Shouting in Shul About the Prayer for the State of Israel

Originally posted 10/30/05...

There was a shouting match this past Shabbat morning at the 8:30 minyan at the Bnai Yeshurun synagogue in Teaneck. The Gabbai added the single word sheteheh to the Prayer for the State of Israel. That meant he said that we prayed that the Lord protect Israel and that the State will be the first flowering of our redemption -- instead of praying that the Lord protect it because it is the beginning of our redemption.

The policy at CBY officially is to add that will be qualifier. The 9:00 minyan always does. The 8:30 has not -- based on a "don't ask, don't tell" understanding. But then recently the Rabbi got wind of this unfortunate laxity. He scolded the Gabbai and insisted that the policy of qualifying the prayer be rigidly enforced. The resultant shouting match followed.

By Shabbat afternoon the rabbi felt compelled to make a speech between Minhah and Maariv about the matter. He chastised everyone ... for violating the charter of the synagogue, for being negative and just plain reminded folks that if they did not like his leadership they could choose to form another shul or release him in five years at the conclusion of his contract.

No matter. The issue here is not about a rabbi, but about why anyone cares about what words are said in this "prayer" for the State of Israel.

Common sense should tell everyone in the synagogue that this whole prayer is unimportant, peripheral, second rate, and really not a part of the davening.

First off, the "prayer" is recited by the gabbai, not the hazzan. Second, the "prayer" usually is recited in a monotone, not chanted, and from the side of the bimah, not from the front and center of the synagogue. Third, the "prayer" is recited after the Torah reading and before the Musaf service -- in between the "real" parts of the davening. It seems to me to be placed in a tertiary context that makes it even less official than the personal mesheberach blessings recited for individuals who receive aliyot to the Torah.

You don't have to be an expert in Jewish liturgy to conclude that this relatively recent "prayer" is treated like an afterthought, recited quickly, that has been pasted in to our davening. In fact in some synagogues, the text is actually pasted into the back cover of the siddur.

So really, why would anyone argue, shout or pout about what word is or is not said in this "prayer".

What people should be concerned with is real prayer-book reform. We should be integrating a real prayer for the modern state of Israel into the middle of the actual prayer services of our tradition. We should have the chazzan chant it properly from the bimah. We should have the congregation join in responsively or together with the chazzan in singing the prayer with joy.

Naturally, we should not hem and haw liturgically about the importance and centrality of the State of Israel. It is real. Most of our shul members have been there. Most of our shul members have been inspired by the State and its history. The State of Israel is a factual, powerful, pervasive, long-lasting creator of religious moods and motivations.

Honestly, I have never heard a shul member discuss, express interest in, or argue about the reinstitution of the cultic sacrifice in the Temple. Yet that topic has much more of a central place in our synagogue liturgy.

Those who shout at each other about this or that word in a second or third rate "prayer" -- one that is mumbled by the gabbai from the side of the bimah in between shacharit and musaf -- ought to reconsider.

Yes it is time to shout and argue about promoting the thanksgiving, praise and petition concerning the modern State of Israel as a real and central theme of all of our synagogue prayers.