The Liturgical “Return to Zion” “on one foot”:
Ever since the Babylonian Exile (586 BCE), Jews have been yearning to return to the Land of Israel. This yearning has been expressed in Jewish liturgy in a number of places.
Natan Sharansky “Speech Before Sentencing” (1978)
From the start of my investigation, the heads of the KGB told me often that given my position with regard to this case, I would receive either capital punishment or, at best, fifteen years of imprisonment. They promised that if I changed my mind and cooperated with them in their struggle against Jewish activists and dissidents, I would receive a short, symbolic sentence and the opportunity to join my wife in Israel. But I did not change my position either during the investigation or at the trial, and yesterday the prosecution demanded that I be sentenced to a term of fifteen years.
Five years ago I applied for an exit visa to emigrate from the U.S.S.R. to Israel. Today I am further than ever from my goal. This would seem to be a cause for regret, but that is not the case. These five years were the best of my life. I am happy that I have been able to live them honestly and at peace with my conscience. I have said only what I believed and have not violated my conscience even when my life was in danger.
I am also happy that I have been able to help many people who needed help and who turned to me. I am proud that I came to know and work with such people as Andrea Sakharov, Yuri Orlov, and Alexander Ginzburg, who are carrying on the best traditions of the Russian intelligentsia. But most of all, I feel part of a marvelous historical process — the process of the national revival of Soviet Jewry and its return to the homeland, to Israel. I hope that the false and absurd but terribly serious charges made today against me — the entire Jewish people — will not impede the process of the national revival of the Jews of Russia, as the KGB has assured me they would, but will actually provide a new impulse, as has often happened in our history.
My relatives and friends know how strong was my desire to join my wife in Israel, and with what joy at any moment I would have exchanged my so-called fame as a Jewish activist — for which the charge asserts I was striving — for a visa to Israel. For two thousand years the Jewish people, my people, have been dispersed all over the world and seemingly deprived of any hope of returning. But still, each year Jews have stubbornly, and apparently without reason, said to each other, Leshanah Haba’a biYerushalayim (Next year in Jerusalem)! And today, when I am further than ever from my dream, from my people, and from my Avital, and when difficult years of prisons and camps lie ahead of me, I say to my wife and to my people, Leshanah Haba’a biYerushalayim.
And to the court, which has only to read a sentence that was prepared long ago — to you I have nothing to say.
From Great Speeches Throughout Jewish Hisotry, Edited by Steve Israel and Seth Forman (1994)
Context: Natan Sharansky was a Russian Jew who lived when the Soviet Union was not letting Jews emigrate to Israel. He was finally released after thirteen years of pressure in February 1986. This speech was often repeated at Passover Seders while he was in prison. The Jewish-American rock band Safam wrote a song in 1977 “Leaving Mother Russia” (here’s a video with Sharansky himself in the audience: https://youtu.be/uVWAFGLafgM)
What do you know (or remember) about the movement to free the Soviet Jews?
Hatikvah (“The Hope”)
כל עוד בלבב פנימה
נפש יהודי הומיה,
ולפאתי מזרח, קדימה,
עין לציון צופיה;
עוד לא אבדה תקותנו,
התקוה בת שנות אלפים,
להיות עם חפשי בארצנו,
ארץ ציון וירושלים.
Kol-'od balevav penimah
Nefesh yehudi homiyah
Ulefa’atei mizrach kadimah,
‘Ayin letziyon tzofiyah
‘Od lo avdah tikvateinu,
Hatikvah bat shenot alpayim
Lihiyot 'am chofshi be'artzeinu
Be'eretz Tzion VeYerushalayim
As long as in the heart, within
A Jewish soul still yearns
And onward, towards the ends of the east
An eye still yearns toward Zion
Our hope is not yet lost
The hope of two thousand years
To be a free people in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem
Context: “Hatikvah” was written in 1878 by Naftali Hertz Imber in Zolochiv (then part of Austrian Poland, now in Ukraine). He brought it with him when he made aliyah in 1882 and the pioneers of Rishon LeTziyon were quite taken with it. Shmuel Cohen heard it and set it to a Romanian folk melody in 1887. That folk melody can also be heard in Bedrich Smetana’s “Moldau” (sometimes called “Vltava”), about a minute into the piece. The poem was sung at the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901, and all subsequent ones, including in 1903 by those opposed to the Uganda Plan for a Jewish home in modern Kenya. Finally in 1933 it was adopted as the official anthem of the Zionist movement. From 1948 to 2004 it was the unofficial national anthem of the State of Israel, and in 2004 it became the official national anthem.
