Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 6 April 2008

It's Suprising They Say It At All

The Prayer for the State of Israel has always been somewhat controversial. Written by the Israeli Rabbanut shortly after the miraculously creation of the State, it has never been embraced by the Chareidi population and has been taken on somewhat perfunctorily by the non-religious population as well.

Indeed, with its spiritual overtones and fervent prayer to God, it was only a matter of time before people began fiddling with it so as not to have to say something offensive to their secular sensibilities. Growing up in a Conservative synagogue, I remember the surprise I felt the first time I saw the actual text of the prayer which was twice as long and a lot more specific about what we were requesting from God by saying it.

Which is why this article caught my eye but did not surprise me:

The minyan, which is egalitarian but otherwise hews to a traditional liturgy, had recited the prayer since its founding in 2005. But some members had begun to express misgivings about the prayer, which describes Israel as the "first flowering of the redemption" and asks God to deliver to Israel's military forces victory over their enemies.
Congregants at the meeting also challenged the prayer's conflation of religion and politics, its tone of Jewish triumphalism and exclusivity, and its seeming denigration of Diaspora Jewry.
"Expecting everyone to stand and recite, in unison, something so political clearly sends a message: If you don't identify with the vision of Israel that is expressed in this prayer, then you are wrong," Alana Alpert, the Altshul member who initiated the meeting, told JTA. "The prayer is just one more way that American Jews are given a litmus test on their Israel politics, determining who is inside and who is outside the Jewish community."

How many complete misconceptions are contained in this brief piece? Well, let's go through them, shall we?

1) An egalitarian minyan that is otherwise traditional. That's like saying I'm a vegetarian except for the hamburgers I eat every day.

2) The conflation of religion and politics - alone amongst the major religions of the world, Torah Judaism does not recognize a division between Shul and State. God, being perfect and omnipotent, plays a role in our lives on a constant basis. He can be felt in every facet of our being if we would only pay attention the right away. As a result, all our actions fall under His aegis. How can one have a truly private life where God has no role? But in North America, secular liberalism does indeed envisage such a model. It's okay for God to come to synagogue as long as he doesn't make any demands and fulfills everyone's wishes unconditionally.

3) its tone of Jewish triumphalism and exclusivity - A quick review of the prayer shows this is completely inaccurate. Instead, it is a prayer for Jewish survival and prosperity within the State through the help of God. Does it smack of exclusivity? It's a prayer for the establishment of a Jewish state for Jews to live in. Again, this runs counter to America liberal post-nationlist sensibilities.

4) "Expecting everyone to stand and recite, in unison, something so political clearly sends a message: If you don't identify with the vision of Israel that is expressed in this prayer, then you are wrong" - this prayer has been the official one for the State for almost 60 years. In that time Israel has had hard left, soft left, and soft right governments. It has gone in socialist and capitalist directions. It has been less traditional and more traditional. Yet the prayer has remained exactly the same throughout all this time. Exactly how is this political?

And, in answer to the concern above, if you don't identify with the vision of Israel in the prayer, a strong, prosperous state run by a competent government loyal to God and His Torah and functioning as a home and support for all the world's Jews, exactly what is your vision and how is it Jewish?

5) Its seeming denigration of the Golus - for non-religious American Jews, this is not a concern that one can be surprised with. The majority of them have probably never looked inside a proper siddur or if they have, understood the Hebrew prayers that frequently and repeatedly plead to God for a return to our Land. How many times in the morning, afternoon and evening do we beg Him to end our dispersion and return us to our Land in happiness and health? For us, Golus, no matter how long we've been here, is a way station, a sign that we have not return home to Israel. To be in Golus is to be second class whether one is comfortable admitting it or not. Certainly a Jew who is observant should feel that way when confronted with the knowledge of how many mitzvos he is not fulfilling by not living in Israel.

6) "At the February meeting, she cited a Jewish legend that describes how God reprimanded the angels for celebrating along with the Israelites as the Egyptians were drowning in the Red Sea." How foolish this statement is. Yes, the angels were reprimanded but the song our ancestors sang at that time has become part of our daily prayers! Perhaps when the Iraqis and Egyptians were fleeing in 1949 God didn't want the angels cheering but would He be offended if we did? As for the next statement, about being more like angels, this once again shows ignorance of what Man is in the eyes of God and His purpose in creating us. We are meant to rise above the angels because of our natures, not to simply imitate them. In our most glorious, we exceed them. Who would want to limit themselves like that?

7) "I think the essential problem with it from a haredi viewpoint is it seems to project the establishment of the State of Israel as a monumental movement forward towards the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people," said Rabbi Avi Shafran, the public affairs director for the fervently Orthodox Agudath Israel of America. "While we may hope that it might play that role, by no means is that self evident." - As opposed to the mistakes made by the non-religious which are mostly due to ignorance and a mistaken belief that Judaism = secular liberalism, Rav Shafran's attitude is one which has long angered me. The Agudah and its allies love to trumpet how many Jews are learning full-time, how many yeshivos exist in the world today, how powerful their portion of the Torah observant world has grown since the Second World War but at the same time they wish to ignore the underlying reason for almost all their success - the existence of the State of Israel. How many billions of dollars has Israel invested in the Chareidi population? How much has Israel's stability contributed to the physical development of Torah institutions? How much has the "year in Israel" strengthened the Chareidi population through its efforts at indoctrination? And what is the response? Well, Israel's a nice thing but that's about it. It is completely ignored that the creation of the State, rising as it did from the ashes of the Holocaust, rising as it did despite the near incompetence, cronyism and parochialism of the Zionsit leadership, is a complete miracle, a clear and undeniable sign from God that He is finally moving history forward towards its inevitable conclusion. To deny this is to deny gratitude to the greatest thing that has ever happened to that community. And for that, there is no excuse.

God has granted us such a special gift and such a great opportunity to reveal His role in history, it is incumbent on all of us to show the proper gratitude to Him and pray that our State, our first flowering of the final redemption, survive and thrive until our Moshiach comes, may he do so speedily.

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