for peace that is part and parcel of its people's Torah. Pray, and thus give voice to the belief that the sovereign Jewish state will actualize the vision of its prophets, and that a regime of law and justice for all its citizens shall yet be established within it.