Note that the line “od lo avda tikvateinu” (“Our hope is not yet lost”) is probably an allusion to Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones (the Haftarah for Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach) when the dry bones say “avda tikvateinu” (“our hope is lost” - Ezekiel 37:11).
How has liturgy played a role in maintaining “the hope of two thousand years”?
Prayers that call for the ingathering of the exiles
Context: This concludes the Seder.
Context: This is the "Ahava Rabba" prayer. It's the Revelation prayer right before the Shema on Shabbat, Festival, and weekdays. The “V’havi’enu” section is often sung to Hatikvah, and it’s the part of the prayer where the four tzitzit are gathered, symbolizing gathering the Jewish people from the four corners of the earth to the Land of Israel.
Context: This is the blessing for the new month. It is said before the Torah is returned to the Ark on the Shabbat prior to every new month except for Tishrei. Traditionally the month is announced using a tune relevant to that month ("Maoz Tzur" for Kislev and Tevet, "Adir Hu" for Nisan, etc.)
Context: This is from the weekday Amidah, blessing 10 of 19.
Context: This is from the Musaf Amidah for Festivals. While “V’karev pizureinu” has its own tune, “vahavi’einu” is often sung to Hatikvah, and “Virushalayim” is sung to “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav”.
Context: This is from the Musaf Amidah for Shabbat.
Context: This is from the beginning of the Maggid section of the Seder.
Context: This is right before the very end of the Seder, in the Nirtzah section. It is sometimes sung to the tune of Hatikvah.
Context: This is from Birkat HaMazon, in the “Harachaman” section.
Context: This is Psalm 126. It precedes Birkat HaMazon on Shabbat, Festivals, and joyous occasions.
Context: This is Psalm 147. It is found toward the end of both Shabbat and weekday P'sukei D'zimra.
Context: This is from the Musaf Amidah on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh.
Prayers that call for restoring worship to Jerusalem (presumably by Jews)
Context: The “R’tzei” paragraph is at the end of every Amidah.
Context: This is from the Musaf Amidah for Festivals.
Context: This is the Kedushah of the Shabbat and Festival Shacharit Amidah.
Context: This is from the Torah service, when the Torah is being marched around and kissed. The Rommemu lines also appear in P'sukei D'zimra.
Context: This is the second half of Psalm 116 and it is part of Hallel.
Context: This is Psalm 27. It is said at the end of services between the beginning of the month of Elul through Hoshana Rabba.
Context: This collection of mostly Biblical verses comes in the weekday Ma'ariv service prior to the Amidah (and it's not done in Israel).
Prayers that mention rebuilding Jerusalem
Context: This is the beginning of the service for taking out the Torah on Shabbat and Festivals.
Context: This is the blessing about rebuilding Jerusalem. It is in Birkat HaMazon not because it has something to do with food, but rather because the rabbis wanted to make sure that people thought about Jerusalem at least 3 times a day. It is the only time that we are supposed to say “Amen” to our own blessing, and that is because this was the end of Birkat HaMazon at one point.
Context: This is from the weekday Amidah, blessing 14 of 19.
Context: This is the Shabbat addition to Birkat HaMazon.
Context: This is the beginning of the Hakafot on Simchat Torah.
