An attempt by anonymous right-wing extremists to popularize an anti-government prayer has failed for the second year in a row.
The prayer — an amended version of the Prayer for the Welfare of the State and its Leaders — was distributed to synagogues throughout the country on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day, which fell on May 4 this year.
As was the case last year, the amended version, which speaks of protecting the Jewish state from what the prayer’s authors believe is the government’s misconceived view of what the country should be, failed to attract followers.
The Prayer for the Welfare of the State and its Leaders was originally written by S.Y. Agnon, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. It was instituted into the liturgy by the chief rabbinate in 1951.
The prayer — adopted by most Israeli synagogues, but rejected by the fervently Orthodox — is recited on Shabbat and during holiday morning prayers. Many Diaspora congregations recite it as a prayer for Israel.
Dating back to the Babylonian exile, the prayer follows an ancient tradition in which Jews recite a prayer for the welfare of the state they reside in and for its leaders.
In pre-war Germany, when the Nazis were already in power, Jews recited this type of prayer, which mentioned Adolf Hitler, as late as 1938.
Today, the Israeli prayer reads, “Our Father in heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, which marks the dawn of our deliverance. Shield it beneath the wings of your grace, spread over it your canopy of peace, send your light and your truth to its leaders, officers and counselors, and direct them with your good council.”
Since the beginning of the peace process with the Palestinians, right-wing elements commonly identified with extremists in the settlers movement began challenging this version.
Some on the religious far right have abolished the prayer altogether, thereby joining those fervently Orthodox Jews who view the State of Israel as an aberration from the theocracy envisioned in the Torah.
Less extreme members of the right suggested changes this year and last to the part of the prayer that refers to the country’s leaders.
While the original prayer seeks God’s protection for the country and its leaders, the amended version seeks protection for the country from its leaders.
The amended prayer reads in part: “Send your light and truth to the state, and protect it from its leaders, officers and counselors.”
Proponents claim that the amendment is based on a suggestion made by Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neriah, who established the B’nai Akiva yeshiva high school system. Neriah was unavailable for comment due to ill health.
However, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau made it known throughout his office that he is opposed to any changes in the prayer.
Rabbi Yehuda Amital, who heads the Or Etzion Yeshiva and the dovish Orthodox movement Meimad, came out strongly against the amended prayer.
“These anonymous extremists can compose their own protest prayers if they wish,” he said. “But to amend the Prayer for the Welfare of Israel and its Leaders as they have is, in my eyes, malicious. I cannot accept the notion that portrays the government as the enemy of the State of Israel.”
According to Amital, Neriah never proposed the amendment in earnest.
“Over a year ago,” Amital said, “Rabbi Neriah uttered some words at a moment of anger, but he never meant it to be adopted as a prayer.”
Amital said that after checking around, “I can now state with confidence that the majority continued to say the prayer in its traditional form, and only a minority recited the amended version.
“What these extremists don’t seem to understand is that the Prayer for the Welfare of Israel is one of the unifying forces of religious Zionists the world over,” he said, adding that by their opposition to the government, “they are actually turning Zionists into non-Zionists.”