Praying for the country can be traced to Jeremiah, who said, “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). 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.
If Jews prayed for nations such as Babylon while in captivity there, one can imagine that it is still important to pray for the governmental leaders in Israel as they struggle for democracy. Today, many Jewish communities incorporate a prayer for the government into the weekly Shabbat service. While the specific wording varies, most versions ask for blessings upon the land and for government officials to have the counsel necessary to make wise, compassionate decisions in line with the values of our tradition.
Similarly, our synagogue has taken to reading an adaptation of Israel’s Declaration of Independence during services. As a Christian with limited understanding of Israel and its politics, I find this practice an accessible way to celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary and support the current political struggles there. Reciting the Declaration of Independence is a way to acknowledge Israel’s past and the current democracy movement, which is a struggle for its future.
This recitation helps us:
- Understand the many aspects of Zionism—religious, political, cultural and social.
- Embrace the diversity found within Israel.
- Interpret God’s desire that Israel be a light to all nations.
As part of our Shabbat service, we recite the following, adapted from Israel’s Declaration of Independence:
May the State of Israel always be acknowledged as the birthplace of the Jewish people and our spiritual homeland.
May it safeguard the holy places of all religions and always be a safe haven for the Jewish people.
May it foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants.
May it be based on freedom, justice and peace, as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.
May it ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all of its inhabitants.
May it guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.
May it be faithful to its principles and ours.
And let us say: Amen.
There is something quite visionary and aspirational in this adaptation of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I may not understand Israeli politics or the complexities of a coalition government, but I can understand the aspirations reflected in the document and wish it for all people. I believe it reflects the values of the Torah and the prophets. Good government is a blessing and a gift. We earnestly request that God bless us in this way.
I believe that what we recite also reflects the desire expressed in Psalm 122, verses 6 through 9:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
Praying for our own country and for Israel helps us to visualize our ideals and inspires us to work toward achieving them.
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