Prayers that mention Jerusalem
Context: This is the Hashkiveinu prayer, said in the evening service between Mi Chamocha and the Amidah. The Shabbat version mentions Jerusalem.
Context: This is “Ya’aleh V’yavo”, which is part of the Amidah and Birkat HaMazon on Festivals and Rosh Chodesh.
Context: This is one of the middle blessings of the Blessings After the Haftarah.
Context: This is verses 3-8 of L’cha Dodi, which switches from talking about Shabbat to talking about Jerusalem.
Context: This is from Birkat HaMazon.
Context: This is from the Hoshanot on Sukkot.
Context: This is Psalm 48. It is the Psalm for Monday.
Prayers that mention Israel as our inheritance
Context: This is the second paragraph of the Shema. It comes from Deuteronomy 11.
Context: This is from P’sukei D’zimra, right after “Baruch She’amar”.
Prayers that Mention Israel
Context: This is from the Torah service, right after the Blessings After the Haftarah.
Prayers for the modern State of Israel
Context: This is from Birkat HaMazon. It is after the Bamarom paragraph and before the Harachaman for the Mashiach.
Context: This is the Prayer for the State of Israel. It is in the Torah Service, after the Haftarah and before the Torah is returned to the Ark.
With appreciation to: Cantor Neil Schwartz, Rabbi Mike Rascoe, and Sara Wolkenfeld
Appendix: A History of “Next Year in Jerusalem”
By: Dr. Sarit Kattan Gribetz
See https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/332071?lang=bi for the full text
The Passover Seder formally begins and ends with a pair of hopeful declarations. Magid opens with Ha Lahma Anya, an invitation welcoming all those who have no place to eat and a declaration that this year we are here, but next year we hope to be in the Land of Israel; this year we are enslaved, but next year we hope to be free. Nirtzah, the final section of the Seder, likewise includes a similar (though notably not identical) declaration: “Next year in Jerusalem!”
The short yet powerful phrase “Next year in Jerusalem” orients the future both temporally (“next year”) and spatially (“in Jerusalem”). “Next year” promotes conceiving a better future, not in the distant future but in the imaginable future. A better time. The words “in Jerusalem” reinforce the notion of Jerusalem as a place of longing and encourage hope for return, but they also function metaphorically – Jerusalem as an idea. A better place. “Next year in Jerusalem” can thus mean at least two things simultaneously. First, literally, the hope that by next year redemption to Jerusalem will have arrived. And second, figuratively, the desire for a future that is better than the present in which we are currently living – that we’ll figuratively be in Jerusalem. In a better time and place.
The History of “Next Year”
In a poem for the conclusion of Yom Kippur, the twelfth-century poet Judah ha-Levi asks God, as the sun sets and the day wraps up, to forgive Israel and assist those who are suffering. He ends the stanza with the hopeful phrase “Next year in Jerusalem!”
For ha-Levi, traveling to Jerusalem was more than a poetic fantasy. He desperately wanted to be in the city, writing to his friend Halfon ha-Levi that “I have no secret wish, only the open one that I made plain to you and that I laid out before your lofty presence – to go eastward as soon as possible, if God’s will grants me assistance” (trans. R.P. Scheindlin).
Ha-Levi’s desire to travel to Zion was indeed no secret: anyone who reads his writings learns how deeply he felt this urge, declaring most famously: “My heart is in the east, but the rest of me is far in the west.” This wish for Jerusalem emerged out of a long tradition of Jewish longing to return from exile. It also developed within ha-Levi’s own contemporary context, including the First Crusade and its aftermath, which prompted communities of Christians, Muslims, and Jews to renew their attachment to Jerusalem and enlivened their imaginations about it. Later in the same poem in which ha-Levi declares that his heart is in the east, he references Crusader Jerusalem explicitly: “How, in the bonds of the Moor / Zion chained to the Cross / Can I do what I’ve vowed to and must?” (trans. H. Halkin).
