Judi Rudoren, the Editor-in-Chief of The Forward, reported that Ansche Chesed, a Conservative synagogue in Manhattan, will not recite a prayer for the State of Israel that includes the religious language “raishit smichat gi’ulateinu – the initial sprouting of our redemption” that is called “the signature line from the Prayer for the State of Israel” as instituted by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate after the establishment of the State in 1948 (Ha-Tsofeh on 20 September 1948).
Anshe Chesed’s Rabbi, Jeremy Kalmanofsky, said in an interview with the Forward that he could no longer pray for the success of Israel’s current leaders, ministers and advisers, as this liturgy calls for, since its new government includes right-wing extremists he considers akin to the Ku Klux Klan. He said: “I don’t hope that this government succeeds. I hope that this government falls and is replaced by something better… I just could not imagine us saying this prayer that their efforts be successful. I think their efforts are dastardly.”
I agree. The anti-democratic “religious Zionism” of the extremist right-wing political and ultra-Orthodox parties in the new Israeli government is not the religious Zionism with which we in the liberal and progressive Zionist community identify. Our religious Zionism includes the principle that Israel will remain democratic and the State for the entirety of the Jewish people. We emphasize justice as a precondition for the Jewish people’s settlement of the land as commanded in the Book of Deuteronomy:
“Justice justice shall you pursue, so that you may live and take hold of the land that the Lord your God is about to give you.” (16:20)
Equal justice must remain a core value and foundational goal for all Israeli citizens (Jewish and non-Jewish) and institutions and for Palestinians living under military occupation. The new Israeli government broadcast its intention, however, contrary to Israel’s democratic traditions, to limit the authority of Israel’s High Court and to move quickly towards de-facto annexation of illegal West Bank outposts thereby preparing the way for unilateral de-jure annexation of the entirety of the West Bank. This is not the religious Zionism that we support in liberal and progressive Zionist circles.
Judi Rudoren noted that the American Reform movement includes a different prayer for the State of Israel in its prayer book Mishkan HaTfilah that does not include language that Rabbi Kalmanofsky finds objectionable given the new Israeli government. The Reform movement’s prayer emphasizes the State as the embodiment of the Jewish people’s highest moral and spiritual aspirations:
“O Heavenly One, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel which marks the dawning of hope for all who seek peace. Shield it beneath the wings of Your love; spread over it the canopy of Your Peace; send Your light and truth to all who lead and advise, guiding them with Your good counsel. Establish peace in the land and fullness of joy for all who dwell there.
Amen.” – Mishkan HaTfilah (p. 377)
In 2005, before the publication of Mishkan HaTfilah, my congregation, Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles, created our own High Holiday Machzor in which we included the following prayer, based upon a prayer published decades before in an early Israeli Reform prayer book:
“Eternal God of the universe: Receive our prayers for the peace and security of the State of Israel and its people. Bring Your blessing upon the Land and upon all who labor in its interest. Inspire those who lead the Jewish State to follow the ways of righteousness. Remove from their hearts hatred, malice, jealousy, fear, and strife. Let them be infused with the ancient hope of Zion and be encouraged by the symbol of Jerusalem as the eternal city of peace. May the State of Israel be a blessing to all its inhabitants and to the Jewish people everywhere, and may she be a light to the nations of the world. Amen!” (Temple Israel of Hollywood High Holiday Machzor, p. 111)
“Religious Zionism” includes also those of us in the liberal and progressive Zionist community in North America and around the world who refuse to allow right-wing Zionist extremists to take sole ownership of the religious Zionist label.
Our prayers for the well-being and security of the people and State of Israel, as written in Mishkan HaTfilah and my synagogue’s prayer book, provide language that transcends particular Israeli governments and embraces the highest moral and spiritual aspirations of liberal Judaism, liberal Zionism, the Jewish people, and the State of Israel’s democratic traditions.