The Traditional Hebrew Prayer for the Government, and Its Hidden Meaning

Jan. 18 2017

Jews over the centuries have recited many different public prayers for the governments under which they have lived, but the most widespread in modern times, which remains standard in Orthodox congregations today, is Hanoteyn t’shu’ah lam’lakhim (“He Who Gives Salvation to Kings”). Although this prayer seems like a statement of undiluted patriotic devotion, Jonathan Sarna suggests that it lends itself to esoteric interpretation:

Hanoteyn t’shu’ah itself is in many ways a subversive prayer. Its manifest language exudes Jewish loyalty and faithful allegiance. At the same time, its esoteric meaning, presumably recognized only by an elite corps of well-educated worshippers, hints at spiritual resistance, a cultural strategy well-known among those determined to maintain their self-respect in the face of religious persecution. So, for example, the prayer begins with a verse modified from Psalm 144:10: “You who give victory to kings, who rescue[d] His servant David from the deadly sword.” The next line of that psalm, not included in the prayer but . . . deeply revealing in terms of the prayer’s hidden meaning, reads: “Rescue me, save me from the hands of foreigners, whose mouths speak lies, and whose oaths are false.” . . .

[F]ollowing the American Revolution, the [text of the] prayer was radically depersonalized in the United States, based on the idea that the new nation honors “the office,” not “the man.” From then onward most American synagogues have prayed for the nation’s officeholders without naming them (“the president,” etc.), a totally different practice from that in other countries (including Great Britain and tsarist Russia) where kings and queens are (or were) commonly referred to by name. In the very first post-Revolutionary American siddur, printed in 1826, a distinction was even drawn between how Hanoteyn t’shu’ah should be recited “During the Sitting of Congress” and “During the Recess,” as if to underscore that members of Congress are only special (and worthy of being included in the prayer) when Congress is actually in session; otherwise, its members are fellow citizens along with everybody else.

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More about: American Jewry, Judaism, Prayer, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics

Benjamin Netanyahu Is a Successful Leader, Not a Magician

Sept. 20 2019

Following the inconclusive results of Tuesday’s election, weeks may elapse before a prime minister is chosen, and there is a chance that Benjamin Netanyahu’s political career isn’t over yet. Perusing the headlines about Netanyahu over the past year, Ruthie Blum notes how many have referred to him as a political “magician,” or some variant thereof. But this cliché misses the point:

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Election 2019, Israeli politics