Ha-Levi’s poetic phrase – “Next year in Jerusalem” – is one of the very earliest instances of it in extant Jewish sources. A variation, “in Jerusalem next year,” appears in an eleventh-century piyyut for Shabbat ha-Gadol composed by the French Rabbi Joseph ben Samuel Bonfils, known in Hebrew as Yosef Tuv Elem, attested in Ashkenazi Mahzorim through the modern period. (Bonfils also authored Hasal Siddur Pesach, which was later incorporated into the conclusion of the Passover Seder. Even though in most contemporary Haggadot “Next year in Jerusalem” immediately follows Hasal Siddur Pesach, these two passages’ inclusion into the Haggadah seem to have unconnected histories – “Next year in Jerusalem” was included earlier, and at first they were two separate Seder customs.) Some early Geniza documents use the phrase “Next year in Jerusalem” as well, often as a formulaic wish or greeting – including in a letter about Judah ha-Levi’s arrival in Alexandria on his way to Jerusalem in 1141!
Precisely when and where the practice of ending the Passover Seder with the hopeful “Next year in Jerusalem!” originated is unclear. It was certainly a medieval addition, perhaps emerging in a Crusader or post-Crusader European and Iberian context and becoming far more widespread in the centuries thereafter, though a more thorough search through the documents of the Cairo Geniza might reveal that the custom developed even before then. One of the earliest extant Haggadot to include the phrase is the Bird’s Head Haggadah from the early fourteenth-century Rhineland, a region devastated by the Crusades some decades earlier. This Haggadah includes the words “Next year in Jerusalem” in big letters before the final blessing on wine; an intricate depiction of Jerusalem’s gates, with people entering the city, appears on the facing page.
By the fifteenth century, the custom of reciting the phrase was more common – the phrase appears far more frequently in Haggadah manuscripts after the fourteenth century. The Barcelona Haggadah from Catalonia, dated to 1370, dedicates a full, ornate page to the words “Next year in Jerusalem, Amen.” The phrase also appears in large lettering in the Rothschild Haggadah (c. 1450) from Northern Italy and the Washington Haggadah (1478) from Germany. It was not confined to a single region, but is attested in a broader European landscape from Catalonia to Italy and the German lands. Many other Haggadah manuscripts from this period do not include the phrase, however, suggesting that it was by no means a universal custom to recite it. The fifteenth-century Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau records in his Sefer Minhagim that after drinking the fourth cup of wine and reciting the blessing after it, members of the seder say “Next year in Jerusalem”; he explains that this declaration, together with Hasal Siddur Pesach, formally ends the Seder and beckons participants not to eat or drink anything after reciting those words. Despite Tyrnau’s precise instructions for when to recite the phrase, its location shifts around in manuscripts and printed editions, all the way to the present day.
The custom of concluding the Seder by reciting “Next year in Jerusalem” became more widespread with time, almost the default practice, especially by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when Jewish communities all over the world had easier means of sharing texts and traditions. Its meaning was adapted to numerous contemporary circumstances and contexts. Yet in many Haggadah traditions it was never added, and in some it was deliberately omitted. It did not gain the formal status that many other parts of the Haggadah did: the phrase has an especially exciting history precisely because it remained so flexible and could speak to so many circumstances.
Rabbi Tevele Bondi, in his 1898 commentary on the Haggadah titled Maarechet Heidenheim, explicitly connects the Ha Lahma Anya, found at the beginning of the Seder, to the final declaration of “Next year in Jerusalem,” placed at the conclusion of the Seder. Bondi writes that the Seder is bookended by these paired declarations because it is the merit of charity, exemplified by the Ha Lahma Anya, that will lead to an eventual return to Jerusalem. Action guided by the values of generosity and welcoming those who are enslaved, oppressed, impoverished, and hungry will facilitate the redemption promised by the evening’s conclusions, and by the Passover narrative itself. The beginning of the Seder encourages us to be driven in our actions and our words by our values, and the end of the Seder promises that doing so will eventually lead us to a better time and place.