By: Rabbi Avraham Steinberg
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Jews have a practice to pray for the welfare of the country in which they live, in accordance with an injunction of the prophet Jeremiah at the beginning of the Exile following the destruction of the Second Temple. The Talmud elaborates on this instruction and the recitation of the prayer has been codified as normative halachic [Jewish legal] practice. Such prayers — for Caliph, King, Queen, Czar, Kaiser, or President — have been a standard part of Jewish prayer services around the world and across millennia. Rabbi Steinberg presents the fascinating wealth of material that surrounds this practice.
After tracing the general history of the practice to recite a prayer for the welfare of a Jew’s host country, Rabbi Steinberg turns his attention to one special — and, at times, controversial — prayer, the prayer for the welfare of the modern State of Israel. Within the Orthodox community, there are strong opinions on both sides of the issue of whether or not to recite the prayer, and discussions between proponents of the two positions are not always conducted on the plane of high-minded ideal. All too often, each side is incapable of seeing any merit in the other, and an exchange can take place on the level of jingoistic propaganda, without recourse to a substantive idea, legal or philosophical principle, or authoritative source.
Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel transforms the dialogue from an emotion-driven name-calling contest to a respectful discussion of principle and ideology. The author presents both sides of the issue, quoting all relevant religious authorities and arguments for and against. Rabbi Steinberg is a staunch believer in the miraculous nature of the birth and continued existence of the State of Israel, but presents a balanced, intellectually honest view of both sides of the issue. His knowledge of the relevant material is encyclopedic, and he quotes all the relevant source material from the primary historical documents.
With the publication of Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, one can now imagine a conversation between two Jews, one of whom recites the prayer fervently and one who refuses to say it with equal religious zeal, conducted with respect, civility, and dignity. If the redemption of the Land of Israel and the People of Israel will take place as a result of a sense of unity we feel for each other, then Rabbi Steinberg has advanced the cause of Redemption and hastened its arrival through the creation of this important work.